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Old Southern Food

We will be driving our youngest son to Wake Forest in August. Road trip from Boulder, CO to Winston Salem, NC and back again. After we divest ourselves of our youngest, we will swing down through Atlanta and take in a couple of sights before getting back on the road and heading west.

I'd like to eat Southern Food in and around Atlanta. I've looked at some of the "New Southern" restaurants and while price isn't that big of an issue, the food looks in many ways like what we can get back home.

I want what in my mind is "Old Southern Food". I'm thinking... fried green tomatoes, fried chicken livers, beans, okra, greens, biscuits, caramel cake, and pie, pie and more pie etc. I eat healthy all the time back home and gosh darn it, I want to clog my arteries with all manner of fried and rich food.

We are looking for dinner Friday night and lunch or breakfast on Saturday morning. We don't even technically need to eat in Atlanta. We are coming in from NC on I85 and we are leaving north/west towards Chattanooga on I75 so anything along that corridor is fine. If we eat in Atlanta on Friday night, it might have to be a place that serves until at least 9p.m. since it is a 5+ hour drive from Winston-Salem.

I should also note that after divesting myself of youngest, I might need to drown my sorrows so bar recommendations, specifically bars that specialize in bourbon, are welcome.

Where we eat.... more to the point.... where we drink, will dictate where we stay.

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  1. OK... more digging seems to have turned up Mary Mac's and Colonnade. They both seem to be what I'm looking for. Mary Mac's has had a history of mixed reviews, but it seems like they have worked out the kinks. Anyone want to warn me off either place?

    6 Replies
    1. re: cbrand

      A great query.

      Hopefully this might help your plan:
      --Supper at the Colonnade. Cocktail first, the Colonnade pours a two fisted drink at prices (cash only!) to warm your heart. Then fried chicken (half) and another entree. The center of the plate varies from surprisingly great to lunchroom gray. We've had consistent success over time with: fried chicken livers, prime rib, grilled trout, greens, fried okra, blue cheese dressed (iceberg) wedge salad (not the tossed salad). Not so much with anything with brown or cream gravies like turkey, smothered this or that. There are daily specials on the blackboard by the door, generally also very good. Get a few extra vegetables--any that sound good. Ask for extra cornbread and yeast rolls. If you do it right you will have leftover fried chicken, rolls and cornbread to snack on for your Saturday drive.
      --Hit a craft cocktail type bar. There are many--and as many opinions about which are best, depending on what's close to your hotel.
      --Breakfast. Biscuits, muffins, grits etc if you must, again many choices depending on what's near to your hotel.
      --Rather, focus instead on lunch. Pull off the road a few minutes out of downtown in Marietta and go to Tasty China for nationally best in class Sichuan food. Many threads on what to order.

      The Denver Highlands area has as many locavore fine choices as all of Atlanta (and eastern slope sourced better produce IMHO), but the above two are places the likes of which can't be found in Denver. So is the General Muir.

      Hope this helps. Please report back.

      1. re: Steve Drucker

        PS. Pie. Key lime at the Colonnade. Even if you go somewhere else stop by for a piece to go.

        1. re: Steve Drucker

          Did you mean Virginia Highlands?

          I wouldn't miss The Varsity. Not Southern food but an institution.

          How about Waffle House for breakfast. They're all over the place.

            1. re: c oliver

              The OP is from Boulder, CO so the poster was drawing a comparison between that area and Atlanta.

        2. Are you dead set on Atlanta, my recommendations for what you're looking for might be better if you look at cities like Nashville?

          1. Busy Bee cafe > colonnade & mary macs.

            2 Replies
            1. re: foodiebuddha

              I haven't been to the Busy Bee in forever, but I used to really enjoy it. I've only been at lunchtime.

              It's been a long time for me, but Greenwood's in Roswell has been a knockout in the past. Fried chicken and whatever pie they happen to be making.

              For bourbon, I've been really impressed with Pinewood Tippling Room in Decatur the few times I've been. The folks behind the bar are serious about their stuff without being overbearing/dogmatic/hipsterish. They've collected some pretty obscure stuff too if you're willing to spring for it. Food isn't too bad either.

              1. re: foodiebuddha

                I second Busy Bee! A real Southern, hole-in-the-wall experience with fantastic greens and pot likker to soak your cornbread in. Great fried chicken - love to sit at the counter.

