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

TJB

November 3rd, 2009
6:12 pm

John, I bet your collard greens are great. You should have a contest and have a few readers over for some of your favorite dishes. You think this blog is lively, that would be the talk of the town.

John Kessler

November 3rd, 2009
9:18 pm

“Real good soul food went to heaven with my grandmother.” That’s beautiful, Cold Sassy Knee. I bet it did. Also, I think you totally called it when you said, “The place has character and that special something that touches people.” Y’all come back…

Shhhhh

November 3rd, 2009
9:56 pm

JK’s columns are by far the best thing in the AJC. Looking forward to this series (and the comments) over the next month.

Nichole

November 4th, 2009
9:07 am

Mary Macs food is best enjoyed by people who grew up eating overcooked veggies and heavily sauced or fried mains. Many of us did and find this kind of food comforting on occasion. It represents a certain type of Southern cooking, not the best or a broad representation but a very specific kind. It also has an atmosphere and charm that appeals to people who can look past the somewhat touristy veneer (or who enjoy it). In other words, the place ain’t for everyone but there is a certain clientele who will enjoy it for perfectly valid reasons. Same can be said of The Varsity.

Bill

November 4th, 2009
10:54 am

Yes, you are a Yankee if you’re from Maryland. But I lived in Bawlamer for a couple of years and Maryland has some excellent food/restaurants.
Mary Mac’s is just okay, but I will take the suggestion about trying the fried oysters one day soon.

Beans

November 4th, 2009
11:47 am

I wasn’t raised on Southern food, but get to Mary Macs about once a month and have had great experiences every time. The atmosphere is great (much improved in recent years) and the food is just downright comforting to me. Can’t say as I’ve tried everything (there’s so much to choose from and when I land on a favorite I stick with it); fried oysters, fried chicken or pork chops – John, I agree they are tasty and the best I’ve had anywhere – fried okra, greens, mac & cheese, yeast rolls, pecan pie…). And, their Mint Julep is quite tasty, too.

I love writing down my order and the friendly wait staff – some of which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing there for 15 years or better. Ever been when the piano player is there? A real treat.

If you’ve not been there in a while, I suggest you do like John and give it a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

To the piont.....

November 4th, 2009
12:24 pm

John apparently you DO NOT know southern food. Mary Mac’s by far is the best southern food you can get in Georgia. Your comment referring to the “loud speaker” does not exist. Get your facts straight before you even attempt to write such a negative article about a landmark in this city. If the food and the service were not great in this restaurant it would fold as many have here in Atlanta. I’ve had the tomato pie at least 20 times and it was excellent.
Question: How are the southern restaurants where you come from? I bet no where near as good Mary Mac’s…

Peggy

November 4th, 2009
12:53 pm

Agree on the “place that touches people” comment being good. And the last re
“landmark” is the key. Atlanta, having none but the dome and it obfuscated behind that ugly never touch hot asphalt bridge. Is the varsity (the one on north, even it had to try to chain) the oldest continuous on it’s site? I go from time to time just to be sure it’s still there (And I find the carpet sag underfoot reassuringly noticed before and forgotten) when in the mood for meatloaf, and end up with fried chicken

Louis

November 4th, 2009
1:31 pm

There’s something about Mary Mac’s, and it may in fact just be the ambiance and that fact that it’s a tried and true Atlanta born and bred restaurant. Granted, the food there is sometimes like a crap shoot… sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s cold. No one mentioned those wonderful cinnamon rolls there but the meat loaf, fried okra, and creamed corn are my favorites. Someone did mention Greenwoods on Green St and JK that should be one of the places on your list. This man is from Maryland with crab cakes you should love. All in all , I think Mary Macs is most loved by us native Atlantans because it’s stood the test of time. As for the back rubs..I don’t want anyone I don’t know coming up behind me and rubbing my back… keep those hands to yourself lady !

Tom Turner

November 4th, 2009
1:56 pm

I’ve never been to Mary Mac’s but some of these comments have shown me the error of my ways. Mr. Kessler, I’m glad you’re doing this hog blog exercise. Just remember, when you hit somewhere Polynesian, do NOT fall asleep with an apple in your mouth!

Rebecca Abbott

November 4th, 2009
2:55 pm

John,

Maryland is a border state.
It was not part of the Confederacy, so it is not Southern to those of who were born in the Deep South. And we were raised that anyone not born in the Confederacy is a Yankee. It doesn’t even matter if you moved here as an infant. Born in or Yankee.

Sorry, dude!

John Kessler

November 4th, 2009
3:37 pm

Rebecca: Can I apply for a Southern passport if my Atlantan children sponsor me?
Tom: Trader Vic’s!!! Time to rearrange the schedule.

Clemfan

November 4th, 2009
4:00 pm

please go to Bobby and Junes off 14th street if you want good southern food and no chinese menu. Fried chicken okra and mac and cheese take a picture of your belly after your done clown

Steve

November 4th, 2009
4:06 pm

Are you kidding me? I’ve eaten their several times and was always underwhelmed. I’ve even tried their fried chicken recipe – bland.

So many better places to eat this kind of food. Trust me. This one is blah.

Tech Guy

November 4th, 2009
4:07 pm

It’s Obama’s fault their quality has fallen!

grillinchef

November 4th, 2009
4:12 pm

God bless him, Lewis Grizzard said it best – “Delta is ready when you are!”

Tyree

November 4th, 2009
4:15 pm

Like you, I’ve eaten at Mary Mac’s a couple of times in the last few years. It’s fine but unremarkable. Nothing stands out to pull me back. No craving for a signature dish.
Just like another old timer Colonnade, it seems to ride on it’s reputation from it’s defenders rather than the actual quality of the cooking.

Tucker

November 4th, 2009
4:16 pm

When we arrived in Atlanta, there were at least four places of this sort, which were very pleasing. They were in no particular order: Mary Mac’s, Evan’s Fine Food, Colonnade, and OK Cafe. I believe OK Cafe is the winner in terms of retention of quality over the long haul. I must say Mary Mac’s under the management of the now deceased Mrs. Lupo was the shining star at the outset.

