Food Makes a Town

I have frequently stated to people that Macon, Georgia reminds me of Durham, North Carolina circa 2005. People unfamiliar with Durham do not know whether this is a compliment or an insult.  It is a little of both, actually. In many ways, the Macon of today feels like it could become the Durham of today in another few years.  In other ways, it feels like it could become the Durham of the 1990s too.

One of the reasons Durham became the hip, trendy scene that it is today is because of its restaurant scene.  Durham has great places to eat. I miss many of those places on a daily basis. For a small city, it had a great crew of local chefs doing really inventive things with food. Sure there is the Carolina Barbeque that I miss on a daily basis (nowhere in Middle Georgia remotely comes close on that account), but you had chefs like Andrea Reusing of  The Durham Hotel and Lantern (actually in Chapel Hill), Matthew Kelly of Vin Rouge (French) and Mateo (Spanish tapas), Scott Howell of Nana’s and NanaSteak, I could go on and on.  A short drive away in Raleigh there is the Ashley Christensen food empire, which I will put up there with almost any other chef’s empire in terms of the quality and inventiveness of the food. Chapel Hill has dozens of great restaurants. Carrboro has at least four great ones that immediately come to mind. I am seriously salivating thinking about all of the great food that I am currently missing. Let me dream about the tasting menu dinner that I had at The Fearrington House Restaurant the weekend before I had the babies. I still dream about it.

The restaurant scene in Macon is comparatively far more limited.  On the plus side, I like the plethora of meat + two sides, cafeteria-style Southern lunch and early dinner spots (like The Bear’s Den). They remind me of my Ma-maw’s South. If you want a traditional Southern meal, there are some good options of where to go (even if there really aren’t great bbq options). There are some great lunch spots, and there are some good restaurants, don’t get me wrong. I could eat the menu at The Rookery every day and be 400 pounds but contended as a frog. However, what they are lacking is something that the Raleigh-Durham food scene possessed is inventiveness.  All of the nice restaurants around town serve the same kind of food your grandparents thought of as fancy food. Here are some examples: Downtown Grill, Natalia’s, Marco’s. The food at all of these places may be good (confession: of those three, I have only been to Marco’s), but whenever David and I have a rare night when we can go out to eat, I look at the menus for those places and I feel like falling asleep.

Look, I don’t expect Macon, Georgia to have a Heston Blumenthal, or even a Vivian Howard. But one thing that I love about Middle Georgia are the pecan and peach orchards and all of the local farms. Isn’t there anyone who can put these things to better use?  I realize that if I ever want foie gras, I am going to have to trek up to Atlanta, but can’t people do more interesting things with the good things around us?

There is one exception to this that I have found and that is Dovetail. Dovetail reminds me of everything that I miss about the restaurant scene in Durham. If I cannot have some great tapas at Mateo, or perfectly seasoned Carolina barbeque, at least I can have Dovetail. I once had a sea bass dish there that rivaled any that I may have eaten anywhere else. The menu is different every time I go and it is always delightful. If Macon could have about five more restaurants like Dovetail, then we could be getting somewhere.  I spent an evening at Dovetail recently trying to explain this to David. I said that as long as the nicer restaurants in Macon feature old people fancy food, this town wasn’t going to get to where it wants to go. Once they have a few more restaurants like Dovetail, the hip kids that will build the Macon of the future will come.

I have been spoiled for good restaurants in my adult life. Now that I have kids, we don’t go out to eat as frequently, and when we do, we head to places that first and foremost are loud to mask my own loud three year olds. So maybe it is okay for me that there is just one Dovetail in Macon. But I think this town could be like Durham, or frankly, even better than Durham (because less Dukies here, of course), and I would like to see it live up to its potential.

In the meantime, you can watch this episode of Atlanta Eats to learn more about Macon and its (hopefully) growing food scene: