An Atlanta Lover’s Guide To Atlanta

Dear Matthew,

You are the director of my show The FN Dish and you are a smart, capable, likable fellow with good sense and judgment. Except, when it comes to one subject, you are a big dumbass. That subject is Atlanta.

You may remember that a few weeks ago, there was a plan for us to go to Atlanta to shoot a segment with Guy Fieri and possibly Alton Brown. You told Rachael, who also works on our show, “To get us in and out as fast as possible, I hate Atlanta.” It’s entirely possible that when you said those hateful, hurtful words you’d forgotten that I’d spent 7 years of my life in Atlanta and that it still holds a very dear place in my heart.

“Matthew!” I said. “Are you nuts? Atlanta’s awesome–we should stay there as long as possible.”

“Yuck,” you replied. “No thank you, you can have it.”

Strangely, I felt like I understood your misguided vitriol. I, myself, once had a very limited view of Atlanta. Back in middle school, I’d visited Atlanta with my JCC Teen Tour (yes, I was a Jew nerd) and we stayed downtown, ate at the Hard Rock Cafe and took a tour of the Coca Cola museum. Atlanta, for me, was much like what New York must be to the tourist who stays in Times Square, visits the M&Ms store and sees “The Little Mermaid”: a giant, soulless, corporate entity with no life, no quirk, no spark. I’m pretty sure that’s your slant: you came to Atlanta for work, you stayed in an ugly chain hotel, and ate your meals in sterile silence.

Well, Mr. Matthew, consider this e-mail your gateway to a whole new Atlanta. I will show you, in the next thousand paragraphs, everything you missed and why you are indeed such a dumbass. In fact, I’ll write you a guide. Here’s how to enjoy Atlanta the right way, a proven way. How is it proven? Craig came along with me this weekend for his first Atlanta visit. He was wary at first–“Atlanta?” he asked from the couch when I suggested it, “I dunno”–but, by the end, he was in love. Seriously. He’s doing the dishes right now, let me ask him.

“Craig, what do you think of Atlanta now that you’ve been there?”

“It was funky and edgy and reminded me of Seattle.” Which is high praise because Seattle is where he’s from and he loves it.

So here we go: An Atlanta Lovers Guide to Atlanta.

Step One: Stay with Josh, Katy and Lucy


My friends Josh and Katy are the best. They’re old friends from college and now they have a daughter, Lucy, who gives new meaning to the word adorable. Take, for example, this video of her playing a game she invented with Craig:

Having friends in a city you visit is always an asset, often a necessity. I can’t imagine, for example, having visited Paris two years ago without knowing that I’d get to see my friends David and Clotilde, friends who live in Paris and could steer me in the right directions. Josh & Katy will do the same for you, plus Josh will make you Swedish pancakes:


Stay with them and you’re off to a good start.

Step Two: Heed the Advice of John Kessler

John Kessler is one of the nation’s best food writers and he lives and works in Atlanta. I met him years ago when I started my blog (we had lunch) and since then we’ve stayed in touch. When I told him I was coming in this weekend with Craig who’d never been to Atlanta before, he wrote me a massive, entertaining and highly informative e-mail that’s essential reading for anyone eager to discover the heart and soul of Atlanta:

Here’s what I think you need to do to see the character of the city today…1. go the the King Center, then get a paleta or Mexican ffruit cup right up the street at LottaFrutta. Poke around the corner to the Irwin Street Market, and if it’s after 4, stop in for a glass of wine at Krog Bar (next to Rathbun’s).


As you can tell by this picture, we didn’t follow the first half of these instructions but we did make it to Krog Bar and as you can see by this picture, it is thoroughly unique:


Actually, what that picture shows is something that most don’t realize about Atlanta: many of its hidden gems are hidden away in weird industrial looking lots where factories used to be. Like Krog bar, which used to be a stove-making factory. Same is true for The Floataway Cafe, where we went at the end of our trip.

But back to John Kessler:

Also, drive through the Krog Street tunnel, hang a right and follow the street all the way to the end at Carroll Street, turn left and look for the Cabbagetown Market. The blonde is Lisa, the brunette Maria…the place is very true and strange…raw milk, beaded handbags, Sen Sen, local pullet eggs and a great pimento cheese burger made with grass-fed Ga. beef)…you’ll love it, and I’m thinking Craig will love seeing Cabbagetown.

Once again, John was right. See the pictures:





Craig spotted these raw chickpeas and we bought a bag for the car:


And here’s Maria with the sen-sen:


It’s marketed as Haribo Zan and it’s apparently quite big in Europe (what say you, European readers?) and, after taking it back to Josh and Katy’s, we determined that it tasted like a breath mint mixed with a cigarette. Consume accordingly.

What this passage reveals is just how Atlanta works: it has charming, offbeat little communities that you have to go out and discover. Which leads us to our next step.