SuwaneeDawg

November 4th, 2009
4:19 pm

We’ll drive from Suwanee to Mary Mac’s to eat any time. The food and hospitality are always great. I love the creamed corn, sweet potato souffle, fried okra and black-eyed peas. We also can’t get enough corn bread and cinnamon rolls. I’ll admit the tomato pie you were served doesn’t look too appetizing, but I’d be surprised if it simply wasn’t just a bad day for whoever made/served that one. As far as the back rubs, I could do without them, although I personally like the lady who gives them and find her entertaining to talk to. In my opinion it’s worth the drive to Mary Mac’s any day of the week and suggest you keep an open mind about this Atlanta landmark and make a return visit.

snort

November 4th, 2009
4:20 pm

I doubt you’re getting the usual group of epicureans commenting here. As a native Southerner whose family has likely been in Georgia and the deep South longer than most of you (I can visit MY deceased family members in Oakland…can you?) I can firmly attest that a LOT of what passes for good Southern cooking is not. Overcooked vegetables that turn to mush and lose all flavor are NOT good Southern cooking,

You want to eat good Southern cooking today? Try Watershed. You want to COOK good Southern food? Try Mrs. Dull’s, or Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s book. THAT is good Southern cooking – not the Gone-with-the-Wind-sold-to-the-tourists-so-long-that-y’all-have-started-to-believe-it-yourself crap that passes these days.

Fred

November 4th, 2009
4:25 pm

I’ve eaten several times at Mary Mac’s in the past few years. It’s fine. However, nothing remarkable draws me back. I can’t recall a signature dish that would make me drive out of my way to the restaurant.
Like another old timer Colonnade, Mary Mac’s seems to ride on it’s reputation from defenders rather the actual quality of the cooking.

Jennifer

November 4th, 2009
4:28 pm

Mary Macs Tea Room USED to be the best place. You really want to sample some good home cooking – go to Gabriel’s Desserts In Marietta. It is a bakery but also serves some great food…mostly veggies, sandwiches and salads. But the desserts are amazing. The owner is Johnnie Gabriel (the cake lady) who is also Paula Deen’s cousin.

Sorka

November 4th, 2009
4:40 pm

Maryland is a border state and their brand of fried chicken is rather different from truly Southern chicken. I have not been to Mary Mac’s in many years as I used to find its food uninspiring, although the atmosphere was pleasant. I will check it out again. I have frequented the Silver Skillet more often in recent years, although their food is an acquired taste (they also make you write out your order on chits). I will definitely meet you at the Varsity anytime, Mr. Kessler! I went there with my date on senior prom night, 1986. We ate at the drive-in. I will always love the Varsity.

Sorka

November 4th, 2009
4:41 pm

I am also a native Atlantan and have deceased relatives buried in Oakland, so I think I have a few solidly Southern credentials!

suki and fritz

November 4th, 2009
4:42 pm

I went to Mary Mac’s a couple years ago and it was okay, but I am not racing to get back. I have to be honest- when the lady came up behind me unannounced and tried to rub my back- I screamed. I don’t think even Southerners get that cozy normally. And the food was pretty good in that comfort food way, but I don’t see the point of paying a fair amount of money that I can get visiting my Grandmother’s for free (and of course, far superior, Gran). It is church function food- the only thing I liked about having to go to church functions as a child- (mmm, mystery casseroles). having said that, if you are an out-of-towner with a Gran who doesn’t do southern mac-’n'cheese- you can go here and pretend (for a price of course).

Smitty

November 4th, 2009
4:44 pm

Try the Shrimp and Grits, a true southern favorite!

atlantanative

November 4th, 2009
4:45 pm

only here 12 yrs.you are a still tourist.please leave

ziza

November 4th, 2009
4:56 pm

i’m a transplanted yankee. there i said it lol. and i like mm’s. i know it’s not the best food, but yes i love the arnold palmers and the yeast rolls are to live for. one thing i REALLY like is the sheer array of food that’s on the menu!! i do like the atmosphere. and any restaurant that has fried chicken livers is ok with me. i do love ok cafe and will definitely try carvers. have been wanting to try colonnade for a long time and just haven’t gotten there. great responses even the mean ones lol are entertaining. i like jk and am happy he’s back to commentating on restaurants. and making collards for his daughter. love that. :-)

KC

November 4th, 2009
5:00 pm

When I first moved to Atlanta (from TN) over 20 years ago, I really enjoyed the place. The last few times I went, the food was cold, greasy, and abso-fricking-lutely god-awful. I’ll never go back again, and when friends come to visit and want to go there, I take them to OK Cafe instead.

It's Very Simple

November 4th, 2009
5:09 pm

Just because I can make make a plate of spaghetti doesn’t mean that I’m Italian.

If you like MaryMac’s, you are not a born and bred Southerner. This is not an opinion, it’s just a fact. Any place can call its food ’southern’. It doesn’t make it so. It takes a bonafide Southerner to identify bonafide Southern food.

Atlanta Native

November 4th, 2009
5:17 pm

The real one, by the way.

The review was very good based on my trips there as of late. I loved it as a kid, but maybe it is the fact that I have broadened my palate over the years. The potlikker remains one of my favorite things ever and I agree on leaving the cornbread on the side. Each is great by itself.

However, I choose other places when I want to eat the heart attacks on a plate I grew up with.

John, remember, these are the same people who recommended QuickTrip or a specific Subway for best sandwich in Atlanta.

Oh, and real Atlanta Natives are courteous and glad to have you here. JK, without you I would never have tried so many different types of food while out and about. (Though your story years ago of taking the kid’s team for Korean BBQ seems a bit apocryphal to me)

Please have a “dine with Kessler” contest sometime!

Voice of Reason #1

November 4th, 2009
5:32 pm

I went to Mary Mac’s once. HATED IT! For real soul food, go to “Bob the Chef’s” in Boston.

Gary

November 4th, 2009
6:12 pm

I am not going to attempt in any way to be mean. Really, I’m not. I’m just gonna give what I think is the very best possible response to anyone that takes upon himself to come to our beautiful city and have the audacity to have anything negative to say about anything in this wonderful place that we call home.

And I’m not even going to be original either. I’m going to call upon the memory of someone that grew up in the south, loved the south and everything about it. I’m going to “paraphrase” from someone that I followed for many years in the AJC and in his numerous books. Our dear friend Lewis Grizzard.