              2. Colonnade and Mary Mac's have been around for 50 yrs or so,and are more traditional than good.Empire State South,General Muir are good places to start,but their are lots of threads that may give u more specific recs,if u are looking for really good food and bourbon

                1. Thanks to all who took the time to reply. I will definitely report back. As for finding what I now know to be called Southern Comfort food in Nashville rather than Atlanta, we already have plans to eat hot chicken and sweet potato pancakes in Nashville. So much regional food to eat.... so little time.

                  Steve Drucker... thanks for the heads up about Tasty China! We used to live in Seattle and we miss good Chinese food. Our family will be in Orange County, California in early June and I asked the kids if they wanted to eat at a beach front restaurant or drive an hour to eat dim sum. They looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Um.... dim sum... duh. Elite it is!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cbrand

                    Uh oh--dim sum anecdote opens up dimensions of time, space and chow.

                    On your day of arrival, you could leave the Triangle early and totally fore go road food--which is meh for the whole drive, and get off I-85 at Pleasant Hill Rd and lunch at TJ House (see recent thread here, and also at I285foodiesDOTcom); or hit Gu's Bistro for Sichuan whose eponymous chef prepares food that is arguably far superior to that of Tasty China. Then rest up to prepare for cocktails, supper and cocktails.

                    Since our first visit, the Asian community has swamped TJ House (TJHouseGADOTcom), but otherwise its still undiscovered by the wiki world. If you go, get the smoked duck, three Cup Chicken,Hong Kong Fried Rice Noodle (spicy)--these three are musts, Ma Po Tofu, Fish with Fried Bean Curd Sauce, Snow Pea Leaves with Garlic. Clean, incredible carefully prepared food that impresses with both flavor and subtlety. TJ House would be my suggestion.

                  2. As an Atlanta native of almost 30 years now, I have to say your quest is not an easy one. There were more southern food options when I moved here in the mid 80s but those places have mostly disappeared.

                    I would say that Mary Mac's, the Collonade, ect., restaurants that have been recommended, are your best bet.

                    Atlanta has become more like other cities in the US over the years. There are a lot of good restaurants now but the southern influence isn't the main focus.

                    When I think about southern food these days I think about barbeque. The sides and desserts are southern to the max. Just the way I like them. ;)

                    Some BBQ joints my friends and I like are: Heirloom Market BBQ (parking is problematic), Fox Brothers BBQ, people will quibble about this choice but it's a fun place to eat. The decor and atmosphere and service is very southern. Last but not least is Smoke Ring BBQ in the Castleberry district. This place is new-ish but lots of fun.

                    They have taken southern food (and drinks) and tweaked them. They have a boiled peanut martini and something called the Whistlin' Pig: rye, orange bitters and Luxardo. The sides are very good. Love the Brussels sprouts :) I like the pulled pork. A lot. ;)

                    Have fun on your trip and report back! :)

                    1. The silver skillet on
                      14th has outstanding breakfast and lunch. Get their banana cream pie. The varsity is an old study southern fast food place. Use the car hop service for the full experience. Fried pies and chili dogs are great

                      1. My first exposure to old southern food was in '73 when I visited my college girlfriend in Atlanta. I instantly liked the country ham and cheese grits, but the slimy version of okra took a little getting used to.

                        1. Are you planning on staying in Atlanta, if so, where?
                          You may want to stop in Athens, if it is getting late and try one of the great new Southern restaurants, there.

                          I have "dropped" off two children at WF and it was a great experience. Have one in there in grad school, now.

                          If you want to drive to Roswell (off of 400), you can enjoy a very good meal and lots of bourbon at Table & Main. Greenwoods, also in Roswell has homemade pie as does the Pie Hole, almost next door.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: roxro

                            I second table and main and greenwoods on green. Canton St. is a fun walkable area too (lots of antique shops/ galleries/ etc.) so it could make a fun outing to go up there.

                            South city kitchen also does some great fried chicken (and fried green tomatoes).

                            1. re: jacque536

                              Hahahaha! Table and Main lists Mac and Cheese with Velveeta bechamel on their menu. I think someone in Boulder just died, but I'm so in!

                              We will have very little time in Atlanta. We will get in late Friday because Wake Forest has planned activities for parents until mid afternoon. We want to take in at least one Atlanta attraction, probably World of Coca Cola, before we get back on the road. Do you think we should stay in Roswell vs Atlanta.

                              Ok... I just looked at The Pie Hole. I think we have to stay in Roswell. Our family has a thing about pie and we go out of our way to eat pie when we road trip. I'm always interested to see what constitutes "good pie" in this country. (Pro tip.... many places in the US wouldn't know good pie if they got smacked in the face with one!)

