Taste – Winter 2021
By Griffin Nelson | Photos By Evermore Photo Co.
Her enthusiasm for her community and quality comfort food is clear as owner Jessica Rothacker tells her story on the patio of Heirloom Café & Fresh Market. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, always wanted to open a business,” she says. “My family always gathered around food ... as I learned how to cook I had fresh fruits and vegetables at my fingertips.” For Mother’s Day one year growing up, she made the entire spread of featured recipes from Bon Appétit magazine. “That was a spark for me.” She realized what she was capable of, that cooking great food was possible and that she loved it. Despite attending the University of Georgia as an English major, her love for cooking never dimmed and she eventually decided to attend The Art Institute of Atlanta to learn more about the culinary arts. Upon graduation she worked at the prestigious Muss & Turner’s in Atlanta. Teaming up with her father, Travis Burch, who has a background as a business owner, the duo were set to succeed when they opened just over a decade ago.
Through Heirloom Café, Rothacker has been able to support her community not only by providing a fantastic menu, but by creating a menu based on the local and regional farms from which she sources her meats and vegetables. Pork from Comfort Farms, Beef from Pastures of Rose Creek, Vegetables from Ladybird Farm and wheat and corn from DaySpring Farms are just a few of the ingredients that grace the plates at Heirloom Café. “We want to showcase things that are from our local producers as much as possible,” said Rothacker. With this focus as an integral part of their business model they’ve been named one of the Georgia Organic Farmer Champions. In working with local farms the menu changes several times throughout the year depending on what is in season. This allows the cafe to support local farms year-round and also provides an opportunity for creativity. Patrons find elevated comfort food dishes like juicy, rich, braised short ribs using Brasstown beef with mashed potatoes, confit carrots and mushrooms — one of Rothacker’s personal favorites — among others. As in past years the cafe will also do Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for those who love good holiday cooking, without having to miss out on time with their family and friends.
Supporting the local economy by purchasing from farms, expanding their outdoor patio, adding heaters during the pandemic to better serve their neighborhood in a safe environment and featuring a rotating selection of work by local artists on its walls, Heirloom Café continues to ingratiate itself within the Athens community. Whether you’re just stopping for a fun brunch on the weekend, quick lunch during the workday or to spend a quiet dinner enjoying great food with good friends, Heirloom Café stands by the values it was founded on — building up the community that surrounds it by serving beautiful, comforting dishes that bring people together.
A round of applause is due to any business that managed to survive the pandemic, especially those in the food and beverage industry. It is a testament to flexibility, ingenuity and an unwillingness to compromise on high standards and quality. The Old Pal, a fitting name for a business that is such an integral part of their neighborhood and the Athens community, is a perfect example.
Not your everyday bar, The Old Pal is known for their exquisite craft cocktails. Over the past year and a half they got creative, finding ways to provide drinks even when, like everyone else, they couldn’t open their doors for normal business. As the world gradually returns to normal however, the appreciation for cocktails is heightened. Certainly a good beer or glass of wine are enjoyed and The Old Pal offers those as well, but cocktails are complicated — truly an art form. “During the pandemic a cocktail is something that people couldn’t replicate as much at home,” owner Matt McFerron points out. Most people don’t want to have to go buy four different bottles of liquor that may likely sit on the shelf and never get used again, make a simple syrup and slice garnishes just for a single, if fabulous, drink. Additionally, getting the ratios right and understanding all of the techniques involved in a perfectly balanced drink requires practice and skill. Your local cocktail bar is poised and ready to take care of all of that, not only creating an extensive collection of ingredients to make the classics but with the skills to create a cocktail list of new and exciting drinks that rotate seasonally, keeping things fresh and interesting. The menu even features a nice selection of mocktails for those that want a drink without the buzz.
The beauty of The Old Pal is this combination of high end drinks with a neighborhood vibe. McFerron, his management team Elspeth McWaters and Clayton Hoffman have worked hard to make their community feel at home. A board next to the bar reads “Leave a PAL a Drink.” “The idea is you can come in and leave a tab or a specific cocktail,” says McFerron. It allows the community to get involved and provides a connection between friends who may not be able to be there at the same time. The steady return to normal after a year of little socializing and very few unique drinks has shown Athens the importance of The Old Pal. It’s a place to come together with friends and enjoy one of life’s little pleasures — a finely the crafted cocktail in the comfort of your friendly, neighborhood bar.