We in Atlanta love to celebrate the good old days and pay our respects to those who came before us. We’re a city with a history that goes back nearly 200 years and have seen lots of changes pass before our eyes. This is a town that honors its past (just take a look at Atlanta History Center’s gorgeous growing campus) and shows off where we came from (we absolutely loved Atlanta Time Machine).
And on top of this appreciation of our roots, we also appreciate food — down-home, Southern cuisine that acknowledges our roots, as well as fills our bellies. Combining our love of nostalgia and food brought us to this topic, spotlighting some of our favorite establishments. Here are just a few of our most treasured, classic Atlanta restaurants still bringing us back for more!
Classic Atlanta Restaurant: The Varsity
61 North Ave., Atlanta, GA 30308 • (404) 881-1706
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Our three favorite words to hear in Atlanta are, “What’ll ya have?!” bellowed by one of the many Varsity employees helping create a special experience for every diner who comes through their doors (or pulls up in their car). Sometimes that even means singing the menu, by one of the friendly car hops that assist drive-in diners.
Speaking of the drive-in, did you know the original Varsity location (there are others in Athens, Gwinnett and the airport), opened in 1928 near downtown Atlanta, sits on more than two acres and can accommodate 600 cars?! Perhaps that’s why you’ll see lots of buses sitting in the parking lot — The Varsity is an awesome place to feed big groups of students and tourists alike, who want a good meal and also to get a taste of Atlanta history.
Enough with all the history, let’s talk about the food! The Varsity is a haven of hot dogs, whether naked (plain) or dressed with chili, slaw, cheese or all of the above. Of course, there are other standard drive-thru items, like burgers and fries, but the dessert is where it’s really at. The Varsity homemade fried pies (peach and apple) are made daily, based on a family recipe. A la mode that sucker with one of 16 different ice cream flavors and call it a day. And make sure to pair that chili dog with one of the signature frosted orange shakes.
Classic Atlanta Restaurant: The Colonnade
1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, GA 30324 • (404) 874-5642
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Founded in 1927, The Colonnade is a classic Atlanta restaurant, still popular with residents who appreciate good food, good service and good people. Located on Cheshire Bridge Road, the unassuming exterior looks totally different from the old-school interior, with its dark, dramatic design and outward-facing booths. In fact, the look is so strong that some film and TV productions, like 2013’s Identity Thief, have shot scenes in the dining room.
So what goes on in that magical dining room that’s been bringing back loyal guests for nearly 90 years? It’s all about the food … Southern classics with The Colonnade stamp. The restaurant is famous for favorites like the Southern fried chicken and pot roast. The fried and broiled livers are a go-to, as well as the chicken fried chicken. To be honest, I’m all about the sides, and The Colonnade has a HUGE selection. In fact, there are so many choices, they’re listed in alphabetical order, from applesauce and baby limas to turnip greens and Waldorf salad. Smack in the middle of the list are the pickled beets, which is my No. 1 pick. Visiting The Colonnade is like a trip back in time, enjoying the food your mom used to make and reminding you how comforting a good meal can be.
Classic Atlanta Restaurant: The Silver Skillet
200 14th St., Atlanta, GA 30318 • (404) 874-1388
Hours: Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Just like the song about making new friends but keeping the old, The Silver Skillet sure is a tried-and-true silver friendship, offering a bit of delicious Atlanta history. Popular with Georgia Tech students, Midtown employees and pretty much anyone else in need of a guaranteed, home-cooked meal, The Silver Skillet opened its doors in 1956 and then was purchased by George and Louise Decker in 1967. When George passed away, the restaurant stayed within the family and his daughter Teresa Breckendridge (who grew up in the restaurant) took over the business, along with her husband, Jeff.
What all that means is that The Silver Skillet is truly about wholesome food and a friendly, welcoming setting. Though the booths are comfy and fit large groups, I like grabbing a stool at the counter — I love that diner atmosphere and down-home attitude. And like some of these other historical restaurants, The Silver Skillet has been featured in lots of TV and movie productions, as well as print publications. So what makes this place so special?
