Atlanta Fried And Pied

10 Dalai Lama smilingLinda Burton posting from Atlanta, Georgia – Fried chicken! When I spotted the picture of the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet smiling down at me from the foyer walls in Mary Mac’s Tea Room, I had to ask, “What did he eat for lunch?” “Marian waited on him that day,” was the answer, “and she says he ordered fried chicken.” Turns out the Dalai Lama comes to Atlanta often; he is a Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory University; and it also turns out he isn’t a vegetarian, as many Buddhists are. He grew up in a meat-eating family but converted to vegetarianism while in India; his doctors however ordered him to eat meat on alternating days after he became weak. “Richard Gere did stick to vegetables that day,” my informer continued. “But I don’t know which ones.” Richard had plenty of choices; I counted 44 items under Fresh Vegetables and Sides on the menu, from Applesauce to Whipped Potatoes; 25 of them were starred as Vegetarian Friendly. Mary Mac’s Tea Room, dubbed Atlanta’s Dining Room, has been feeding Atlantans and world-famous visitors since Mary MacKenzie opened back in 1945. It served classic southern food back then, and that’s what it serves today; every morning somebody is back there in the kitchen shucking bushels of corn, and hand snapping the green beans. If it’s your first visit to 10 pot likkerMary Mac’s, you are offered a complimentary bowl of pot likker with cracklin’ cornbread on the side; pot likker, in case you’ve never heard of it, is the juice you get when you cook up a mess of collard greens; it’s soupy and salty with just a taste of ham. If you don’t know about collard greens, and fried green tomatoes, and Red Mule grits, and sweet potato pie, well, let me fill you in. Mary Mac’s may be the oldest southern-cooking spot in town, but those items are standard fare almost anywhere you go around here, with or without a twist.

Since I spent two weekends in Atlanta, that meant two Sunday brunches; and Sunday brunch in the South will always have grits on the menu, whether covered in shrimp, doused in gravy, baked with cheese, or just creamy plain.

03 Brunch at Oak Street CafeFirst Sunday: Oak Street Café in suburban Roswell, a smallish but friendly/trendy bistro in a shopping center. Easy to park, easy to get in and get seated, pleasant atmosphere with concrete floors and burgundy walls covered in splashy art. The after-church and didn’t-go-to-church crowd looked happy; the staff did too. Staff were dressed in black t-shirts over jeans; the slogans on the front caught my eye. Fry Guy. Hello Porkchop (for the hostess). Perfect Grits (for the servers). I ordered a Virginia ham omelet with roasted red peppers, and grits. “Are they perfect?” I asked. “You’ll see,” my server smiled. The grits arrived in a steaming mug; a silver spoon beside. Yes, perfect grits. So good I scraped the bottom of the mug. The secret was revealed; these grits are simmered in cream all morning. Ice cream never tasted so good. Oak Street Café, Roswell, Georgia .

10 fried green tomatoesSecond Sunday: South City Kitchen in midtown Atlanta. This updated historic bungalow on Crescent Avenue’s restaurant row is nestled between buildings too tall to fit into the camera lens. Quick-as-a-whip service; white linens on the tables and flowers on the bar; sit inside and watch the action in the kitchen; sit on the patio for a skyline view. Old Buckhead money and the up-and-coming young have been enjoying “new Southern cuisine” here for 19 years; my appetizer of fried green tomatoes was the best I’ve eaten anywhere; a perfect crisp, topped with goat cheese and arrayed in a puddle of basil chiffonade; the lady beside me with the mink coat and the polished walnut cane daintily nibbled on bourbon burnt-sugar ice cream for dessert. Platters of buttermilk-fried chicken perched atop whole-grain waffles were marched to the up-and-coming young out on the patio. South City Kitchen, Midtown Atlanta.

10 tailgatingFried chicken. Even the Dalai Lama couldn’t work his way through all the fried chicken in Atlanta; besides the old-style and the new, there are the chains; Church’s and Popeye’s and KFC vie for every corner; get buckets and biscuits and hot wings with spicy sauce. When a Saturday morning of sightseeing left me starving, I grabbed a box of Popeye’s and a large sweet tea and picnicked on the tailgate of the Scion; camellias bloomed and birdsong echoed through the pines. It was peaceful in Westview Cemetery, where I did a little family history research, and found a kinfolk, b 1840 – d 1904. Then I finished up my meal with a fried sweet potato pie, neatly encased in a cardboard push-up envelope.

“The thing about Southern cooking is, not all of it is necessarily good for you, but it’s great to you.”

10 Mary Macs signThat quote comes from Mary Mac’s Tea Room, and their Sweet Potato Soufflé is an example of this philosophy; rich and sweet, it can be served as a side dish, or dessert. They go through about 75 pounds of sweet potatoes a day at Mary Mac’s, where they serve 2,000 meals daily. Mary Mac’s Tea Room, 224 Ponce De Leon Ave, Atlanta

 Sweet Potato Soufflé


  • 1 pound Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • Nutmeg & Cinnamon, to taste
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons salted Butter, soft
  • Evaporated Milk
  • 6 tablespoons Sugar
  • 2 cups miniature Marshmallows


  • In a stock pot, boil sweet potatoes on medium-high.
  • Simmer for one hour, until soft.
  • Drain and cool.
  • Peel potatoes and mash them in a large mixing bowl.
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Prepare a baking dish with butter.
  • Add remaining ingredients (except Eggs & Marshmallows) to sweet potatoes.
  • Mix eggs and add more sugar if desired.
  • Pour into baking dish, baking about 30-40 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 475.
  • Spread marshmallows on soufflé, baking about five minutes until browned.