accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

marymacsignBefore we even get to the vegetables (fruited Jell-o, pickled beets, chicken-less dumplings) at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, may we stop and admire the cocktails?

It’s such a perfect pick-your-poison list: Mint Julep, Hurricane, Martini, Bloody Mary, White Russian, Mimosa, “Georgia Peach.” Or, if you’re a teetotaler, you can get a cool glass of buttermilk. Not me. One of these days I will go to Mary Mac’s, get tanked on White Russians and wander the dining room reciting lines from “The Big Lebowski.” Until that day comes, I will eat my, um, vegetables.

I have to admit that during the 12 years I’ve lived in Atlanta, I have only been to this 62-year-old classic once. Why? I don’t know. There’s something about feeling like a tourist in your own town that’s a turnoff, and for whatever reason, Mary Mac’s has always seemed just a teensy bit like an Epcot Center restaurant.

marymacmenuMaybe it’s the carpeting, or the antique-ish sideboards, or the endless mullions, or the gift case, or the loudspeaker that calls guests to the front desk, or the way you actually have to write out your own order on a chit with a pencil and show a preference for yeast rolls or cornbread.

But we are all guilty of being blind to interesting things in plain view, and Mary Mac’s is a very interesting thing, indeed. We could just stop with the White Russian, the buttermilk and the Jell-O, throw in a fried chicken leg or two and have a meal of indisputable character.

But before we get to any of that, we must sample the potlikker. “Have you not had it?” the waiter will ask as soon as he approaches the table. It’s our specialty, he persists as he brings you a complimentary cup.

marymacpotlikkerThe potlikker — salty, oily and cloudy with mysteries of flavor, with a stray collard leaf floating within — comes alongside a miniature cracklin’ corn muffin.

Crumble it into the cup, the waiter instructs, and release your inner Rhett. But first, try a bite of the muffin by itself and appreciate the porky goodness imparted by the sticky bits of rendered fat and skin. This is a soulful starter.

But now you must turn your attention to your chit, your pencil, and the bodaciously long menu, with its “Tearoom Favorites,” “Grill Menu,” and side dishes to leave you wringing your hands with indecision.

If the waiter marks you as a newbie or a tourist, he will pull out his decision-making semaphores and direct you to the inviolate menu of bad-for-you stuff that everyone surely craves here: fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé and mac and cheese.

Ordering at Mary Mac’s can remind you of the Chinese restaurant where you want to explore the menu but the waiter seems bent on making sure you get the meal he has planned.

Mary Mac chopsAfter many questions, I end up with these tasty fried pork chops — slices of loin, actually, that fry up so crisp the coating actually puffs away from the meat like it would for a properly made wienerschnitzel. I loved the simple preparation, though in an ideal world the frying oil would have tasted fresher.

The side of collard greens was excellent — the greens soft and velvety in that fine potlikker.

The other side — tomato pie — was the single scariest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. With its Ritz cracker crust and cream cheese filling, I knew it was up to no good. I just wasn’t expecting it to be swimming in grease.

You think I’m exaggerating? You want proof? Watch this video, if you dare:

My friend orders the smothered chicken, and I’ve got to say this dish isn’t a looker. Again, proof:

marymacchickenYet this fried and then gravy-glooped bird tastes just right — the meat damp and firm, and somehow all the more chickeny for it. On the side are fried green tomatoes (mostly breading with very little tomato tang for counterbalance) and the famous green beans that the menu boasts are hand snapped in the kitchen. Alas, they seem to have gone through a flavor-stripping machine soon thereafter.

We finish with a slice of peanut butter pie, which seems on the verge of morphing into peanut butter cheesecake. I think I may have cottoned to it better had not the tomato pie scared me off of cream cheese for the foreseeable future.

Be that as it may, I am happy to have rediscovered Mary Mac’s Tea Room. The next time I have out-of-town guests, I’m going to bring them here for smothered chicken, potlikker and White Russians.

marymacpieSomehow, I can think of few meals that would say “Atlanta” better.

Did I miss anything good on the menu? What should I order next time? And can anyone step forward and defend the tomato pie?

178 comments Add your comment

Chaps

November 3rd, 2009
7:48 am

Massachusetts is calling, “Come back, come back.”

Alicia

November 3rd, 2009
8:07 am

The tomato pie is AWESOME!!!!!!!

Dixigoddess

November 3rd, 2009
8:08 am

There’s many good things to order you missed: cornbread dressing w/ gravy, squash souffle, baked chicken, trout, salmon croquettes, the omg banana pudding – I could go on . You had your mind made up when you got there. Being married to one of your kind (a Yankee) I don’t go to Philly and try to make it Southern. Don’t change us – we like us. Shut up and stay home or go home.

Alicia

November 3rd, 2009
8:15 am

Dixigoddess!!!! I agree!!!!!

Scott

November 3rd, 2009
8:19 am

You gotta have the fried chicken livers. They’re awesome if fresh and hot.

PM

November 3rd, 2009
8:19 am

Been to Mary Macs probably 100 times in the last 30 years. It is not as good as it used to be and the prices have risen dramatically in the last 10 years (with new management I suspect). However it is still one of our favorite places to go.

Your review does not do it justice…

Godeacsbd

November 3rd, 2009
8:27 am

John, did you get a back rub?

Love it!

November 3rd, 2009
8:38 am

Their catering set up is pretty tasty…they did a party for us with mini mac n cheese, little pastry cups with peach cobbler and fried chicken strips that put Chick Fila to shame-yummy!

I LOVE their mashed potatoes!

EverydayisSunday

November 3rd, 2009
8:45 am

DixieGodess, please contact me should this thing with the Philidelphian not work out…

In the meantime John, next time try the Okra and Tomatos, as well as Veggie Soup…crumble the cornbread in, add a little hot sauce, watch the smile come out…and they do have great dumplings with or without chicken, and they use to serve them in those great pewter bowls…

It’s just a great, classic, Atlanta institution. Long live Mary Mac’s, it’s like going back in time.

Hot Sauce

November 3rd, 2009
8:54 am

We go there twice a month and this is by FAR the best Sunday dinner in Atlanta. I want to lie and say it’s my first time everytime I go. I love the potlikker.

Laverne

November 3rd, 2009
8:59 am

Shame,Shame,Shame on you. People know your happy azz here now.Your review is insulting to us natives.Tomato pie sounds like a Damn Yankee dish anyway. You know what that is don’t you ? It is a Yankee who comes down here, stays and disrespects our food. Yankee go home.

anonymous coward

November 3rd, 2009
9:03 am

I’ve been to Mary Mac’s once, and that was more than enough. It was absolutely awful. The food was cold when it arrived, overcooked and dry. I prefer the Colonnade for that kind of artery clogging food, or better yet, Greenwood’s in Roswell.

Stan

November 3rd, 2009
9:05 am

To each his own. I’ve never been to Mary Mac’s, but my wife and I just went to the Dillard House this past weekend. OMG thatwasgood! No having to decide what to order, they just bring it ALL and bring you seconds of anything you want. Sure it was a tad on the touristy side but the food was fresh and very southern.

Deanna

November 3rd, 2009
9:14 am

The back rubs scare me a little.

Puhleease

November 3rd, 2009
9:14 am

Try the fried trout.

VoiceOf Reason

November 3rd, 2009
9:29 am

Went once, it was horrible, will not go again.

BreezyATL

November 3rd, 2009
9:30 am

Mary Mac’s is great! I love their vegetable selections. Their squash soufflé and fried green tomatoes are delicious. I tend to steer away from fried foods, but I indulge myself whenever I dine at Mary Mac’s, two to three times per year. Their fried chicken is delicious and I’m a huge fan of their turnip greens. No meal is complete without an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half sweet tea) to wash it all down. Their lemonade is fresh squeezed and refreshing! If I haven’t stuffed myself to the point of misery, I order the peach cobbler ala mode which is too good for words to describe. Mary Mac’s offers up great comfort food to be eaten in moderation, not every day if you’re keeping an eye on your waistline :-)

atl_taz

November 3rd, 2009
9:31 am

ok, so mary mac’s may be an institution in atlanta but the food sucks. there couldn’t possibly be any food more bland and tasteless than at mary macs. it’s the ambience and people that make it worth while – i recommend you order the water, they’ve yet to mess with that.

