Athens chef shares recipes for elegant Southern brunch buffet

Athens chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens, offers brunch recipes that include (from left) Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs, Baked French Toast With Skillet Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream, and Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash (yellow bowl). Rothacker and her husband, Jordan, came up with the Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail (center). STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER/ CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Athens chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens, offers brunch recipes that include (from left) Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs, Baked French Toast With Skillet Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream, and Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash (yellow bowl). Rothacker and her husband, Jordan, came up with the Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail (center). STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER/ CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“Creating community, celebrating local farmers, and telling a story through food” is how Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in the Historic Boulevard neighborhood in Athens describes its mission.

Chef Jessica Rothacker owns Heirloom with her father, Atlanta businessman Travis Burch. But before she decided to open the homey restaurant in 2011, Rothacker traveled several different paths that eventually converged.

She graduated from the University of Georgia, where she studied English, and thought about becoming a novelist.

“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I got very scared of rejection,” Rothacker said one recent morning, sitting on the front porch of the Athens home she shares with her husband and two young children.

Jessica Rothacker, shown with her children, Fox, 3, and Soren, 1, on the front porch of their Athens home, is a chef and co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Jessica Rothacker, shown with her children, Fox, 3, and Soren, 1, on the front porch of their Athens home, is a chef and co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

“I took a year off, and ended up going to culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta. I thought maybe I could be a food writer. But I started working at Muss & Turner’s in Smyrna, fell in love with working in kitchens, and wanted to see where that would take me.”

Later, Rothacker followed Muss & Turner’s chef David Sturgis to Athens to work at Farm 255, where she became the sous chef. Then she honed her pastry skills at Ike & Jane, an Athens bakery and cafe.

As it turned out, each of those places influenced what Heirloom Cafe would become.

“I wanted to bring together the things that I really loved about the previous places I had worked,” Rothacker said. “I was really fond of the management style, and the way Muss & Turner’s treated their people.

“I also wanted to bring in the farm-to-table side of things that I learned at Farm 255, so we do lots of local sourcing. All of our meats are sustainable and humanely raised, and the majority of our vegetables are coming from local farms. With Ike & Jane, I just loved that they were very small, but very community centered, and in a very walkable neighborhood.”

Of course, like every restaurant, Heirloom has been adapting to these pandemic times, currently offering online ordering, curbside pickup, and outdoor table service only.

“We are all wearing masks and gloves, and we’re requiring our guests to wear masks, unless they are eating or drinking,” Rothacker said. “We feel like that’s only fair to provide for the safety and security of our servers.”

Though Heirloom serves lunch and dinner, and features a full bar, brunch is what I usually go for when I’m in Athens. The likes of pulled pork hash, biscuits and gravy, or eggs and Comfort Farms sausage are always a welcome remedy on a Sunday morning, after a Saturday night in the “Classic City.”

When I asked Rothacker if she would share some brunch recipes to make at home, she offered three dishes and a cocktail that would be perfect for a summer buffet served on the porch.

Jessica Rothacker prepares a bowl of her Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash in her Athens home. It's a great dish for a brunch and a great way to use up extra veggies. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Jessica Rothacker prepares a bowl of her Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash in her Athens home. It's a great dish for a brunch and a great way to use up extra veggies. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Her Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs is a dressed-up Heirloom catering staple. “It’s very Southern to sit on the front porch and eat deviled eggs and drink iced tea,” Rothacker said.

Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash is a good way to use up the bounty of a CSA (community supported agriculture) box. “Everything that’s in the hash came out of the farm box I got last week, but beyond potatoes, you could use just about anything you have, and throw an egg on top,” Rothacker said.

Baked French Toast With Skillet Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans, and Whipped Cream is a decadent baked dish that comes out a bit like bread pudding, and could easily be eaten for dessert. “It’s a nostalgic thing that goes back to my grandfather, who was very fond of butter pecan ice cream. Baking it makes it very hands off, so you can do other things while it’s in the oven.”

Finally, there’s the Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail, which was born when Rothacker was gifted with “two big, beautiful watermelons.” And perfected by her husband, Jordan A. Rothacker, a writer by day and sometimes bartender by night. “He has enjoyed a renewed fascination with mixology during quarantine,” Rothacker said.

RECIPES

These recipes from Jessica Rothacker, executive chef and co-owner at Heirloom Cafe in Athens, add up to an elegant Southern brunch buffet at home.

Baked French Toast With Skillet Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream is from a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Baked French Toast With Skillet Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream is from a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Baked French Toast With Skillet-Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream

“Peaches and butter pecans signify late summer to the little girl in me,” Rothacker says. “This dish brings together those childhood memories and puts them on the table for brunch, although if you were to substitute ice cream for the whipped cream, I would never tell.”

