Eating in Atlanta – History, Culture, and Fabulous Food


One of the great pastimes of Southern culture is eating fabulous food while enjoying friends and family. Today we’ll talk about three of our favorites, steeped in history as well as a fair amount of grease and love. Eating in Atlanta is a true event, even at a world-famous drive-in!

by Zach Klein via Wikimedia Commons

No trip to Atlanta for any sporting event would be complete without a visit to The Varsity, the “world’s largest drive-in restaurant.” Originally opened in 1928, the downtown Atlanta location covers more than two acres and can easily accommodate 600 cars and over 800 inside diners. It’s said that on a home game day at Georgia Tech, more than 30,000 people come in for their fix of chili dogs and onion rings.

There’s more on the menu, of course, but these are the mainstays. And there are now eight sister locations including two at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But the downtown location is the favorite for generations of Atlantans. It’s located on Spring Street, just across I-75/85 from the Georgia Tech campus.

Visitors flock in from all over the globe. Many a political candidate and office holder (national and local) has stood in line for the “what’ll ya have, what’ll ya have” that is the standard ordering question. Eating here and taking in the whole atmosphere is something you definitely need to do. No visit to Atlanta is complete without it!

Another Atlanta landmark is The Colonnade Restaurant, located on Cheshire Bridge Road, just north of the city center. In operation since 1927, it moved to its current location in 1962 and continues to offer some of the best Southern cooking available in the area. The current chef sometimes adds his special features to broaden diners’ palates. But there’s almost always pork loin, North Georgia rainbow trout, turkey and dressing, pot roast, salmon croquettes, and their famous fried chicken, as well as a huge selection of fresh vegetables and crisp salads. Come hungry – the portions are large! And after decades, The Colonnade now accepts credit cards, but no more checks! It’s still a step-back-in-time, as noted by one of our 95-year-old relatives who remarked as she looked around, “I wonder if any of my old boyfriends are here…”

by DJ Lamar via Wikimedia Commons

If Southern cooking is your favorite, another must-see restaurant is Mary Mac’s Tea Room, opened in 1945. It’s located on Ponce de Leon Avenue (Ponce) just down from the Fox Theater and across from the historic Peters House, now owned by the Savanna College of Art and Design, and known as Ivy Hall. As the last surviving tea room located in Atlanta in the ‘40s, Mary Mac’s continues to bring in the rich and famous as well as weary college students, locals and travelers from all over the globe. Be sure to check out all the signed photos lining the walls of their six dining rooms.

First-time visitors are sometimes put-off by the pencil and paper system of writing down your order and handing it to the server. It was started by the original owner, Mary McKenzie, to be sure that guests’ orders were to their satisfaction, so be sure to write down exactly what you want! Menu items include fabulous fresh vegetables, their famous pot likker with cracklin’ bread, fried green tomatoes, roast turkey, pork chops, fried chicken and long-time favorite bread pudding with wine sauce. Again, come hungry, because portions are generous. All credit cards accepted here.

With a city as large and diverse as Atlanta, these are only three of probably thousands of wonderful places to eat and take in the history and ambiance of our city. We’d love to hear about your favorites!

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