The small town of Athens, Georgia, is many things. It’s home to the Georgia Bulldogs (the University of Georgia’s pride and joy), it’s the birthplace of bands you’ve probably heard of (think: R.E.M., The B-52s), and it’s become a food haven for chefs like Peter Dale, who’s opened not one, but four restaurants in the Classic City. “I can’t have a favorite, they are all special in their own ways,” says Dale. He opened his most recent concept, Maepole, in the summer of 2018, and he packed their fast casual menu with plenty of locally-grown, hormone-free, and grass-fed goodness. Plus, there’s cheese! “We always knew there would be a mac and cheese at Maepole,” says Dale when asked about their cheesiest dish. “While we lean healthy, sometimes you just need some comfort food to make your day.”
Dale’s other concepts include the cozy Condor Chocolates, an all-in-one factory, café, and retail location for bean-to-bar chocolates and other confections (like decadent sipping chocolate); the chic Seabear Oyster Bar, home to a grilled cheese filled with Tillamook cheddar, tomato, and a pickle, which Dale says is “really hard not to order every time;” and his first food baby, The National, which is home to Boybutante drag brunch and day-one delicacies like their Manchego-stuffed Medjool dates. As for Maepole, Dale’s got plans: “In the big picture, we’re hoping to expand Maepole to a second location.” As long as this means more mac and cheese, we here at culture fully support this endeavor.
“Athens is a really special place, full of creative people who are incredibly supportive of each other,” says Dale.“I can’t imagine another small town that would support all my varied interests the way Athens does. Each new business has been a response to something that I [wished] Athens could have, so it has always been about offering more options for our community.”
While Dale prioritizes local producers in his restaurants, he still has a special place in his heart (and stomach) for non-local cheesemakers. “It’s hard for me to find in Georgia, but I love a German cow’s milk blue cheese called Chiriboga,” he says. “Chiriboga has blue cheese qualities but it’s also creamy and buttery… It just melts in your mouth.”
Dale is no stranger to Georgia’s local cheese scene. He had the opportunity to work with Sweet Grass Dairy (Thomasville) in the early 2000s when they were just getting started, and has since added Hobo Cheese Co. (Atlanta) to his lineup of Georgia-grown cheesemakers. Dale’s current favorite fromage is Hobo Cheese Co. Banjo: “I like to eat it simply on some crusty bread, maybe with some sliced Georgia peach,” he says.
The Maepole mac and cheese gets its richness from a secret ingredient: cottage cheese! This makes the dish extra gooey and the perfect base for a crunchy buttered breadcrumb topping. Check out this recipe for more of Dale’s tips for recreating this comforting classic.
Photographed by Bailey Garrot