Step Three: Go Out and Discover Charming, Offbeat Little Communities

I didn’t take pictures, but if you’re new to Atlanta you must visit: Little Five Points (which Craig said was the most Seattlish of them all) where you should eat a burger at The Vortex (a giant skull that you can see here); The Virginia Highlands which is posh and a bit like the Hamptons; East Atlanta, where I ventured with Craig one night in hopes of noshing at Iris only to find it’s no longer there. Instead, there was a taco place that was pretty mediocre:

But there’s a gay bar nearby called Mary’s which was a favorite for my friends when we all lived there. Craig and I popped in and we were startled to see people smoking indoors: haven’t those laws changed yet? But I realize I won’t sell you on a gay bar unless we get to step four…

Step Four: Embrace Your Inner Gay

Craig pulled up a survey, when we got back, that said that Atlanta was the 3rd gayest city in America (after San Francisco and Seattle) in terms of gays per capita. I can understand then why you, a heterosexual male who used to work for the NBA, might be wary of such a statistic. But then again you did watch the “Project Runway” finale and you texted me about Christian’s fierceness, so who knows? There are two litmus tests for you. The first is an absolute Atlanta favorite, a place I’d encourage anyone going to Atlanta to visit: Agnes & Muriel’s.


Kitschy in all the right ways, Agnes & Muriel’s is a converted house that used to burst at the seams with Barbie dolls in various tableaus. The Barbies are temporarily gone, but the kitsch and spirit of the place aren’t. What you’ll find is a vintage 50’s countertop, TV sets, cake stands and waiters with sass and Southern charm that’ll melt your little heart, yes it will. And the food is better than ever. Check out this fried chicken plate:


The chicken was crisp and tender and the sweet potato fries perfection. The garlic broccoli salad was actually a disappointment, I won’t lie, but they quickly replaced it with much better coleslaw. My friend Carrie, who we dined with, had a winning plate of French toast with bananas:


All in all it was a fantastic meal and one you won’t soon forget.

The other litmus test isn’t really a litmus test unless you go to the one in Midtown, in which case you better embrace your inner gay because you’ll be eating right across the street from a gay bookstore. That place is The Flying Biscuit and it’s the first place we headed straight from the airport:


Of all the places I left behind when I left Atlanta, the place I most definitely missed the most was The Flying Biscuit. Maybe it’s not the world’s greatest restaurant, but it’s the place I associate the most with the 7 years I lived in Atlanta. The food is reliable and the biscuits divine. How do they get them to rise so high?


That’s the signature biscuit with the Southern scramble, a nice mix of eggs, bacon and collard greens. The potatoes were negligible but the biscuit, oh the biscuit. Even Craig oooh-ed and ahhh-ed. “That’s a great biscuit,” he said.

When you’re done embracing your inner gay, take a stroll in Piedmont Park–a lovely park with real character. We walked the whole way around and overheard many delightful Southern conversations, especially one about catfish and cornbread. This is the real deal.

Step Five: Suck It Up and Go To the Aquarium

Ok, so it’s touristy and for kids, but there’s something wonderful about Atlanta’s new aquarium. I moved away right before it was finished, so I was particularly excited that Craig, a lover of all things aquatic, was eager to go. The tanks are beautifully illuminated and there’s just enough variety to keep even the most jaded aquarium-goer engaged. Check out these pictures (some of which I’m mighty proud of):





Step Six: You Must Eat at Watershed

We had many great meals this weekend in Atlanta (we loved the crabcake at Floataway Cafe, though not the service) but none came close to the two meals we had at Watershed in Decatur.

There are many things you should know about Watershed, but the most important thing is its story. The best version of this story is the one Kim Severson told in The New York Times but I’m having trouble finding it online. Essentially, though, Emily Sailers of The Indigo Girls opened Watershed and solicited Scott Peacock, an openly gay former cook for either the governor or mayor, to be her chef. He said he’d do it on one condition: if she also hired Edna Lewis, a legend of Southern cooking, the granddaughter of slaves and one of Peacock’s heroes. Sailers agreed and Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock not only cooked together when Watershed opened, but lived together too.

Just that idea–this young gay gay and this older black woman living together in mutual admiration, working together too–makes me love Watershed. Ms. Lewis, sadly, passed away two years ago but her legacy lives on in the food.

Take, for example, this plate I had at lunch:


Those are salmon croquettes served with the creamiest grits you could ever imagine, a whole roasted tomato and spinach. It’s a lovely, loving plate and among the most honest, authentic plates of food I’ve been served in some time. Plus, it’s a steal at $12.

We started the meal with celery and pimento cheese, a Southern stable that Edna Lewis writes about with Scott Peacock in their book “The Gift of Southern Cooking”:


It’s a mix of sharp cheddar cheese and peppers and probably some mayo, but it’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted–in a very good way.