KitCat

November 3rd, 2009
9:38 am

If you haven’t tried the fried oysters it is a must! I have been eating at Mary Mac’s for the last 35 yrs and it’s still as good as it was the first time I tried it! Institutions like Mary Macs are a dying breed-and what do Yankees know- they don’t even know what a black-eyed pea is and I am not talking about the Band!

SouthernBoy

November 3rd, 2009
9:40 am

My wife and I visit Mary Macs about once a month. The food is tasty, the service is always friendly (sometimes unpredictable if a convention is in town), and it … well, it all just feels good. We always relax and have a good time at Mary Macs – tasty, consistent food, friendly staff, lots of smiles and bottomless sweet tea.

To me, that’s what ’southern’ is all about.

This is not your best choice if you’re looking for an edgy dining experience and want to impress in your new Armani. But if you want to leave with a smile, you can’t go wrong.

Hondo H

November 3rd, 2009
9:43 am

Like Aunt Pittypat said in GWTW. “Yankees in Georgia, how did they ever get here?” Yankees don’t need to review something they don’t understand. You probably criticize The Varsity rings. Go review NY pizza or Philly cheesesteaks. DixieGoddess, sorry about your misforyune

Becky

November 3rd, 2009
9:59 am

I’ve been once and don’t remember the food as being that great..Maybe I’ll try it again to make sure..

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2009
10:00 am

Am I a Yankee if I’m from Maryland? Or does that give me a Mason-Dixon borderline personality disorder? And how do you get (or make sure you don’t get) a back rub? This intrigues me.
But (and you Yankee go home crowd, bite your tongues for a sec): what I’m hearing from you all is that some of the food (chicken livers, fried trout, collards, fried pork chops. okra and tomatoes, veggie soup, OMGBP) is great. Some of it isn’t great. This happens on huge menus, Southern or not, right? It’s all about what’s good and what’s bad, right? For the record, Hondo, love me some Varsity rings…

RFP

November 3rd, 2009
10:05 am

John,
In the words of the immortal Lewis Grizzard “Delta’s ready when you are”.

In all seriousness, I thought the food at Mary Mac’s was marginal at best. If you want real quality southern / Meat and Three food, then head to Matthew’s in Tucker.

reservoirDAWG

November 3rd, 2009
10:18 am

Save yourself the trouble next time John. Go to Matthews for great southern food.

F&B Guy

November 3rd, 2009
10:24 am

Many things are great about Mary Macs, but the Fried Okra is the one dish I will never forego when I eat at MM’s.
Unlike so many dispoable things in our society, Mary Macs, has been, is, and hopefully will be true to what it is, Southern Hospitality and cooking!

F&B Guy

November 3rd, 2009
10:27 am

One other thing. JK is not deserving of the bashing that he is receiving in this forum. Back off people!
He knows what he is talking about and frankly this review is not all that bad. He does say that next time out of towners come visit, they will stop at Mary Macs…think about how many restaurants, he has been too and how many he is NOT going to bring his friend to…

Kar

November 3rd, 2009
10:27 am

Would rather go to the Colonade any time any reason.

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2009
10:35 am

Thanks, F&B Guy: I knew I was asking for it!

Boots

November 3rd, 2009
10:39 am

I’m a born and raised southerner with a mother and grandmothers who had mastered “southern cooking” — and, I prefer their efforts to those of Mary Mac’s.

Somehow the MM receipes just don’t dance on my taste-buds like MaMa’s did.