“……….If you folks want to come down here, by all means come on. Come down here, eat our food, breathe our air, drink our water, marry our women. But know this, we don’t care how you use to do it in Cleveland. This is how we do it here. Anytime you aren’t happy with how we do it here, well my yankee friend, Delta is ready when you are……………”

Momma said it best. If you ain’t got something good to say, then just keep your mouth shut.

Mr. Kessler, I suggest that you jsut keep your mouth shut.

And as far as the tomato pie and Mary Macs’ goes. It is the best of the best of the best. If you don’t like it, it’s because you aren’t smart enough to understand it. And how dare you call it scary? You don’t know scary. Yeah, I recommend that you just keep your mouth shut.

Do you need the number for Delta?

T.R.

November 4th, 2009
6:42 pm

Has anybody mentioned the cinnamon rolls? Definitely tasty! Mary Mac’s will always have a loyal fan base. But for an overall memorable meat n’ three experience, the Colonnade is consistently better.

Nichole

November 4th, 2009
7:50 pm

Good grief people. It’s possible for two people to have two differing opinions about one thing and for neither to be an ignoramus who needs to get out of town. Sheesh.

Laverne

November 4th, 2009
9:02 pm

Mr. John , I apologize, you are not a Yankee if you can provide us with an authentic Maryland Crab Cake recipe.

Piso Mojado

November 4th, 2009
9:32 pm

JK,

As you know by now, Southerners in general, and Georgians in particular, are very thin-skinned when it comes to criticism of ANYTHING. Most can’t deal with a difference of opinion and, when it does come, they immediately get personal. Good honest debate of anything – be it food, politics, sports, lifestyle – doesn’t seem to be on many of these people’s menu (pun intended).

Hang in there, buddy. You MAY get used to it after being here for 20 or 30 years.

Tragedy

November 4th, 2009
9:40 pm

Son’s Place being closed is a tragedy. Come back Son’s Place.

Ga Peach

November 4th, 2009
9:41 pm

I’m another Atlanta Native who gets dragged to Mary Mac’s by visitors all the time. And every time I regret it.

I’m sorry that many of my townspeople are blinded by allegiance to an institution rather than to what constitutes a decent meal. There’s great soul food in Atlanta- The Busy Bee is my favorite, but The Colonnade and Matthew’s are also very good.

Keep at it John!

chris

November 4th, 2009
9:43 pm

Mary Mac’s, overall, is a pretty good southern food establishment, but not even close to the best. The fried chicken needs more seasoning and the mac and cheese was bland to me. The collards were good along with the Peach Cobbler. I have only been once, and I will go again, maybe try the cornbread dressing this time.

Pdiddy

November 4th, 2009
9:51 pm

Give ‘em hell John. Good review. I kind of think it’s been like this since I was a student at GT in the 80’s. I liked it, and the aging quirkiness, but the food is hit or miss. Would be fun to hit the cocktails, rather than sweet tea….

Traci

November 4th, 2009
10:03 pm

Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle GA puts Mary Mac to shame on any day!

necie hams

November 4th, 2009
10:10 pm

BlUE WILLOW IS THE PLACE TO BE!!!!

SharonH

November 4th, 2009
10:10 pm

Well I’m glad somebody said it! MM’s is one of those overrated Atlanta phenomenoms like chili dogs from the Varsity or UGA football. None of them are worthy of the publicity they receive.

signed,
a native Southerner

John Kessler

November 4th, 2009
10:11 pm

Laverne, I’ve made a blood oath not to share the recipe for crabcakes with anyone who cannot provide their Old Line State bona fides. I will say it involves Old Bay Seasoning, crushed saltines and (here, I duck for cover) Hellman’s mayonnaise.

Native Southerner

November 4th, 2009
10:13 pm

KC, it really wasn’t any better 20 years ago, was it? I tried Mary Mac’s for the first time 22 years ago. It was just as disappointing the next time, 15 years ago. I’ve never returned.

Villa Rica DAWG

November 4th, 2009
10:44 pm

I thought it was just me… I LOVE southern cooking. Merry Mac’s? Not so much…

Edward

November 4th, 2009
11:01 pm

Native southerner here and I can attest that Mary Mac’s is just awful. And yes, I’ve been several times and it is awful every time. Seriously, if that is your idea of “great Southern food” I pity your meager experiences. My parents wanted to go there when they visited because they’d heard about it. I warned them, but we went anyway. It was awful. I found absolutely nothing redeeming, I’ve had better food from a Swanson frozen dinner.

There are far better choices for good Southern food in Atlanta. Mary Mac’s has some mystified reputation, much like The Varsity (another seriously overrated experience that I just don’t understand). Evidently one must not have ever had actual good food in order to adore these vaunted places. I’m just thankful that my grandmother and mother knew how to cook real food so I could tell the difference and know that Mary Mac’s is just awful.

east cobber

November 4th, 2009
11:03 pm

sorry, but mary macs doesn’t hold a candle to many of the local meat and three’s (carver’s for example)…over-priced and underwhelming…after my last visit, i said that’s it for me.

Native Southerner

November 4th, 2009
11:04 pm

Someone mentioned Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles. John’s Creek location closed abruptly a few weeks ago.

Mother Teresa

November 4th, 2009
11:13 pm

You’re an idiot. It was juice from the tomato.

bill jones

November 4th, 2009
11:16 pm

I’m a Southerner born and bred and love Southern food and can cook it. Mary Mac’s is highly overrated.

Jeff

November 4th, 2009
11:46 pm

Good Lord, John… since when does a guy under the age of 80 worry about cream cheese, dessert or a little grease with a meal? Geez, you sound like freakin’ Barbara Walters on The View! (I’m sure it’s your favorite show!) As Chaps, Dixigoddess, BreezyATL, etc. all said, this is SOUTHERN comfort food that is best loved and appreciated by SOUTHERNERS. I have been up north before and I had a lot of Greek food and northern “stuffing” (not dressing) and rutabagas and stuff like that… I didn’t really like it, but I didn’t complain and I sure didn’t write any reviews about it in those local newspapers!

Mary Mac’s may not be perfect, and there are some things better than others, but as a rule, Southern comfort food is best understood, cooked and appreciated by native Southerners (and those Yankees who come with an open mind!) Stuff like mac ‘n cheese, fried anything, food with gravy, dressing, cheesy stuff, some salty items, sweet tea and lots of desserts… those are our Southern staples, and i love ANY restaurant that serves those!

