Despite being a born and bred Atlantan, I had never stepped foot in Mary Mac's tea room. Through various owners, Mary Mac's has been dishing up Southern food on Ponce for 65 years! So in honor of their new cook book, written by current owner John Ferrel, I finally checked it out.
Now it seems that every upscale restaurant in Atlanta these days is dishing up some variation on Southern food, but Mary Mac's is real deal, old school southern, nothing nouveau about it! So old school in fact, that many employees have been there 30-years plus. How's that for employee loyalty?
Even as Ponce has evolved into an eclectic mix of strip malls, fast casual dining and a high
sketch factor, Mary Mac's remains a throwback to another time. When you dressed for dinner and people had supper at 4 pm. I was in fact shocked to see their waiting area so crowded on a weekday at 4:30 or so. Who knew people ate then?!
Surprise surprise, the menu is heavily fried. Diet food it ain't. I sampled fried chicken tenders, catfish, shrimp, green tomatoes, and okra, each served with it's own sauce. My personal fave were the fried green tomatoes. Addictively salty and crispy with a slightly sour fresh tomato and a parmesan horseradish dipping sauce. I declare!
I washed that down with a Georgia Peach martini, which was sweet without being cloying. Probably couldn't handle two of them, but one hit the spot!
Lest you think I only ate fried things, I of course made room for some scrumptious veggie sides, too. Don't mistake the word veggie for implying these were healthy. True to Southern form, they were rich and decadent. Tomato pie was to die for. So rich and full of flavor. It appears in the cookbook, so I can whip it up at home too. I kind of love that a recipe involving ritz crackers, mayo, two kinds of cheese and canned tomatoes is so darned good.
And then despite a rapidly expanding waistline, I found room for dessert! In my humble opinion, peanut butter makes for frequently awesome desserts. Mary Mac's surprisingly light peanut butter pie was true to form. Even more fabulous was its banana pudding. So creamy and sweet. How on earth did I find room to try two desserts?
I haven't tackled anything out of the cookbook yet, but it's got all the classics. Woven between chapters is quite a bit of restaurant and Atlanta history, too. For instance, did you know the Atlanta Crackers baseball team once played in a rickety park where today's Midtown Whole Foods and Home Depot are on Ponce? I love to envision a time when Mary Mac's was just one of sixteen tea rooms in Atlanta. So charming and old South, right?
I'm glad I finally tried Mary Mac's. I can certainly understand its longstanding appeal as the epitome of old Southern cooking and a little slice of Atlanta history. Get yours here.
Mary Mac's Tea Room
224 Ponce De Leon Avenue NortheastAtlanta, GA 30308-1938
*Full disclosure: Although my meal was comped, I always endeavor to offer my unbiased opinion of the experience!