Road Trips: Downstairs, Upstairs in Macon, GA

While Date Night continues our long summer vacation, we offer our next installment of discoveries we have found near Georgia’s interstates. Today, we go about one mile off of Interstate 16 in Macon and find some great burgers and some chef-driven small plates.

Downtown Macon, Georgia is brimming with buildings from the 19th century. There is a lot of history here and a lot of work on preservation and revitalization. The Rookery (downstairs) and The Dovetail (upstairs) share one of those buildings in the heart of the commercial district on Cherry Street.
During a recent weekend in Macon, we are lucky enough to dine in both of these establishments on consecutive days.
The Rookery, one of Macon’s oldest eateries, has a varied menu, but on each of our visits here we only have eyes for the burgers. There are murals on the walls depicting the array of cleverly named burgers. I pick the Allman Burger, a homage to the famous band which calls Macon home.
It comes with swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms. You can also order a James Brown’s Black and Blue Burger (bleu cheese crumbles), a Ray Charles Burger, a Jimmy Carter Burger which has peanut butter on it, among others. Roger orders the Big O Burger (it must have been Otis Redding’s favorite combo)
It features applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce. Each burger comes with a side item of your choice. Each burger is prepared exactly as ordered and hits the spot. A word about the burger choices, there are many – you can choose from black angus beef, grass-fed beef (a $3 premium), chicken, turkey, or bean – so you can certainly have it your way.

Upstairs, things get a little fancier at the Dovetail.
It’s smaller and cozier and reservations are recommended at this newer, trendy spot.
It features a beautiful bar area in addition to a private room towards the back.
The farm to table concept is followed as much as possible and the staff is well trained, attentive, knowledgeable, and charming.
As is often the case, we start this meal with beer. The temperatures are warming up outside, and Roger goes with a Bell’s Oberon but I am lured in by the darker Terrapin Bliss peanut butter porter. The name says it all.
There are lots of small plates on this menu and we are planning to share several, of course. First up is something called “Put Ups”. Four delicious treats served up in small mason jars. Clock-wise from top left: bacon marmalade, smoked chicken salad, lima bean hummus (at long last, something to do with lima beans), and pimento cheese.
The artisan bread from Masada Bakery is served warm and is a perfect compliment to these spreadable delights.
Our next tasty morsel is the Grilled Duck Breast.
It is served atop grits with spicy tomato jam, candied pecans and sheep’s milk feta. The duck is medium rare, just the way it should be. We really enjoy the unusual pairing of grits and duck. It’s nice to see grits stepping out of the more traditional southern pairing of (just) shrimp and grits.

This entrees on this menu are enticing and include shrimp, three types of fish, pork chops and filet mignon. We are sure any choice would have been outstanding but we are looking for something light and settle on the farm veggie plate. It contains creamed corn, mushrooms, kale salad, braised cabbage, pecan slaw and skillet cornbread.
They kindly split the plate for us in the kitchen and added an extra cornbread which turned out to be quite the bonus. We listen to the dessert choices and wish we could indulge, but although the blueberry cobbler sounds delicious, we elect to pass.

The bottom line on The Rookery and Dovetail: Both restaurants are owned by the Moonhanger Group, which has the best food in Macon. It’s easy to find these places, and if you are coming from Savannah, it’s probably time to eat dinner, or perhaps you are looking for lunch after leaving Atlanta. You won’t be disappointed with either choice, but if you are traveling and need to choose just one, we would probably pick The Rookery since you will get in and out a little faster. Sure, you can wait a couple of exits and get fast food, but why bother when you have these two gems ready to serve you some really good food.

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