I’ve only been to Mary Mac’s a few times, but I’ve enjoyed it every time… and it’s like the Varsity, an Atlanta original. That’s part of the reason that many of us like it so much!

P.S. If you’re worried about the cheese and desserts and some grease, go put in a good workout the next day to work it off! A couple of hours of tennis or basketball or good, hard yardwork will work that stuff right off!

deep south girl

November 5th, 2009
12:23 am

Mary Mac’s is disgusting. Like others who’ve commented, I get dragged there by visitors and regret it every single time. If that’s your comfort food, have at it, but the rudeness in these comments is more un-Southern than the intrusive backrubs or the clammy, sticky fried chicken.

Give me Scott Peacock’s cooking any old time. Watershed is where I take guests who appreciate good regional food that tastes like my mama’s and my grandmama’s.

Rebecca

November 5th, 2009
1:15 am

Just like everything else in the South and everywhere else i suppose, “If ya doesn’t like it, ya doesn’t have to go”. I personally like Mary Macs, I like Matthews in Tucker, I like The Collonade, I like the Varsity. It’s just a matter of opinion and taste. Born and raised in the South…..

Pat

November 5th, 2009
1:16 am

My mama was a true Southern lady. She made her own homemade jam, pies and cobblers, and always had fried chicken, turnips or collards, fresh rolls and assorted vegetables ready on Sundays right after we got home from church. Her casseroles were regular fixtures at dinner on the grounds at church, Sunday night potlucks or at the homes of bereaved friends and neighbors.

But good Lord, the woman was an AWFUL cook. Sadly, she was probably one of the worst cooks in our neighborhood, congregation, heck, probably the whole town. She boiled her vegetables to mush, turned pancakes into vulcanized, syrup-topped, rubber discs, rolled biscuits that sat in your stomach like shot puts for hours, and baked a mean cornbread – and I do mean “mean” – so heavy, leaden and hard, you could knock someone unconscious with it, even without the cast iron skillet she cooked it in.

My point? Food can be authentically “southern,” and still suck. But while mama’s terrifying crimes against cuisine were a source of family humor, we’d have all probably been deeply offended if the obvious had been pointed out by outsiders.
When Mama brings people a pie and they say, “Oh Margaret, you shouldn’t have”, they really MEAN it.

In Atlanta, where everything gets torn down every three or four years, people develop a deep fondness for what’s survived for years – the comforting and familiar – especially a restaurant that cooks like a beloved relative. Flavor, freshness and quality ingredients just aren’t that important to some. Like a sweet old maiden aunt who absent-mindedly puts salt into the sugar cookies, Mary Mac’s way past her glory days – but most Atlantans defend it vigorously with a never-ending benefit of the doubt.

Rex in Jax

November 5th, 2009
3:35 am

Well friends and neighbors, having grown up(and out) on southern delicacies,I must say MM is a great substitue for the real thing. Grandmama has gone on to her reward and Mama has taken to using Splenda in her Red Velvet Cake! I guess some things just can’t stay the same.My last at MM was on New Years day and it was wonderful! We ate like hogs! The food was good and my friends from Jacksonville were astonished. After moving here (to Jax) I can understand why! These folks just cannot cook! They wouldn’t know a real Red Velvet if it rode rough-shod over them! I’ll still take mama’s first (Splenda not with standing), and then Mary Mac’s anyday of the week! Ya’ll come to see us!

matt

November 5th, 2009
3:37 am

‘Yankee this!’ and ‘Yankee that!’ – Insulting southern food is apparently high treason in these here parts. This read was like a time machine ride through America’s more divisive past.

tom shoupe

November 5th, 2009
3:41 am

DO NOT EAT AT MARY MAC'S

November 5th, 2009
8:57 am

The food is horrible at Mary Mac’s and it tastes like grease. I ate there once and my tastebuds were offended. Save yourself the trouble you can get a better meal at your local Cracker Barrel!

GA Peach

November 5th, 2009
9:36 am

I have to agree with the individuals who were NOT impressed with Mary Mac’s. I have been only once with my family and it is definitely not the place to go for southern cooking. MM does not represent the best Atlanta has to offer in Southern cooking. I have definitely had better tasting, better quality food.

island transpant

November 5th, 2009
9:58 am

i went to Mary Mac’s this summer for the first time…and i’m sorry to say i could not see what the big deal was about….the mac and cheese was gross oily, i just did not like it and will not go back…sorry….

kinderbabe

November 5th, 2009
10:36 am

i too went to mary mac’s once years ago and found it awful. my grandmothers and aunts are fantastic cooks. the only people i could see being impressed by mary mac’s were those who don’t cook or were deprived of good, homestyle, soul-stirring southern cooking when growing up. lol

John Kessler

November 5th, 2009
11:07 am

Pat: LOVE your post. I think you hit the vulcanized biscuit on the head.

John Kessler

November 5th, 2009
11:08 am

Mother Teresa: Not even Monsanto could figure out a way to engineer a tomato with that, um, “juice.”

reality

November 5th, 2009
11:55 am

Mary Macs Sucks.

JIMBOB

November 5th, 2009
12:18 pm

Haven’t been to MM in a while. More of a fan of Greenwood’s. Quinnies is actually good too, although lacking in ambience (and the cornbread is really dry).

Southern Deb

November 5th, 2009
12:20 pm

This 57 year old native Atlanta girl still likes Mary Mac’s! I love the baked chicken & dressing, sweet potato souffle’, collard greens, and those wonderful yeast rolls. Wouldn’t want to leave out the cinnamon rolls,…Yum! I’ve always enjoyed Ms Jo’s back rub and conversation, too!
Honey, maybe you just haven’t been here long enough to know good southern food! Don’t give up, try it, again.

KCV

November 5th, 2009
12:34 pm

I’ve lived in Atl for 9yrs and everytime I think of going to Mary Mac’s I talk myself out of it for the reasons u stated…seems like it’s a tourist destination that may have good “southern/soul” food to those who don’t know how to cook “southern/soul” food and always thought I would be disappointed. After reading the review and repliess, I will give it a try so I can formulate my opinion. There is a place in New Orleans (my home town…Who Dat!) named Mothers (as well as Dookey Chase) that most tourist and confused locals LOVE… but is also just a place that serves tourist style red beans and rice with a lot of salt and grease and call it southern soul food…u can get better at smaller neighborhood restaurants or my grandmothers house ; )

wolfman

November 5th, 2009
12:58 pm

Brings back memories of my weekly visits when I was a student at GA Tech… Go Jackets!