                              1. re: jacque536

                                Another follow up... South City Kitchen has a lovely menu, but is more "new Southern" rather than Southern Comfort. Would you eat there over some place like Busy Bee or Colonnade that is more old school?

                                1. re: cbrand

                                  You got it right - South City Kitchen is more modern Southern. I still vote Busy Bee for your desire of real old school Southern, and if you're only in town a short while it's already downtown near Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium . But you might have to give up your pie craving (although I see cobbler on Busy Bee's menu; however it's a bit early for peaches still).

                                  1. re: cbrand

                                    If old school is what you are going for, then definitely do Busy Bee or Colonade over SCK. Mary Mac's is good too - try to get a free "massage" - there is a lady who has worked there forever and likes to rub people's shoulders while they await their food. The mac is good there as well.

                                    Roswell is a great area - Canton St. is fun to wander. Table and Main is one of my favorites - sit on the patio if you can. Great bourbon cocktails too. Also - Green's (just a street over) has to die for fried chicken and pies.


                              2. Since Dante's Down the Hatch on Peachtree has closed, there is little for such a great city to offer.

                                Although quality varies widely between stores, I would recommend the fried chicken, gizzards, and livers at the Hess filling station. Kangaroo can also be good.

                                Just something to munch on till you get unsnarled from traffic and arrive at your restaurant. I will leave it up to locals to recommend specific hidden gems.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                  Dante's was about as far from Southern food as you could get!!!

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    But it screamed over the top Atlanta!!

                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                      Oh good lord. Dante was a real character, bless his heart, RIP.

                                      When I was a young thing and not sure about what my career should be I attended a vocational school next to Dante's. The school had an agreement with Dante's for parking. D's issued quarterly parking permits to students for the daytime hours at a price which many thought was a bit steep.

                                      One day, Dante surveyed his parking lot and discovered several students had parked there without paying.

                                      He came next door to the head of the school's office ranting and raving about what a bunch of rotten punks we were... all the while waving a gun around. :)

                                      I kinda miss ATL in the 80s. ;)

                                    2. You could stay at the Doubletree in Roswell off of the Holcomb Bridge exit on 400, eat at Table & Main for better bourbon experience or Greenwoods for a casual experience. Walk up and down Canton Street where there places with live music.
                                      Artisan Bakery at the north end of Canton has a nice Sunday breakfast (beignet made to order)
                                      For a true Southern attraction Roswell has three historic plantation homes that you can tour. Or head down to the Chattahootchee for a stroll or rent kayacks.
                                      Then you're back on the road.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: roxro

                                        You guys are just the best! Seriously, you all are simply the nicest and most helpful group I've ever encountered on any Chowhound forum.

                                        Kayaking on the Chattahoochee? I'm soooo there, though I think it's the paddle boards that are calling me. We can Shoot the Hooch in the morning and then drive up to Chattanooga and climb Lookout Mountain in the evening. Sounds like a great day and I can justify eating even more pie!

                                        Should I skip The World of Coca Cola? Coke is just so iconically American and i'd love to learn more about its history.

                                        Finally, with so much to do in Roswell and Chattanooga, I don't think we will make it all the way to Nashville on Saturday. Anyone have any pro tips for food up Chattanooga way?

                                          1. re: cbrand

                                            The Chattahoochee National Recreation Area accesses are very nice up toward Roswell. We recently did a quick hike at Sope Creek and enjoyed it. Columns Drive is very popular and gets crowded on the weekend. I've never been to the World of Coke (too touristy). The Aquarium is very nice, but the one in Chattanooga is also pretty good (and also maybe more logically arranged).

                                        1. I think your Roswell idea is a good one - Pie Hole is terrific, and if you go to Greenwoods you can get your fried green tomato fix along with their fried chicken.

                                          1. You will need to check on Pie Hole hours. You will probably need to pick up on Saturday. Also, reservations are a must for Table & Main and advisable for Greenwoods. Check out Canton Street restaurants if those are unavailable. And the little shops have a bit of a southern flair.
                                            Farmers market at City Hall on Saturday morning and food trucks along the river during the day.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: roxro

                                              Greenwood's used to not take reservations. Did that change?

                                            2. I would skip the touristy things such as World of Coke (especially), although the new Ferris Wheel down there may be fun. But, if that is also Georgia Tech's move-in, things will be super-packed in the midtown/downtown area.
                                              There is restaurant on Lookout Mountain (Cafe on the Corner) that is good, also 212 Bistro in Chattanooga is very good. Across the bridge, I recall a good ice-cream and yummy doughnut shop.
                                              I think the best caramel cake is from Piece of Cake with various locations around ATL and at terminal B in the airport.