Baked French Toast With Skillet-Fried Peaches, Butter Pecans and Whipped Cream
  • For the French toast:
  • Pan spray
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 loaf of challah or other sweet bread, cut into 1-inch thick slices
  • For the butter pecans:
  • 3 cups pecan halves
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or sorghum syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • For the skillet-fried peaches:
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 peaches, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • For the whipped cream:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • To make the French toast: Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with pan spray. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and salt. Whisk in eggs. Slowly pour in heavy cream, whisking continuously until fully combined. Cut bread slices in half on a bias. Dip each slice of bread into custard mixture and allow to soak for 1 minute. Arrange bread in the greased pan in a shingled pattern so that layers overlap, which spreads the liquid uniformly and allows the dish to cook more evenly. Pour remaining liquid over the slices. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  • To make the buttered pecans: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans in a bowl. Pour melted butter, maple syrup and sea salt over the pecans and toss to coat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Spread the pecans in a single layer on the baking sheet and place in oven to bake for 10 minutes, until nuts are golden brown and fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  • Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Place the French toast mixture in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the French toast is golden brown and crisp on the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
  • To make the skillet-fried peaches: Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt and just begin to brown. Add the peaches and brown sugar to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the peaches begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Briefly remove the pan from the heat and pour in the bourbon. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the alcohol has cooked off and the juices have thickened slightly.
  • To make the whipped cream: Pour heavy cream into the bowl of a stand mixer or a medium bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks start to form. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and whip until thickened. Keep chilled until ready to use.
  • When ready to serve, divide the French toast slices equally among 6 plates. Top each with peaches, whipped cream, and pecans. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 1,363 calories (percent of calories from fat, 75), 18 grams protein, 70 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 117 grams total fat (51 grams saturated), 406 milligrams cholesterol, 527 milligrams sodium.
With so many vegetables on hand during the summer, put Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash on your brunch menu. It's a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
With so many vegetables on hand during the summer, put Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash on your brunch menu. It's a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash

“One of the easiest ways to use up a veggie box is to throw it all into a hash,” Rothacker says. “While the potatoes are a must for hash, really anything else would be delicious mixed in.”

Summer Farm Box Vegetable Hash
  • 1 pound new potatoes, 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 shishito peppers (substitute padron peppers if you can’t find shishitos, or 1 poblano if those, too, are unavailable), sliced horizontally into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 small zucchini or summer squash, 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 standard ears sweet corn (or 3 small ears), shucked and kernels cut from the cob
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes (Rothacker perfers Sungolds, but any kind will do), sliced in half
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 tablespoon rough chopped basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (optional) (see note)
  • Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until they begin to soften, 8-10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.
  • Warm a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Melt the butter in the skillet. When the butter starts to bubble, add the onion and garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring often. Add shishito peppers, squash and potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes brown slightly and the squash is tender, about 6 minutes. Add corn and tomatoes, and continue to cook 2 minutes more. Add lime juice, basil, salt, pepper, and chile flakes if using. Stir to combine. Serve hot.
  • Note: One in 10 shishito peppers are spicy while the others are mild. If you get a spicy one, you may want to opt out of the chile flakes, but if you love your spice or end up with only mild peppers, add this to amp up the flavor. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 268 calories (percent of calories from fat, 32), 7 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fiber, 10 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 23 milligrams cholesterol, 677 milligrams sodium.
Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs would be at home at brunch or a catered event. They're based on a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs would be at home at brunch or a catered event. They're based on a recipe from chef Jessica Rothacker, co-owner of Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market in Athens. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs

“This is one of my favorite hors d’oeuvres to take to catered events,” Rothacker says. “Downhome and humble, these deviled eggs straddle the line between breakfast staple and afternoon snack. Make sure to follow the instructions on how to boil an egg for a magic peeling trick.”

Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (regular Hungarian paprika can be substituted)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces smoked trout
  • 1/4 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1 ounce trout or salmon roe
  • Fill a 2-quart saucepan with 1 quart of water. Add baking soda and bring to a boil. Place each egg individually onto a slotted spoon and gently lower into the boiling water. Boil eggs for 14 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and drain the water off of the eggs. Shake the boiled eggs in the pan vigorously until the shells have lots of little cracks in them. Add a couple of handfuls of ice to the pan and cover the eggs with cold water. The water will seep into the shells and help release the shell and membrane from the cooked egg white. Peel immediately for best results.
  • Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and place the yolks in the bowl of a food processor. Add in mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt and smoked trout. Puree in the food processor until mixture comes together as a paste. Transfer yolk mixture to a bowl and add mayonnaise. Fold together gently with a spatula until fully incorporated. Cut the end of a pastry bag off and fit it with a star tip. Transfer the yolk mixture to the piping bag and pipe rosettes into the holes of the egg whites. Top with roe and serve immediately or refrigerate to serve later in the day. Serves 4-6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 4: 174 calories (percent of calories from fat, 60), 14 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 11 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 312 milligrams cholesterol, 791 milligrams sodium.
The Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail was developed by Jessica and Jordan Rothacker. She's a chef, and he's a writer by day and sometimes bartender by night. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY
The Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail was developed by Jessica and Jordan Rothacker. She's a chef, and he's a writer by day and sometimes bartender by night. STYLING BY JESSICA AND JORDAN A. ROTHACKER / CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS HUNT PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail

“My husband, Jordan Rothacker, experimented his way to the perfect low-proof hydrating brunch cocktail,” Rothacker says. “Don’t forget to add the salt and pepper. It somehow makes the watermelon juice taste even more like watermelon.”

Watermelon Wake Up Cocktail
  • 1/2 pound seedless watermelon cubes (to make 4 fluid ounces)
  • 4 ounces Tito’s vodka
  • 2 ounces Aperol
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 2 basil sprigs
  • If you have a juicer, juice the watermelon according to manufacturer’s directions. If you don’t have a juicer, add watermelon to a blender and blend on high until the fruit is pulverized. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or place cheesecloth over a colander over a bowl and squeeze the solids to release all the juice into the bowl.
  • Add watermelon juice, vodka, Aperol, salt, pepper and ice cubes to a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 2 minutes. Strain into 2 wineglasses. Slap the basil sprigs in your hand several times to release the oil and aroma. Place a sprig of basil in each glass and enjoy with brunch or in a rocking chair on your front porch. Serves 2.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 231 calories (percent of calories from fat, 4), 1 gram protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 147 milligrams sodium.
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