June 10, 2023

Heirloom Cafe is the kind of family-run establishment that reminds you of why we love humble, original experiences. Owner and chef Jessica Rothacker has created a menu that blends nostalgia with panache—consider her Chicken Mull soup. It’s a homespun classic (with origins in Athens, or so locals say) featuring chicken broth, ground chicken thickened with buttermilk, and ground up saltines. Rothacker elevates the dish with smoked turnips and pulled, rather than ground, chicken—but its her house-made saltines and from-scratch hot sauce that take it to the next level.

Says Rothacker, “Chicken Mull is an ode to our community; it’s generally something people would make in huge batches and sell as part of a church fundraiser. We are the only ones in town serving it in the restaurant scene—people like seeing it. It reminds them of their childhood. Evoking those emotions and nostalgia—creating a feeling centered on family and community is what we are all about.”

Rothacker opened Heirloom in partnership with her parents in 2011. “We decided to open a family business together and started working on Heirloom.” Rothacker used her past experiences working in restaurants around Atlanta and Athens to create and develop a restaurant that reflected everything she admired. “I wanted farm to table, a casual vibe with high quality food, a community driven neighborhood place, and a positive work environment for my employees.” They found and re-purposed an old Amoco service station, added an outdoor patio and created a fetching interior that matches the relaxed neighborly energy of the area.

The menu is deeply influenced by what her farmers bring each week—she works with about 15 different local suppliers so the options are plentiful. During our spring visit the braised edgeroast was a revelation. Rothacker explains the cut is also called the not-very-romantic term of chuck flap. Nomenclature aside, the dish is a religious experience. The beef hails from local rancher, Brasstown Beef and is braised in a beef stock for 24 hours. The braise is reduced down and used as the sauce. It’s finished with a simple beet and fennel salad with cocoa balsamic dressing and savory green garlic puree.

A golden beet chevre pasta tastes like spring with spring onions, asparagus and spinach tossed in pappardelle and a golden beet chevre sauce. You’ll also find southern favorites like fried Georgia catfish and a pan roasted chicken. Cocktails are made to pair with the seasons as well, and the wine list features a great selection of smaller family-run wineries that focus on natural organic and offerings –including one from native Georgians who are making wine in Oregon.

As full as you might be, dessert is a must here. The ethereal strawberry shortcake is a family recipe and the southern caramel cake is unapologetically rich and decadent. And, the prices are just right—entrée prices range from $13 to $25—and these days, that might be the most welcoming aspect of all.

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