Atlanta has a number of up-and-coming restaurants vying for the status and attention afforded to NYC's culinary attractions. While some of them are quite good and much easier on the wallet than NYC restaurants, one of my favorites is an old Atlanta institution called Mary Mac's Tearoom. It's been around since 1945, when it was opened by (you guessed it) a woman named Mary Mac. In that regard, the name is fitting. However, you may be surprised to learn that Mary Mac's Tearoom is NOT a tearoom. In fact, the only serve four types of tea: sweet (a.k.a. "Southern Table Wine"), "unsweet" (iced, no sugar), hot (black, with or without sugar and milk), and herbal (I dare not guess which kind). "Mary Mac's Restaurant and Bar" would be a much better name NOW, but when it opened in 1945, very few things (not just businesses, but houses, pieces of land, etc.) were owned by women. To soften the blow of opening a woman-owned business, Mary Mac decided to call it a "Tearoom," because tea was deemed ladylike in the South at the time.
Despite the misleading name, I love Mary Mac's and I visit whenever I visit Atlanta. They provide me with the necessary dose of friend morsels and sweet tea for a southern expatriate visiting the South. This evening, I decided to allow myself every indulgence, and to forego the traditional meal structure in favor of sweet tea, bread, an appetizer, and dessert. This is a decision I do not regret in the least. I started with the sweet tea, which was in perfect southern style--flavorful, powerfully sweet, icy cold, and served with a large wedge of lemon. Next I sampled from a basket of breads: tiny yeast rolls (soft, flaky, and mildly sweet on the inside, firm, buttery, and salty on the outside), a mini-muffin of cornbread (mildly sweet and mealy), and a small sticky bun (cinnamon-honey deliciousness spiraled in soft, doughy goodness . . . with pecans). Then I had the fried green tomatoes, which are a southern staple. They were crunchy and savory on the outside and delicate and perfectly done on the inside. I wasn't a fan of the mayo-based horseradish sauce (despite my southern heritage, I despise mayo), so I opted for their homemade pepper vinegar instead. Delicious! I finished with the peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Between that and the sweet tea, I'll probably be on a sugar high for the next two hours. It was great, though, in that overly-sweet southern-cookin' way--exactly what I needed from my southern food fix.
If you're in Atlanta and you want to know how things are done down South, this is definitely the place to go. It's at 224 Ponce de Lyon (right across from the hostel) and it's open from 11-9 daily.
Between the classes and the exhibits, it's been a long day. I'm going out on the town for a bit, but as soon as my sugar high is over, I'm going to sleep!