And for dessert, I made Craig order the apple cake even though he was stuffed to the gills. But how could we ignore another Edna Lewis signature?


Dense and not too sweet, this is Southern food at its best. Refined but rustic, all the same. Look at that dollop of whipped cream: doesn’t that just scream love? That’s what this meal was–just a big giant hug of food and love.

Plus, Craig was starstruck because Emily Sailers was eating at the bar and he loves The Indigo Girls.

On Sunday, before we left for the airport, we brought Josh, Katy and Lucy to meet John Kessler and his daughter Mary for brunch at Watershed. Again, the place was charming and bright (I love bright restaurants: it makes such a difference). Our waiter was the same waiter from two days earlier (I think his name is Doug and he was sweet and always helpful) and he encouraged me to order the most Southern of Southern breakfasts: Country Style Ham Steak, Red Eye Gravy, Grits, Eggs, and Buttermilk Biscuits.


Everyone stared at the giant amount of food set down before me, but I just felt–again–like that plate was a mountain of love. And that’s what Atlanta’s all about. If you seek out the love, you will find it and then you’ll never want to leave. You’ve heard of Southern hospitality? Atlanta has it, but it has it in the coolest way. It’s not forced, it’s not fake. You have to know where it’s real–just like you do in all the world’s best cities.

I hope this e-mail inspires you to quit your job, pack your bags and move your family down South. Actually, I hope you don’t quit because I like working with you. But I hope that in the coming months we’ll get another chance to go to Atlanta and that when we do, you’ll recall this post and say to Rachael: “Atlanta? Why, my mind’s been changed, let’s stay there for a whole week!”

Until you insulted it, I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Now that I’ve been back, I can’t wait to go back again.

Atlanta, I love you. I’m sorry I left you for so long.

With great sincerity,

Adam D. Roberts, Esquire

43 thoughts on “An Atlanta Lover’s Guide To Atlanta”

  1. I never heard of th Haribo Zans…

    And I am from Germany where Haribo comes from :) But perhaps it is sold in other european countries?

    Thanks for the ode to Atlanta. I’d now love to go there somwhen!

    Keep up the good work!


  2. I am so sorry I missed you this weekend (sick toddler, who, incidentally, frequents the same Storytime wee Lucy does on Tuesdays) but am glad you had a good time.

    I could eat Watershed’s salmon croquettes every day of the week, I tell ya. Krog Bar is one of my favorite places in town and the cupcake stand in Irwin Street Mkt…mmmmm. What you should hit on your next trip: Rare Atlanta, a super-cool place that serves Soul Food tapas.

  3. I am so sorry I missed you this weekend (sick toddler, who, incidentally, frequents the same Storytime wee Lucy does on Tuesdays) but am glad you had a good time.

    I could eat Watershed’s salmon croquettes every day of the week, I tell ya. Krog Bar is one of my favorite places in town and the cupcake stand in Irwin Street Mkt…mmmmm. What you should hit on your next trip: Rare Atlanta, a super-cool place that serves Soul Food tapas.

  4. I can finally say I know the places you talk about in your blog. I’ve only had a 2-day stay in New York City so I’m completely lost when you talk about NYC. As for Atlanta, it’s a second hometown. Having family there that demand I visit at least twice a year and pay for their meals, I get a good bit of time there. I just left Sat. morning to come back home. I totally know what you mean about finding the best restaurants in the most unassuming or downright strange areas. Supposedly they franchised (enfranchised?) The Flying Biscuit a little under a year ago, so I hope it doesn’t start popping up everywhere, it would take away from the special local feel to it. You also must try Sun in my Belly in Decatur when you return again; fantastic mediteranean orzo and roasted vegetable sandwich is yum.

  5. Great article…I’ve been to Atlanta several times, and have never had a chance to visit it like this! The next time I’m there I’m checking some of these places out. Of course, I’m no longer 3 hours away, but someday…

  6. oh yay! I used to work with Maria at Rathbun’s when she was still scrounging up money for the store and not eating all day because she was so busy, so it’s always nice to see Little’s getting attention. I also currently work at Sun in My Belly, which is housed in an old hardware store. And wouldn’t you know it, there are a lot of gays who eat there.

  7. First I want to say – I enjoy reading your blog. Although I’m mostly a lurker on your blog, but you bet I read every post.

    Second, I want to echo your love for Atlanta. My husband and I flew to Atlanta just for the aquarium!! Well, we also love aquariums so that’s inevitable. And The Flying Biscuit – I wish we have on in CT! And next time you go, you should try The Pacific Kitchen. Granted I’m particial because my friend owns the restaurant, but I think the food is incredible!