M. Johnson

November 3rd, 2009
10:42 am

One Southerner’s opinion: Mary Mac’s has built a name off of peddling imitation soul food. I’d get a shrimp basket from McDonald’s before I ordered fried oysters from that joint. The food is just window dressing to the ambiance. You want true soul food, go to Son’s Place, Paschal’s or Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles. Leave Mary Mac’s to the tourists and those whose taste buds died many, many moons ago.

Southern Bella

November 3rd, 2009
10:50 am

Native Atlantan here… Trust me, Mary Mac’s is horrible. If you want Southern food at it’s BEST, Mary Mac’s is NOT the place to go.

I take pity on you non-native Southerners that think that MM’s is the epitome of Southern cuisine. Bless your lil’ hearts!

Rebecca

November 3rd, 2009
10:58 am

Like Boots, I’m a born and raised southerner and I think Mary Mac’s is highly overrated and I’m appalled at all these so-called southerners jumping in to defend the place. Y’all must not eat well at Grandma’s house. Food is for the most part bland and tasteless, sort of like eating at a Ryan’s buffet. I think most of it is canned and little of it is actually homemade. If you want real southern country cooking either do it at home or try the Mennonite Restaurant in Montezuma.

trudy

November 3rd, 2009
11:01 am

MM is not a place I like for soul food;it’s fictional(if you know what I mean; not true/real)I prefer my cooking; but when I do go out for soul food I go to Colonade.

southernFictions

November 3rd, 2009
11:14 am

reading these comments here just reinforces to me that southern hospitality is a fiction…kudos to those of you offering constructive suggestions

mary

November 3rd, 2009
11:26 am

Good god, the food in those photos looks absolutely disgusting.

TJB

November 3rd, 2009
11:37 am

OMG, you must try the creamed corn and sweet potato souffle. The fried chicken or meatloaf would be a good entree with those sides.

And don’t leave without a backrub from Ms. Jo. She’s sweet as pie.

Doug Willix

November 3rd, 2009
11:45 am

My wife and I were told that when we came to Atlanta to be sure and eat at Mary Macs. If their food is a good example of how food is cooked down here in Dixie then all I can say is that I wish I had been born and raised in Atlanta.

We were most impressed with our waitress, a very pretty blonde named Laura. She was most effecient and polite, which is no doubt due to a proper Southern upbringing, which I understand is quite common in the South. You sure don’t hear young people up North saying “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.”

Mary Macs should not be missed by anyone who visits Atlanta.

Sonofamike

November 3rd, 2009
12:18 pm

Give the tomato pie a second chance. The las time I ate there, 6+months ago. It was so good I ordered a second one togo.

top chef fanatic

November 3rd, 2009
12:19 pm

dear mr kessler,
Like you i dined only once there before and what i noticed was the staff was trying harder to please the customers more than the food was . I mean sure its southern food all of the way but it lacks in culinary preperation and quality. I was contracted to do the historical restoration of the plaster next door at the peters house mansion and honestlly i did papis 7 times to mary macs tea room one. So i just will save it for the ebeneezer baptist church faithfulls on sunday . (which i might ad that i did the historical restorations of the plaster on that as well.) And let them enjoy what they think as a fine culinary experience. Im saving mine for wildfire grill …..GO KEVIN!

tourist trap all the way……from a boston badboy :) have a blessed day

Madge

November 3rd, 2009
12:37 pm

I used to dine at Mary Mac’s quite often on business – it was a coworker’s favorite for client lunches. While I was never a big fan (I would beg for Thelma’s Kitchen instead), I did have a go-to order that held up fairly well: turnip greens (& pot likker, natch), fried okra, and baked chicken, with banana pudding for dessert. If I ever go back, I’ll definitely try those White Russians – most things taste better with copious amounts of booze!