Joel six pack

November 5th, 2009
1:03 pm

Mary Macs is the kind of place Paula Dean and her ilk must love. It is crude, defiantly unchanging, greasy and it makes you fat and lazy.

danny williams

November 5th, 2009
1:12 pm

I’ve been the mary macs several times and I enjoyed the tom-pie. I also enjoyed other items on the menu. I have to say if you enjoy southern cooking mary macs is the place to go

Blackqueen1

November 5th, 2009
1:18 pm

Mary Macs is all hype, if you are looking for some serious southern flavor go to The Busy Bee on MLK next to the old Paschal’s hotel, little place but the food has big flavor. Also nobody has mentioned the Smith House in Dahlonega Awesome food.

KCV

November 5th, 2009
1:21 pm

I have to say, Busybee has been recommended several times, only problem is they are not open on weekends!?!?!? I have to say, any restaurant/donut shop that makes it’s own hours, must be good cuz they’re obviously not starving for $$$! I may get in the car and head that way now…..

A

November 5th, 2009
1:29 pm

As a lifelong southerner I always get a laugh when people start talking about ‘yankees’ not appreciating southern food. It’s food, people. It’s nice food, sometimes too greasy, sometimes startlingly good (thank you Edna Lewis). But it’s not a thing to get all het up about-I feel sure that people from the north are capable of judging the merits of southern food accurately. And Mary Macs is awful-the last time I ate there I was under the impression that all the food came out of cans. I didn’t realize that one could get a drink there-might have made the whole thing easier to bear.
As far as this ‘yankees don’t get it ‘ thing goes: remember your southern hospitality. We do not openly criticize our guests. We wait till they’ve left.

GA Girl

November 5th, 2009
1:30 pm

Mary Macs okay not as good since Mary Mac died and the place was sold to another person. I was told the cook did stay though. Try Bobby and Junes a Great place very small have been in their location over 50 years. Way better than Mary Macs and cheaper.

Cubanamama

November 5th, 2009
1:33 pm

Ok, yeah, Kessler was asking for it by taking a less-than-worshipful stand on MM’s (something no Yankee could do with impunity), but I must admit he’s not off base. I have to say that all of y’all that are making a hue & cry about MM’s must not have been to Busy Bee which (all due respect to Cold Sassy), is simply THE best Southern/Soul food in town. Period. Love!

Midtown Residing

November 5th, 2009
1:35 pm

Please forgive me, but I’ve lived in Atlanta for 19 years and I still wonder what is so special about the South. I don’t like Southern Hospitality any better than I like California Hospitality (at least they have great wine), or anyone elses hospitality. Why does the South think they have a corner on the hospitality market. Most of the time I just see it as being nosey. Now the food. Excuse me? Boiled greens, overcooked veg and cornbread? I would much rather have a hot dog from a street vendor in NYC, or a great burrito at a no-name place in LA. I don’t get it. Oh, and I’m not from “the north” and I’m not a yankee.

My Two Cents - Southern Style

November 5th, 2009
1:38 pm

If you transplants don’t like our southern food there are plenty of restaurants that will serve you half cooked food so visit them. One problem with you Yankees is you want to change us to your way of thinking. Please don’t try as we enjoy our vittles the way we were raised….good southern home cooked food.

J

November 5th, 2009
1:43 pm

I’ve been living in Texas for 2 years now, and I’m CRAVING Mary Mac’s home cookin’ now! I know the FIRST stop I’m makin’ once I get off I-20 and head for home.

Gordon M.

November 5th, 2009
1:44 pm

All of your comment’s are understandable. The thing is, taste is an individual thing and the way you may expect things to taste is the way you were brought up with and adjusted to as children (Nobody can beat grandma’s cooking). We all have our favorite’s and some resturant’s are the best, while the worst to other’s. The taste of food changes when the cook’s change. Certain resturant’s I will go to only when certain cook’s are working. So, all in all, JK’s column is written with his style and taste as a guide and they are used as a guide which may interest you in trying the establishment. We all read these article’s to get an idea of new places we would like to try. So just sit back, enjoy and not get so rough on someone’s opinion. Place your own finding’s, but enjoy the columm.

PS… I am an Atlanta baby and turned 63 today. My favorite place is gone, but the Yellow Jacket Inn, Frank Gordys place before The Varsity, put the Varsity to same. The food was not greasy and the onion rings were to die for, “in my opinion”. (Grin)

shaggy

November 5th, 2009
1:47 pm

In 1977, Mary Macs kept me from starving. I was young, experimenting with many substances, and one day, my friend looked at my skinny, emaciated 6′0″ frame. He said, “Dang, (he really said something the AJC wouldn’t print. come to think of it, we said stuff like that a lot, plus things like )you don’t look too good. Maybe eating something would be a good idea.” Since we never could manage to drive when we were having the deep and intellectual “dang, far out, and what a rush” discussions, we walked to one of two places – Mary Macs was one, and Krispy Kreme was the other. Plaza Drugs and The Magestic were just too far, never make it.
Anyway, Mary Macs never turned a hippie with a little money away, and I think the kindly waitress took a look at us and knew we were an emergency, calorie intake priority, with little time left. She used to sneak us a few extra pot likkers and swore it would rejuvenate us. She was right, and that’s how Mary Mac’s kept me from starving in 1977. I don’t care if they have changed a bit, what hasn’t?

F-105 Thunderchief

November 5th, 2009
1:54 pm

John, you were fair, yet kind in your criticisms and warm in your praise. I like that in a food writer.

