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- 03 Dec 2013 -

Down South... Food for the Soul

I have never been to the Southern part of the States; the closest experience I had was watching Forrest Gump (Don’t laugh!). I have heard of Southern hospitality time and time again from my friends from the South, it all made sense to me after my trip to Atlanta. People there are uber proud of their “down home true value”, its all part of their culture and heritage. Food is just a representation of this tradition. Whether it is feeding visitors from afar to embrace them as part of the family, down to their interpretation of food, which is evocative of childhood memories. Think comfort food you crave which is rich, flavorful and warms the soul.

I decided the best way to get the most out of my trip in Atlanta is to visit a quintessential southern favorite which embodies everything the South has to offer. I got more than I bargained for with Mary Mac’s Tearoom which opened its doors since 1945. For female proprietors who want to use their Southern cooking to make a living in those days, the term tearoom was a more genteel Southern term for the public to be accustomed to. Mary Mac’s is the only one of the 16 tearooms in the state opened since that time which remains today. Not only had it stood the test of time, in 2011 The Georgia House of Representatives created resolution 477 in which the restaurant was officially declared to be Atlanta’s Tearoom.  The building where it all started is totally unassuming from the street, you will be amazed how it sprawls into 7 dining rooms each adorned with photos, memorabilia, handwritten letters, post cards full of accolades and praise from all over the world. The restaurant can sit up to 400 people in one sitting, it feeds 2000 people in any weekend, 1000 people a weekday. Yes, it is HUGE!!!

What I love about the place is that it’s a total melting pot of anyone and everyone, it built its personality over time. There are regulars who are part of the Mary Mac’s family, politicians, cab drivers, religious leaders and celebrities. Jimmy Carter was a frequent visitor, the Governor of Georgia had Mary Mac’s catered his 75th birthday. Richard Gere brought Dalai Lama there, they made him a veggie dish, and he opted for barbecue pork. This is a total iconic landmark, just last month Jo (Mary Mac’s very own goodwill ambassador) collected name cards from travellers of 25 states and 6 different countries. Matt, the Operations Director (son of the current owner) says,   

“ Our restaurant is like coming to grandma’s house kinda deal. Its cold outside, pull up a chair and join us for dinner.”

The restaurant employs a total of 155 staff, there are folks from the same family line and those who moved to Atlanta as they want to live in the South. To give you a sense of the sort of place this is, there are family members of 3 generations who had worked and/or are still working under the same roof.

In an era of rotating menus serving seasonal and local foods, Mary Mac’s made a conscious choice to stay old school, offering good old staples to remind its customers of the southern fare they grew up with. The menu had more or less remained unchanged for 60 years, a 1970’s menu is framed and hug on the wall of its largest dining room.  The restaurant sources everything on the menu from local producers, all dishes are made from scratch. Their four-veggie sides remains the best seller - turnip greens, collards, sweet potato soufflé and fried okra. The fried chicken is to die for. Its no surprise their peach cobbler and banana pudding are home runs, with the addictive pecan pie and bread pudding to follow.   

Having demonstrated its tremendous staying power, I asked Matt what’s next for the future of Mary Mac’s. He told me the place is here to stay for another 80 years; he wants it to be a representation of genuine hospitality as a way of life in the South for years to come. With the increasing number of broken families in this generation, he advocates for the importance of eating together. He wants to bring back the tradition of the 60’s and keep it alive. His dream is to bring Southern hospitality to every state in the country - one tearoom at a time, without losing its unique charm.

Mary Mac’s Pecan Pie  

       It is not often that something so simple can be soooo good!!!

3 large eggs

½ cup sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp. pure vanilla essence

Pinch of salt

1 cup chopped pecans

1 (9-inch) pie shell, unbaked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the work bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed, heat the eggs just until the yellow disappears; add the sugar, syrup, butter, vanilla essence and salt. Pour the mixture into the pie shell, sprinkle the nuts until it tops the pie filling. Bake for 50 minutes.  

Learn more about this fabulous Southern charm in www.marymacs.com

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; Nourishment for the Soul