Victoria Elder

November 3rd, 2009
1:43 pm

Born in the Midwest and been here since ‘74. I recall when I fell in love with Southern “Meat & Threes” and you actually got three sides (vs today’s two) with the breads, desert & tea included at most of them. I totally concur that the goodness of Mary Mac’s died long ago. A few dishes are still tasty but there are just too many places with better quality food here now. And while many of them have already been mentioned, my fave for hitting with out-of-towners is O.K. Cafe for quality and consistency. Yeah, they are a little pricer than most but it is conveniently located for me (I live in Vinings) and you can’t beat their squash casserole or mac & cheese (except for the latter at Sam & Daves which is actually penne). It is the only restaurant I have found in Atlanta where I will order Pot Roast. And in the take out section, I can get real roast turkey dark meat to make a sammy. Read several years ago that OK had the highest sales figures of any restaurant in Atlanta! And, NO, I do not and have never worked there.

Now y’all stop dissin’ on my man John for writing honest opinions. He knows what he is talkin bout. If you don’t think he does, stop reading his blog and go back to work.

Joan

November 3rd, 2009
2:32 pm

My goodness, who’d have thought this simple little restaurant would’ve generated so many comments? It’s been many years since I ate at Mary Mac’s, and I think it’s changed ownership a couple of times since then. Back then it wasn’t so much a tourist spot as a great place to get a full meal for lunch, at a very good price. And even then I remember inconsistencies in the cooking. But they had a great baked onion dish, which I’ve never had anywhere else. Yum.

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2009
3:15 pm

This is really fascinating to read. I think I should be writing more about restaurants that stir up such strong feelings. Who’s coming with to the Varsity?
On a side note, my daughter who is at her first year in college in Massachusetts has asked me to make her some collard greens when she comes home for Thanksgiving. She misses her border-state dad’s Southern cooking…

Bravo

November 3rd, 2009
3:34 pm

You didn’t like the fried green tomatoes? I love ‘em there. Everything else is ….good, but not great. I can’t get over the fact that they have the audacity to sell potliker. That’s like giving you a side of cornbread crumbs. Anyway, it’s serviceable and not all bad. I like the food. Busy Bee’s still has the soul food thing down pat

uberVU - social comments

November 3rd, 2009
3:50 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by jdkess: RT @AJCFoodandMore New post on Mary Mac’c Tea Room, with greasy video http://bit.ly/3oHWla #30in30…

E

November 3rd, 2009
4:20 pm

Haven’t been to Mary Macs in about 5 years but on the last visit, what I had reminded me too much of Morrisons/Picadilly. 20 or more years ago when Margaret Lupo was still around it was much more enjoyable in my opinion. Now it is just how you described it. Some things on the menu are good, some aren’t. I enjoy the greens, fried okra, okra and tomatoes, baked chicken and salmon croquettes.

Agreed with other that Matthews is my favorite in the area, followed by Sons Place (any truth to Son’s being closed now?) Haven’t tried Carvers yet. Think the Colonnade is just awful but maybe, like Mary Macs, you have to only order certain things.

Alkamom

November 3rd, 2009
5:14 pm

John, we’ve been here fifteen years – to Mery Mac’s once. It was fun as a tourist type place, but I agree, the food was nothing to write home about. As for all the Yankee bashing southerners, where is your famous “southern hospitality”? Just because it’s a tradition, doesn’t make it good food. Be nice.

cold sassy knee

November 3rd, 2009
5:38 pm

First thing, I’m a Chef, burnt out for sure, nothing worth being on TV about. This is relevant because I had a old buddy of mine who briefly worked as the kitchen manager at MM during this decade. And I’m a Ga. Baptist baby, so that makes me Southern to the core. I spoke with my friend often and he didn’t have alot of postives to say about the Management or the conditions in the kitchen. And while this is 2nd hand info, this establishment has had many issues. That said I wouldn’t knock anybody that happens to enjoy the food and the atmosphere. The place has character and that special something that touches people. Personally, real good soul food went to heaven with my grandmother so you won’t catch me at MM’s.
And John, I often feel that my hometown is changing into some bad imitation of New York City. It is up us Southern folk to try to understand and help educate you snow birds on the true glories of the South(especially the food). Cause y’all just keep on comin down. But watch out when you go to the Varsity, don’t mess with my Rings!

esa

November 3rd, 2009
6:10 pm

The thought that animals die to be served at Mary Mac’s is enough to make me want to join PETA.