Stuart

November 5th, 2009
1:56 pm

I was born in and have lived in the south my entire 49 years, have lived in Atlanta about 30 of those 49 years, and have loved and enjoyed good, southern cooking for most of those 49 years. (I don’t count my early, nursing years since my mother didn’t breast-feed.) I had one grandmother who made fried chicken and fried-apple pies almost every day of the week that would bring a crowd almost every day of the week. And you could have all you wanted as long as you ate it at her table. She also always kept a pint of whiskey in her pantry in case she had a cold, or a toothache. I had another grandmother that didn’t believe in cooking anything without at least a cup of lard. “If it needs heat, it needs lard.” And being a good Baptist, she didn’t believe in cooking on Sunday. You could heat things up on Sunday, you just couldn’t cook them. (I never found that passage in the bible, but you didn’t dare question my grandmother on religion or cooking.) So on Sunday, pretty much everything tasted like flavored lard. Green bean-flavored lard, chicken-flavored lard, shoepeg corn-flavored lard, etc. Having said all that, I’ve been to Mary Mac’s once.

BurpinChunks

November 5th, 2009
2:24 pm

Try the Alka-Seltzer… a can’t miss!

Cranberry

November 5th, 2009
2:27 pm

The meatloaf!!!!! I would never prepare like that myself, but it is FAB-U-LOUS.

Junior Samples

November 5th, 2009
2:27 pm

I’ll have to join in with the “love the sinner, not the sin” crowd. As in, I do enjoy the fact that Mary Mac’s is still there as an institution, but I do not admire the food there greatly. It’s not awful; the kitchen is just showing it’s age. But for a true experience in overrated Southern awfulness, one could have visited that vile Paula Deen’s Mother and Son’s place in Savannah, before they moved on to ladle ersatz Southern culture onto an unsuspecting (and apparently highly credulous) viewership. Big lines, high prices, endless gastric distress following a swim in Paula’s grease lap pool. It really stunk, and makes me give Mary Mac’s an E at least for effort. I do declare, I would surely enjoy delivering a nice stiff left hook right into Miz Paula’s mush-munching piehole…

Cranberry

November 5th, 2009
2:29 pm

The meatloaf! FAB-U-LOUS!

Mary Huf

November 5th, 2009
2:35 pm

Hey, those of you criticizing John Kessler are the ones who should take Delta outta town. Y’all, this is a food CRITIC: his job isn’t to be nice. I read restaurant reviews for a living and Kessler’s are like an art form. He’s won awards and definitely knows Southern food – he’s eaten his way through Augusta and other Southern towns. Best of all, we have him to thank for pointing out the true gems along Buford Highway and other great non-Southern finds that we’re too scared of to try on our own. Anyone who had a Southern grandmother cooking great food for them knows that the Colonnade eclipsed Mary Mac’s years ago for taste, service and huge menu. Now, the Mac and Cheese at MM’s is really good – even when served at a catered event like the Atlanta Press Club’s Gorilla Ball! And the pot likker – you can’t get it anywhere else.

Fred

November 5th, 2009
2:41 pm

Good catch Mr. Kessler. Don’t be bullied by these moe-rons with no taste. I ate ONE TIME at Mary Mac’s on a Sunday and that was more than enough for me. I usually five a place 3 tries before I say it’s crap, but there was no hope for Mary Mac’s. I dunno what THESE yankees up north here in Atlanta call Southern cooking, but me and anybody else I know form the REAL south would be ashamed to serve the crap I had there at our houses. I’ve had tastier food at the dining room in an old folks home.

You hit the nail on the head, the “emperor” truly has no clothes. Maybe 100 years ago or something there was a decent meal served there but it ain’t happened in my tenure in Atlanta. But being an “icon” no one is allowed to say the emperor is nekkid as a jaybird. I have actually found a good use for Mary Mac’s, if someone tells me about a “good” restaurant, i ask them what they think about Mary Mac’s. If they say it’s great I know one of 2 things, either they know nothing about Southern cooking or they are idiots with no taste buds who follow the herd to whatever is “trendy.” In either case, I don’t take their opinion on a good place to eat.

WCMIII

November 5th, 2009
2:47 pm

Everybody knows you should eat your tomatoes sliced.

Junior Samples

November 5th, 2009
2:51 pm

PS- Some years ago whenever a friend or business associate came into town wanting some Southern cookin’, we went straight down to visit the late great Deacon Burton. After his untimely passing (God rest his stovepipe chef’s hat and poetry fit for Howard Finster’s garden) we would head over to Son’s. Neither of those places can be surpassed for the real Southern deal in all it’s fatback goodness.

The Deacon would have told Paula Deen to get her big ol’ butter tail off to church and leave the cooking to someone who knows something about it…

crackbaby

November 5th, 2009
2:54 pm

Mary Macs fell from grace in the late 80s. Just like Buckhead. Their food hasn’t been “homemade” quality for about 20 years. Rather, food preparation is on par with convention center meals – blechhhh. I guess that passes for good in downtown these days.

Dixie Darling

November 5th, 2009
2:58 pm

Agree with comments on OK Cafe — however, if you can face the traffic race track on the Interstates and get to the fringes of Atlanta which merged into the great Metro-Atlanta area, you will find some really great southern eating places. Driving even futher out, one of the best is Oakwood Cafe in Dalton — yeah I know it’s a tad stretch of getting out of Atlanta — but that is where you get out of the touristy places. And downtown Rome GA has another great southern food place which I think is called the Black-eye Pea Cafe. Please don’t knock the Picadilly cafeterias which have some good soul food to offer — and they are mostly found in the Atlanta area.

I used to cook Southern but due to medical reasons, need to do different. No wonder the South lost The War — we couldn’t get our soul food on the battleground. But to get back to southern food, like it or not — nothing loves you like a plate of warm biscuits covered with real butter served with deep-fried chicken, mashed potatoes swimming in real butter, those tiny field peas cooked with okra, and sweet potatoes, creamed corn. Yummy — guess I had better go gas up and drive to someplace for some southern cooking before I perish!

Brown-Eyed Girl!

November 5th, 2009
3:04 pm

I’m a original “Ole GG” (Georgia Girl). For you Oakland people, my mother was born and raised in Tybee, Georgia…no not the island. I never went to Mary Macs because I never heard anything good about it from any people I knew. To tell you the truth, I never went to restaurants to get true Southern food. For me, “Southern food” was “Soul Food” and I had it all the time at home. My mother made greens (collards, mustards, turnips, kale, polk salad), beans (any kind you can think of), chicken and dumplings, roast, fried chicken, potato salad, sweet potato souffle, short ribs and gravy, cube steak and gravy, oxtails and even fish head stew.LOL My fondest memory was her making turnip greens and making white cornmeal dumplings and dropping them over in the turnips to cook. I must stop, I am making myself hungry. She is 80 years old and lives in Macon, so if you want to really get your southern eat on, head further South.