Since dessert is the best part of any meal, we’re going to work backwards and start with their award-winning Homemade Lemon Ice Box Pie (voted one of the Five Best Pies in the USA by Life magazine). For lunch, hit up favorites like baked chicken breast or spicy catfish strips and choose two veggies (the black-eyed peas and steamed cabbage are some of our tops). However, if you really want to get the true Silver Skillet feel, check out the posted daily specials. Make sure to stuff your face with the homemade cornbread, a true taste of classic Southern cooking. For breakfast, plates are overflowing with delicious omelets, syrup-y things and Skillet favorites, like grilled corned beef hash, country ham or grilled hamburger steak, all served with that true Southern standby — grits or gravy and toast or biscuits.
Meatloaf served with potato salad and black-eyed peas at The Silver Skillet
Classic Atlanta Restaurant: Mary Mac’s Tea Room
224 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 • (404) 876-1800
Hours: Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Take a food tour of Atlanta, and we guarantee you Mary Mac’s Tea Room will be at the top of any list. This famed restaurant is such a historical establishment that it’s known far beyond Atlanta’s borders. Opened in 1945, this last of the tea rooms truly has soul — both in its expert creation of perfect soul food and in its welcoming of anyone in search of a true Southern meal. According to the restaurant, back in the day, women couldn’t open up their own restaurants, so instead, these clever entrepreneurs (and in this case, Mary McKenzie) used the term “tea room” as a sweeter, more genteel business name.
The sweet Southern soul still continues today. In fact, first timers to the restaurant are treated to a complimentary cup of pot likker to get in the mood for a one-of-a-kind experience (pot likker is the leftover liquid after boiling greens; Mary Mac’s serves theirs with cracklin’ bread (cracklins are crispy pieces of pork skin and fat)). Much of the staff has been working at Mary Mac’s for years and years and they know the ins and outs of the menu, to help guide you through the ordering process. We recommend beginning with some soulful starters like the deviled eggs, lightly fried okra and homemade pimento cheese. The list of Southern specialties is enormous, but some of the standouts from people at our table include the sautéed chicken livers, smothered chicken, braised oxtails over rice (served only on weekends) and a massive number of fresh seafood selections, including shrimp and cheese grits, oysters and salmon croquettes. Of course, you can’t leave without dessert — we say go for one of the cobblers or that Southern classic, banana pudding. And wash it all down with the “table wine of the South”, iced tea.
There’s a reason Mary Mac’s is written about so often and is featured by so many culinary sites and publications — it’s really that good. Be ready for a wait (spend the time shopping the retail area) when you show up, as everyone else in Atlanta is clamoring to dig in to some of the best homemade food in the city, just like you!
Classic Atlanta Restaurant: Bone’s
3130 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30305 (404) 237-2663
Lunch hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner hours: Nightly, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
If you want to see where the big deals go down and how business is really done in Atlanta, make your way downtown for a weekday lunch at Bone’s. This highly regarded steakhouse opened in 1979 and has been accumulating accolades ever since (seriously, it’s been voted the top/best/great/insert glowing adjective steakhouse in the city for years and years). The food is good (we will obviously get into that below), but it’s also the pristine environment and the impeccable service that make this a winner for everyone, including local businessmen and businesswomen looking to rely on the best.
So, on to the food! Obviously, one of the best, most revered steakhouses in Atlanta is going to have out-of-this-world meat. Diners can choose from amazing cuts, including New York strip, filet mignon and loin lamb chops, as well as add-ons like foie gras, Maine lobster tail and crabmeat Oscar. Though the lunch and dinner menus do differ, there are some delicious items that are available at both mealtimes, like the seared scallops with wild mushroom risotto and truffle oil (sigh) and wild salmon with braised white beans and Edwards bacon. And don’t get us started on the sides, like the truffle butter mashed potatoes and grit fritters …
We had to limit this article for length to five restaurants, but the list of classic Atlanta restaurants goes on and on (we’re looking at you Busy Bee Cafe, Marietta Diner, Buckhead Diner and so many other worthy, historical businesses). Though Atlanta constantly has new and exciting restaurants opening their doors to us lucky folk, make sure you pay your respects to the still-delicious originals that have been cranking out lip-smacking food for decades. Take a photo of your experience and share it with us on Instagram … and make sure to turn on your smell-o-vision!
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