Southern food grown in Boston: the beautiful story of Brian McDonald and the connective tissue between us all.

This is what Farm-to-Table really looks like.

Southern food grown in Boston: the beautiful story of Brian McDonald and the connective tissue between us all.
Mac's Kitchen & Bar, Rossville, Georgia 

"You could lay down all of your burdens and dine together."

In my 50 years of living, I can't recall ever seeing a menu like this:

There are 17 items offered. Mushroom grits. Blackened trout. Cheesecake. Okra with beet hummus, bee pollen, pickled onion, honey, cilantro and naan.

And nearly all the ingredients are locally-sourced.

Mac's Kitchen & Bar, Rossville, Georgia

The ingredients – sausage, honey, cucumber, squash, radish, blackberries, peaches – were grown and raised by farmers within 100 miles or so of Chattanooga. Each sourced farm is listed at the bottom of the menu.

The list of 18 farms goes on for two lines.

“Our menu relies 100 perfect on what farmers bring in through the back door,” said Brian McDonald. "We work with 25 different farms."

Welcome to Mac’s Kitchen & Bar, the most beautiful invention of local chef and Boston-native Brian McDonald. Some restaurants flex; others proclaim. Mac's invites. If a restaurant can be equal parts soft-spoken and gutsy, it’s Mac’s – 313 McFarland Ave., Rossville – where McDonald, 39, adheres to a two-fold ethic:

Local food honored.

Southern food honored. 

McDonald lets food be food; within such simplification, there’s respect. Okra, for example, doesn’t need pomp and circumstance. The heavy work has already been done by the farmers and the land.

He calls it “paying tribute.”

“Everything starts with ingredients, sourcing ingredients that are beautiful,” he said. “How do I do justice to farmers and make them proud?”

McDonald shops local farmers' markets and farmers deliver to his restaurant. As if on cue, Bertus Vandermerwe from Big Sycamore Farms walks in, carrying a box of sugar baby cantaloupes, green beans, okra and, out in the truck, five dozen ears of corn. 

“Farming is so difficult ... Restaurants like you,” he says, pointing to McDonald, “they keep us going.”

He's already begun canning and pickling summer produce for winter storage. His menu is brave and vulnerable, all of it linked intimately with local farmers.

"It all starts with relationships with farmers and the produce we source that sparks the creative side of me,” he said. “It always starts with an idea.”

This idea? 

That food could offer comfort and refuge in a turbulent world.

That food was home. 

Daniel Hernandez and Brian McDonald, Main St. Farmers' Market, Chattanooga, Tennessee

McDonald grew up in government housing in Boston. When they had money, his family would shop at Haymarket Square. When they didn’t? Church pantries, food banks, meat bought on Saturday stretched to Friday, stir fry turned to casserole turned to soup.

Yet working class troubles seemed to stop when the table was set. 

“Food was always the best moment of the day,” he said. 

Motown on the turntable. Six siblings, plus drop-by neighbors. Folks strolled in. Shoes kicked off. 

“You could lay down all of your burdens and dine together," he said. "You set down all your differences and your hard days and enjoy comfort food."

Mac's Kitchen & Bar, Rossville, Georgia

Two things imprinted on him.

“We often didn’t eat the same thing twice, and this became my inspiration for changing the menu at Mac’s,” he said.


“Southern food has always been home,” he said.

No matter how thin the soup got, it was always held together by resilient love. For McDonald, all those working class meals in Boston were actually Southern.

“Southern food was created from hard times,” he said.

In the 1990s, his parents moved to Chattanooga, intuitively knowing they had to leave Boston. When you're born in the bricks, you stay in the bricks. They lived near Harrison, then East Ridge; after a family illness, he became the family’s cook. 

His early career: freelance photography, specializing in skateboard culture and wedding portraits, then a shift to IT and web coding. Creative passion fizzled to paying bills. His only refuge? Cooking at night.

“I always protected food,” he said. “I never wanted it ruined. Cooking is a joy.”

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It took Jess Revels – his partner and Bread and Butter’s remarkable pastry chef — to convince him: You’re really good. Why isn’t this what you do?

Brian McDonald, Jess Revels

He took a job at a local learning center as the dishwasher. Soon, he was promoted to chef.

Goodbye, frozen food. Hello, nutritious, creative, fresh food. He served new, exciting meals for students while plating take-home dishes for the staff, who McDonald calls “the unsung heroes of early childhood education.”

He began cooking more publicly. A pop-up here, more kitchen jobs, 80-hour weeks as the question percolated: can I really do this?

Food as a Verb thanks LUNCH in Sewanee for its generous support of local food.

LUNCH is quickly becoming a Sewanee tradition, offering a menu focusing on locally-sourced ingredients, "with an emphasis on seasonality, togetherness, and community."

In the winter of 2022, McDonald was offered a night as guest chef at Proof Incubator, the restaurant-accelerator and proving ground.

He sourced from 11 different farms – Pig Mtn., Fall Creek Farms, Midway Mushrooms – to create Southern sausage, curried bread crumbs, house-made sour cream, pickled veggies and what he calls "the sweetest sweet potatoes I've ever had."

The response was over the moon.

“We maxed out the house all night long until we ran out of food. Three hours. We blew the roof off the place,” he said. 

That night, he knew.

“My whole life, I’ve never felt more seen,” he said. “It was truly me. I wasn’t marching to someone else’s drum. It was me, serving the community. It was one of the most defining moments of my life.”

Soon, the owners of Flora de Mel on McFarland Ave. offered their restaurant space. In March 2023, Mac’s Kitchen & Bar opened its doors with one declarative vision.

"Our connection to food and those who grow it," he said. "We're trying to bridge the gap between you and your food and where it comes from."

For Food as a Verb, McDonald proudly announces that construction has begun on a second restaurant: a Greek + Spanish-inspired tapa and wine bar named Theresa – meaning "late summer" and "to harvest" and named after his mother and grandmother – located at 2608 E. Main St.

"It’s what keeps me here and what I love about Chattanooga. I can do justice to sometimes generations of farmers on the land," he said "That is what makes me love it."

It always starts with an idea. 

Southern food.

Local food.

Ingredients honored.

Farmers dignified.

Kick your shoes off. Lay down your burdens. The table forms, held together by food prepared with love.

"It is a connective tissue between us," he said.

Brian McDonald, Mac's Kitchen & Bar, Rossville, Georgia

All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit

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Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

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