Dave in Marietta

November 5th, 2009
3:17 pm

It really gets quite tedious listening to some Southerners whine like little kids when someone comments negatively on one of their precious institutions. I have lived in Alabama and Georgia all my life and I never let a Yankee’s opinion bother me. I’m glad John wrote his review because I’ve never been to Mary Mac’s and now never intend to now. From all the other comments, it sounds like a place whose glory days are long passed.

Michigander

November 5th, 2009
5:47 pm

I live across the street from Mary Macs and just don’t get why people go back. I agree with the blogger who said “Swanson Dinner.” It was truly awful. Cold, gummy mac and cheese. Spongy brown sweet potatoes. Not to mention their vegetarian plates are not vegetarian friendly, as all their greens are dredged in pork fat before being overcooked to an icky shade of grey. For me, Southern food is decidedly ethnic, and Carver’s Country Kitchen is a much better representation.

suzy

November 6th, 2009
11:13 am

John, I love reading your blogs. MM’s certainly has some emotional responses. After several visits to my daughter in ATL she realized she had not taken me to MM’s so off we went. Great fried chicken livers, fried okra and sweet potato souffle. Not that my health would allow me to eat that on a regular basis but a nice treat for a change. I’m looking forward to my next visit to ATL soon and trying some of your other recommendations.

georgian

November 6th, 2009
3:59 pm

Mr. Kessler’s initial impression when entering Mary Mac’s is precisely the way it appears now. As a child, I ate there many times with my parents; everyone loved it, including my food snob father. After moving to Denver, I was away from the restaurant for many years, but always yearned for it. Upon relocating to Atlanta in 1985, I immediately dragged my new husband there and was thrilled that it was still in existence. I found it virtually the same, but Mary Lupo was still there at the time. Then,during the time my old favorite was changing hands, closing and then re-opening we moved from Atlanta to Decatur and left it behind. Finally, a few weeks ago, I returned and found it had, to my dismay, morphed into a tourist spot, with a strangely complicated and pricier menue. Saddest of all, though, was the decline in the quality of some of the standard dishes. But, I do agree that the fried chicken livers were still fine.

John Kessler

November 6th, 2009
4:23 pm

Amazing story, Shaggy.
F-105 (and everyone else): thanks! I thought my comments were charitable. This really has been an interesting discussion. Who’s coming to the Varsity for some O-rings and a Frosted Orange?

ACB

November 6th, 2009
10:40 pm

Shame on all of you who attacked John Kessler. YOU should leave town, you are embarrasing and give Atlanta its bad name.

John, for good southern food, Collonade and Carvers will never disappoint. Unlike some of the rude fellow Atlantans who have attacked you here.

Tamp Wreck.

November 7th, 2009
4:03 am

Wow, this really brings back memories. My roommate and I sustained ourselves once a week and Mary Mac’s in the late 70’s while at Tech. The food then was simple, inexpensive, and pretty good. It would never come close to what my mama prepared, but was much better than the staple of fast foods and pizza we ate other nights of the hot plate tuna mac we made in our dorm room.

I went back about eight years ago before attending the Nutcracker at the Fox during the Holidays. Lie they say, you can’t go home again. It wasn’t bad, but it was still disappointing. As others have said, there are better restaurants in many small towns on the fringe of Atlanta. Unfortunately, I don’t get to them as much as I like, living in Florida, where I have yet to find good southern food.

However, don’t mess with the Varsity!! I know the rings are greasy, and the dogs are sloppy, but I love them and the greasy fried peach pies. Took my 2 daughters (3&4) there when in town last year, and they loved it too. I had to order extra pies to go!

Native Atlantan

November 7th, 2009
9:10 am

Last time I went to Mary Mac’s I was served a heaping order of food poisoning. Never been back. And as for the Varsity, can’t they serve Coke without it being watered down? Why is it that you get at Coke from Steak and Shake and it tastes great, like a Coke was meant to be served, but at the Varsity it tastes like it’s a 50/50 mix with Atlanta tap water. Just don’t get it.

Bunnie

November 7th, 2009
9:32 am

Native Atlantan here, and I can say for sure Mary Mac’s is nowhere as near as good as it was when my mother used to drag me there in the 70s. She also dragged me to the Colonnade (still good) and Bradshaw’s (gone when the building went condo). After years of pasta and sushi, I longed for real southern food, and found it at the Colonnade.

But I still think native Yankees have no business critiquing southern food. That’s as bad as Paula Deen rating Philly cheese steaks.

Wally Butts

November 7th, 2009
9:41 am

True southerner here. Family goes back before the civil war in the south. Great Grandmother was born in Savannah. Great Grandfather in Charleston. I have never lived anywhere else.

Having said all that, Mary Macs is not good. Very average across the board. It was better 35 years ago when I moved here, but went downhill a long time ago. If you like southern tourist traps, go there and PittyPat’s. Both are overpriced and very average.

Nicholas Wolaver

November 7th, 2009
10:53 am

I am totally pissed that the trees were torn down on the corner of Myrtle and Ponce de Leon. Shame on those who approved the tree removal and shame on those who cut the trees down at Mary Mac’s. The intersection is ruined.

It's True

November 7th, 2009
10:56 am

The food is terrible. I have been there a total of three times and the first time (about a decade ago), it was great. The second and third times (when friends were visiting from out of town), the food was awful. The vegetables weren’t seasoned properly, food was either overcooked or undercooked, and was served cold. I won’t be going there again. And as for Southerners to get so defensive about the criticism of a restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine, well, that’s just stupid.

Vette

November 7th, 2009
11:52 am

Right on, John, about the chicken-less dumplings. The last time I went to Mary Mac’s, I got one piece of chicken in my dumplings. I WON’T be returning.

