Two Southern Restaurants, One Front Door
The Rookery and Dovetail in Macon, Georgia, serve up farm-to-table cuisine while sharing a front door.
by Shanna Conway Dixon
If you find yourself in Macon, Georgia, looking for an authentic experience, The Rookery and Dovetail are the places to be. These two restaurants share a front door, but one is an eatery and bar known for its happy hour and live music, the other a Southern-inspired, farm-to-table concept.
So, whether you make a decision to stop in on a whim for a burger named after your favorite musician at The Rookery downstairs or plan ahead for a date night at Dovetail upstairs, both restaurants have Southern charm and work hard to provide menus with locally sourced items.
Set in the center of revitalized, historic downtown Macon, The Rookery’s successful transformation from a local dive bar and eatery that opened in 1976 into a family friendly restaurant and pub led to the opening of Dovetail in October of 2012. Dovetail provides a sophisticated take on Southern cuisine and is Macon’s first farm-to-table restaurant.
Wes Griffith and Chad Evans (pictured right) took over The Rookery in 2009. A local enthusiast, Evans enjoys connecting with farmers across the Southeast to supply the best ingredients. “Locally sourcing food can be all-natural and organic, it can be keeping money in the community, Evans says. “But in the end, for me it’s about slow food. It’s about knowing where your food’s from and being proud of the flavor and the quality of food.”
Two years after taking over The Rookery, the owners went in search of ways to supply locally sourced beef options for the menu. For $3 extra, diners can choose the Rocking Chair Ranch beef for their burgers, which is local, grass-fed and all-natural. Griffith and Evans ran with this model as inspiration for Dovetail. During the best farming seasons, Dovetail provides nearly 85 percent of its menu items with ingredients from across the region.
When entering The Rookery downstairs, patrons will be greeted by an eclectic collection of table lamps lining half of the restaurant, providing additional lighting for the dark wood walls, floor and tables. Tables are decorated with autographs of patrons from over the years. While ordering Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip, Vidalia Steak or a Fried Green Tomato BLT, you may find you’re sitting where Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones, Harrison Ford or Aaron Paul previously dined.
In tune with Macon’s musical roots as home of The Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding, The Rookery is a hotspot for regional musicians as well; weekend live shows draw in the crowds, and during late July the restaurant hosts part of the Bragg Jam festival called “Friends of Brax.” Bragg Jam is a city-wide music and arts festival held annually, with The Dirty Guv’nahs headlining this year. Local musical heritage is important to Evans, and each year he reunites with members of his band Hank Vegas to play and pay tribute to the Bragg brothers. This year’s lineup at the Rookery stage also includes Paleface and Sterling Waite & the Cotton Avenue Hustlers.
Venture upstairs to enjoy the intimate, loft-like atmosphere of Dovetail, which opens at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Though the restaurant is newly renovated, it maintains a vintage appeal; the original floors were repurposed into the bar and the boards also decorate the walls. Local artists supplied the artwork, with the largest canvas being a commissioned piece at the entrance. The painting by local artist Heidi Clinite features a whimsical scene that incorporates the Georgia State Fair and a kazoo. Patrons can feel comfortable dressing down in jeans and a t-shirt, but the presentation and quality of the food begs for fancy attire.
The menu at Dovetail changes with the farming seasons according to the availability of ingredients. But Executive Chef Doug Sanneman and Chef de Cuisine Brad Stevens revel in being creative in the kitchen. Manager Roger Riddle says,”They get inspired. They sit around the office talking about stuff they’ve seen, flavors they like and, before you know it, there’s a new dish. The other day it was Steak Tartare and Frog Leg Dip. The Frog Leg Dip was the keeper.”
Dovetail’s menu reads like a Southern fusion fantasy, and that comes to life on the plate. The Oysters Dovetail are one of the longest-standing menu items. They’re baked with Benton’s country ham, collard greens, cornbread and aged cheddar. The Veal Tenderloin is topped with grapefruit and sits on a bed of dill-creamed corn, while the Blackened Catfish is served over blue cheese Red Mule Grits and topped with macque choux and poblano relish. One of the newest menu items, the aforementioned Slow-Simmered Frog Leg Dip, is topped with cornichons and red onion and served with crostinis toasted in bacon fat with a romaine salad.
At Dovetail, menu items are divided by starters, small plates and entrees, with most items priced from $12-$20. Desserts are prepared daily by Pastry Chef Ashley Dunn. Desserts change frequently, but a long-standing favorite is the blueberry coulis served over a custard with a brown sugar cinnamon hushpuppy. The Rookery divides its music-themed menu by Opening Acts, Main Stage, Headliners and Encores. Salads, sandwiches and kids items are also available, with an entire section dedicated to old-fashioned, handspun milkshakes. Sunday brunch at The Rookery is also popular, with biscuits like one with fried chicken, pimento cheese and Dovetail’s bacon marmalade.
Riddle attributes the beginnings of Dovetail to visiting Mulberry Street Market each Wednesday and talking with local farmers, then forming menu specials around their produce purchases for The Rookery on Thursdays. “People came to look forward to it,” he says. “We had a lot of good feedback, and we sat around daydreaming about what we could do. This is the result of that.”
Whether you choose door The Rookery or Dovetail, you’ll find a dining experience inspired by the heart of Georgia.