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Sometimes us bloggers get all caught up in the latest and greatest restaurant on the scene. We flock there, and happily tweet away as we marvel at something shiny and new. But in our haste, we forget about the truly great, iconic restaurants that have graced Atlanta for many years. One such restaurant is Midtown’s Mary Mac’s Tea Room off Ponce de Leon (pronounced ponts-duh-lee-on) if you live in the south.
Back in the 1940s, there were 16 tea rooms in Atlanta. Although not a place that served tea, these were a fancied up versions of a meat and three. They were centers for neighborhoods where families could go and enjoy good food in the company of friends. Today, Mary Mac’s is the only tea room that remains in Atlanta.
Mary Mac’s has had it’s doors open for 65 years, serving up classic Southern food. Some of the servers have even been there for decades. John Ferrell bought the restaurant in 1994 and runs it with his partner, Hank Thompson. These are truly some of the nicest Southern gentlemen you could ever meet. No wonder Mary Mac’s Tea Room has been patronized by celebrities like Richard Gere, Beyonce, the Dahli Lama and is a favorite of Paula Deen.
I was recently invited to attend Mary Mac’s 65th Anniversary and Book Release party. Mary Mac’s cookbook not only includes 125 of their wonderful recipes, but staff pictures and anecdotes and the history of this fine establishment. Strolling into Mary Mac’s, I couldn’t believe there were already customers waiting for a table at 4 pm. But I guess it is no lie that they serve about 1,000 meals per day.
I immediately spotted owner, John Ferrell, and wasted no time getting my book autographed. Such a sweet man, he offered that if I ever have any questions, I could call him ask. Soon after taking a seat, I ordered a Peach Martini. It definitely hit the spot and I could have easily downed another, but held off as I knew these aren’t no fru fru drinks, but the real deal.
Although servers walked around passing out samples of delicious goodies like tomato pie, squash casserole, and nibbles of other goodies, that was just a teaser. There was an entire buffet spread taking up one wall of the dining room just waiting to be pounced upon. So when John came over and asked me to start things off, I didn’t hesitate and dove right in.
True Southern favorites were on the list – fried okra, salmon cakes, fried shrimp, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken tenders, fried crawfish, ribs and much more. Perusing the recipes in the book, you’ll notice whatever isn’t fried probably contains cheese and butter (measurements in the stick variety) Healthy, this ain’t. But it sure is good.
And what is a Southern meal without Pecan Pie? Absolutely wonderful, but a little piece will do ya. Especially if you opt to have a piece of the Blackberry Jam Cake and delectable banana pudding as well, like I did.
Although Mary Mac’s Teach Room Cookbook contains many recipes from the wildly popular restaurant, there are lots of stories about the history of the restaurants and quotes and features on past and current employees. Highlights in the book:
- The pencils and order forms to write your own order are still on the tables, a tradition that will never vanish.
- Mary Mac’s “Goodwill Abmassador” Jo Carter aka ‘the back rub lady’ was brought out of retirement to make sure every guest has good time.
- Southern Hospitality: owner John has even offered to drop out of town guests back at their hotels.
- Mary Mac’s refers to their sweet tea as the “table wine of the south” and it was even mentioned in Travel and Leisure magazine.
“The interesting thing about Mary Mac’s customers is you can’t recognize them. We serve people from all walks of life; the rich and poor, teachers, celebrities, politicians, young and old, black and white.” Quote from Mary Mac’s Tea Room Cookbook
I’m looking forward to trying out recipes for the Shrimp and Grits, Black Eyed Pea cakes, and Turkey and Vegetable Meatloaf.
Get your copy here:
224 Ponce de Leon Ave
Atlanta, GA 30308
404 876 1800
Extras: All first time guest are treated to a sample Pot Likker (you’ll have to go and find out what it is)!!