Matt

November 7th, 2009
12:07 pm

This place is just as nasty as the Colonnade. Both should be sprayed for bugs and then burned to the ground. I just don’t understand – with all the other actually good restaruants in this City, how this place even stays open? I guess it will die out with all the gray-gays and buckhead betty’s that have no taste, teeth or sense.

thefluffyturtle`

November 7th, 2009
12:24 pm

“the waiter marks you as a newbie or a tourist”
I THINK this says it all…..I don’t live in ATL, but am a TRUE SOUTHERNER….I personally thing that after something has been featured on TV….it falls from grace. The TRUE MEAT N 3’s are the ones that the locals go to and continue to rave about.
AND I AGREE with the comment about the oil being from the tomatoes. ANYONE with ANY SENSE knows when you cook tomatoes, the oil (or grease) comes to the top….
GREASE….is a staple in the SOUTH….I was raised on it! LONG LIVE THE SOUTH….and by the way….I STILL BELIVE THAT THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN!!!!!!

Chrissy (a male)

November 7th, 2009
12:35 pm

I wouldn’t say that Mary Mac’s is my favorite Southern cooking in Atlanta, that award goes to The Colonnade, but this guy’s review is all about his attitude, not the restaurant. Where’s The Editor when you need one?

Nannytayl

November 7th, 2009
12:53 pm

I was disappointed the last time we visited. Nothing was spectacular and some of the dishes I simply did not finish – tastes like everything was cooked in the same oil. Expensive. I cook better than this.

tony

November 7th, 2009
1:03 pm

Go Back to Mass! The road north has minimal traffic

pattik2

November 7th, 2009
1:06 pm

Does anyone remember Ma Hull’s boardinghouse on Boulevard? On Sunday’s she cooked for everyone and it was awesome!

Born and Raised New Yorker

November 7th, 2009
1:21 pm

I was born and raised in New York, and although we are not the south, we have excellent soul food restaurants (Amy Ruth’s, Rack and Soul and many many more). So when I moved here, my husband and I was on a quest to find something better or just as good as the ones we are used to. Nothing quite beats Harlem’s Amy Ruth’s Restaurant, however I would have to say that Mary Mac’s Tea room is in a league of it’s own. We have been to many restaurants down here including Glady’s Knight’s Chicken and Waffles (not good at all) but I would call Mary Mac’s tea room one of the best “Southern Cooking” restaurants so far. I have only been here for a year and I have gone there 8 times. The food is much better than New York’s famed Sylvia’s Resturant. It is excellent. Everytime my husband and I go there we order something different and eat each others food. The food is delicious. Point Blank Period.

Jo

November 7th, 2009
1:28 pm

MM is very special to me. My sister, who has sinced passed away, took me there for my birthday. She always took me to Southern spots to celebrate our southern heritage. Loved the food, the hospitality, and the southern atmosphere. If you can’t appreciate the Southern Heritage then Damn Yankees go home.

Doug Willix

November 7th, 2009
2:29 pm

John…if you didn’t have an ancestor who fought in the Confederate Army during the War of Northern Aggression AND you don’t go to NASCAR races you ain’t got much claim to being a Southerner.

Sorry to have to try and disagree with an elitist yankee snob who graduated from Williams College but I could eat Mary Macs’ Tomato Pie and their Peanut Butter Pie every day and twice on Sunday.

Ed Graham

November 7th, 2009
2:52 pm

John, if you so dread living in the South, just remember: “Delta is ready when you are”.

CC

November 7th, 2009
7:46 pm

I’m a Yankee, and the only time I have ever been served cinnamon yeast rolls like my mother used to make was at Mary Mac’s Tea Room. They transport me home, and I love the fried chicken too!

John Kessler

November 8th, 2009
12:34 pm

Doug – I think graduates of Williams College everywhere will agree that while you learn many wonderful things there, eating well is not among them. No, my food snobbery was formed right here in Atlanta. I am, for the record, a big fan of the food at Matthew’s in Tucker and the Busy Bee Cafe on the West End.

To the piont.....

November 11th, 2009
3:58 pm

It truly sounds like most of you have not been to MM recently. It has definely improved in the last year. Some of you sound like your a 6 year old kid lashing out at a landmark in this city. I have been going to MM for over 10 years and I too have had some disappiont there in the past. But not latley. Whatever they are doing now they are on the right track!

Robert Coram

November 15th, 2009
8:32 am

Reasoning by analogy is fraught with peril, and nowhere is that more obvious than in your comment you can review Southern food in the same way you review Thai food. Would you be so confident of reviewing Thai food if you lived in Thailand? Mexican food if you lived in Mexico? A better answer would have been that you review Southern food because it is your job. But the real problem is that you still don’t know squat about some Southern foods, i.e., barbecue. Southerners sense this. And you would be bette served by not being flip and throwing up the Thai diversion, and, instead, saying you are in a land you will never understand. You will get some things wrong, but you will, at least, have remained honest, and readers will bend over to help you better understand.

John Kessler

November 15th, 2009
3:06 pm

Robert — you mean there’s better barbecue than Sonny’s?
::::ducks, runs for cover::::

Sociologist

November 15th, 2009
3:30 pm

Fear not, Mr. Kessler: I have done extensive research in this field and the median IQ of someone saying “Delta is ready when you are” is 93.

Judith Lupo Wold

November 23rd, 2009
10:46 am

John: SInce you have not been in Atlanta “forever”, you never had the pleasure of meeting my mother, Margaret Lupo who owned and operated Mary Macs Tearoom from the early 1960’s until her death in 1998. Mother was at the “tearoom” every morning around 6 (not home till 10 pm). She personally tasted everything on the steam table (with clean spoons of course) for quality…she was a hands on owner-operator. My father, who was in the produce business for many years in Atlanta, personally visited the farmer’s market daily, choosing vegetables from “produce row.” String beans were snapped by the bartender, at the bar, during slow hours. Mary Mac’s was a place where folks from politicians to bridge clubs (sometimes lined up outside the door) met for lunch or dinner–the food was excellent and the prices fair. Food is very personal to southerners, as shown from some of your comments on the blog. Thanks for allowing people to share their thoughts. I wish you had known Mom.

John Kessler

November 23rd, 2009
10:52 am

Hey, Judy – Thanks for writing! I wish I had known her, too. From everything I’ve heard, she sounded like an amazing person.

Mary MackDaddy

May 26th, 2010
9:34 am

Even I won’t eat the food there. Our cook goes out and gets fresh road kill every day. The freshest. We never change the grease, because we’re comfortable with it. None of us wash our hands which gives it that great just took a dump taste.MMMM good!!!!

Mary MackDaddy

May 26th, 2010
9:36 am

Oh sorry thought this was McDonald’s