Grisamore: Native son blends sister cities in new D.C. restaurant

January 18, 2014 

Tony Brown grew up in Macon at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Orange Street.

The historic Victorian house, built in 1887, is a half-dozen telephone poles up the hill from Washington Park and around the corner from Washington Avenue and the Washington Memorial Library.

So it’s only fitting that, in a few weeks, he will open a restaurant in Washington, D.C., named the Macon Bistro & Larder.

It is 669 miles from 1085 Georgia Ave. to 5520 Connecticut Ave. in the Chevy Chase section of D.C., where Tony will raise the curtain on “Macon” the same week the cherry blossoms should be blooming in his hometowns of Macon and Washington, D.C.

The restaurant is beginning to take shape in an arcade that dates back to the 1920s. Tony said it’s still “dust and drywall,” so he’s not quite ready to bring out the white tablecloths.

The menu is also a work in progress, but don’t assume everything is Crisco fried, ham hocked, hoecaked and smothered with country gravy.

You will be able to get grits, along with biscuits, boiled peanuts, Vidalia onions, blackberry cobbler and macaroni and cheese which, by the way, is considered a vegetable in the South. You can also order a classic BLT -- with a fried green tomato.

Georgia, however, isn’t the only “Macon” on the marquee. Tony has a passion for French cuisine, so it will share a table with Macon, France, our sister city.

Yes, that’s right. A native son is blending sister cities in the kitchen. Middle Georgia on the same plate with central France in the nation’s capital.

The restaurant will celebrate the fusion of classic French bistro cuisine as “interpreted through a Southern lens.” No, french fries don’t count.

Tony will be serving bistro favorites such as steak frites, pork rillettes and Coquilles St. Jacque, while paying homage to the biscuits and blackberry cobbler made famous by his maternal grandmother, the late Essie Childs of Taylor County.

A bite of her cobbler has a way of bringing back summer for him, even in the middle of a D.C. blizzard.

“It tastes like the countryside,” he said. “Both of my grandmothers were cooks in the true Southern tradition.”

His paternal grandmother, Eunice Brown, is now 97 years old. She moved from Macon to Montgomery, Ala., in 2009 to live near her youngest daughter, Charlene Cotton.

One of the legendary desserts she always made during the holidays will be featured on the menu. “GiGi Mama’s Coconut Cake” will take its rightful place under “Sweets” between the “Macon S’mores” and Gauffre de Liege.

He also plans to offer microbrews from the South and has contacted Macon Beer Co. about a distributorship. And, of course, his wine list will focus on the French Burgundy wine regions around Macon, France.

Tony was born in Washington, D.C., in 1968. His father, the late Dr. L.E. Brown, was an eye physician at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The family was stationed in Germany before moving to Georgia when Tony was 5. His father was a partner in the Eye Center of Central Georgia on Oglethorpe Street.

L.E. Brown grew up on a dairy farm on property now under the waters of Lake Tobesofkee. He graduated from Lanier High and met his wife, Nancy Childs, of Butler, when they were students at Mercer.

Nancy was named the first president of the Macon Heritage Foundation in 1976. She later became executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance, an umbrella organization for arts groups in the city.

L.E. Brown was killed in an automobile accident near Lyon, France, in 1988. He and Nancy had been vacationing in Europe. They had left Macon, France, and were traveling to Lyon when the accident happened. He was 50 years old. Nancy was seriously hurt in the crash but recovered from her injuries. She still lives in Macon and is now married to Don Cornett Sr.

Tony went to high school at a boarding school in New Hampshire and then majored in chemistry at Cornell, where he met his college sweetheart, Kimberly. They will celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.

After college, he took a job with Union Carbide in Chicago and later moved to New York. He fed his love of cooking by moonlighting at a New York restaurant and attending Peter Kump’s culinary school. (His chemistry degree actually proved useful in the kitchen.)

In 1992, he opened a burrito chain called “The Burro” (like a donkey). The first restaurant was in Ann Arbor, Mich., and he followed with three more in D.C.

He sold the chain in 2001 after he graduated from business school. He has been working as a defense contractor, consulting federal government agencies.

“I’ve been wanting to get back into the restaurant business for several years now, and all the stars aligned with this opportunity,” he said.

He started looking for a suitable space in Chevy Chase about five years ago, and the spot in the arcade became available last spring. When finished, it will have seating for 60 inside and 40 outside on a covered patio.

In many ways, the simple French bistro tradition offers the same farm-to-table experience that Southerners use in their approach to cooking. The “larder” portion of the business will include a market with specialty foods that can be prepared at home.

Tony views restaurants as much more than just a place to eat. “It’s a way to bring people together around the table,” he said.

When they gather at the Macon Bistro & Larder, they might just see a painting of a magnolia tree on the wall and hear a recording of Otis Redding singing “Try a Little Tenderness” as they munch on their chevre braised short ribs.

Bon appetit, y’all.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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