  8. I agree with Felix – Sun In My Belly is an amazing place! I was in Atlanta two weekends ago, and a friend’s friend told us about Sun In My Belly and took us there for brunch on Sunday. It’s definitely worth finding it next time you’re in ATL. Such a nice place for a lazy Sunday brunch.

  9. I just wanted to say that I saw you on the Food Network website and I am so impressed!! Congrats with this new gig of yours!!! :)

  10. Oh, you’ve made me homesick. I moved from Atlanta to the Eastern Shore of Maryland last year, and I don’t miss the traffic, but I do miss the neighborhoods and the restaurants. My biggest regret is that I never managed to eat at Watershed. I did go to Bacchanalia, though, and it was wonderful. Now I live in a place where muskrat is a delicacy.

  11. I think in the Atlanta City Limits smoking is allowed in bars/restaurants where patrons 21 and older only are allowed.

    Not sure why we get such a bad rap here in Atlanta. The food is great here and there are so many wonderful, eclectic neighborhoods.

    The Flying Biscuit has been franchised. There’s one now in East Cobb. Quite a change from Midtown, as you can guess :-).

  12. I am originally from Atlanta,and I think there are some cool places and good restaurants there. However, I have to be honest. I really just don’t like Atlanta. I don’t like the city planning, the architecture, or the overall feel of the city. I don’t like southern food because I had to eat it for so long, but I do miss pimento cheese spread. I have to fly to Atlanta twice a year now, and I always make the drive over to Athens. They have much better restaurants, like Farm 255 for example. You should check it out next time you’re down. I have a special place in my heart for Athens because I went to college there, but trust me on Farm 255.

  13. A friend of mine lived in Buckhead for a few years and I, an obnoxious New Yorker who now lives in San Francisco (& am,hopefully,a slightly less obnoxious San Franciscan) adored Atlanta.

    Buckhead is obviously beautiful but the whole city had a hip vibe and everyone was SO polite.

    I got called “Ma’am” a few more times than I’d like at this stage of my life but the clubs were great, the hot foodie spots were all that (as the kiddies say), the gay area had the best breakfasts & I loved the insane downtown area with one story family homes right next to skyscraping office buildings!!! Very Frank Capra-esque. Thanks for reminding me of the fun I had there.

  14. I nominate Toronto as the second gayest city in Canada, (apparently the folks in Montreal are more happy?).

    Another excellent post. Did you get to see AB again?

  15. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Did I mention (wait for it…) “wow”? Awesome post Adam – quite possibly my favoritest-most favorite-best loved-most throughly enjoyed yet. Get the jist?

    Why? Well, you are really in this post man. Oh yes, yes you are. I can practically feel the pavement of Atlanta beneath my feet as I read this – and the food porn – good god dude – are you trying to kill us all!? Every pic looks so great, it makes me want to throw together a life’s worth of necessities in a backpack and thumb my way east to the ATL. I honestly never thought i would feel that way – but you have ignited a spark within me. And it burns… please put it out… Now! ;)

    Just kidding – kudos to you for documenting yet another tremendous adventure – keep it up man, the sky is the limit. Seriously. You are well on your way.

    Lastly, I must suggest that this picture be worked into your site’s banner/header image somehow, some day:

    …it is just too good not too. Maybe in some far-out future iteration of the design. Jellyfish…yes. Not necessarily good eating, but very cool and beautiful critters to be sure. Are we not all somewhat like the jellyfish? Floating through this vast sea of ideas, experiences, flavors and relationships… going where the currents take us, hopefully enjoying the ride – it’s an Adventure, always. Here’s to foam sweet foam.


    Matto (aka zeep)

  16. I think you just started your next book: Adam’s guide to the universe (or at least Atlanta). This is the kind of thing I look for when traveling to any new unknown city. Thanks for the tips and please come to Houston for a Meet-Up!


  17. Adam, I am so sorry that I wasn’t able to see you this past weekend- and meet Craig! Carrie tells me that he is delightful! Here’s hoping that you had a wonderful time back, yes?

    By the way, where does this Matt person live?! This Southerner’s blood is Vesuvian! Tell him not to f$ck with the ATL!

    All the best of wishes to you, Adam!

    – Hunter

  18. Fabulous article, Adam. I hear sooo much about Watershed, but I have never gone (even though I was just at Cook’s warehouse hours ago right by it) I am a native Atlantan, so Southern food is just normal to me. But, if you are saying go, then I shall. You made me realize how we sometimes I give this city a hard time. Thanks also to shedding light on the wonderful gay life here. It is pretty nice, and I wish I had gone to Mary’s that night.

    Two Sundays ago, Adam, the AJC ran a feature on Edna Lewis. It was in the Living section. I will email you a scanned copy if you or anyone else is interested. (yes, I did cut it out and save it like the dork that I am!)Keep up the great work.

  19. another reason to love atlanta? williams street. i.e., adult swim. some of their shows totally blow now, but for years and years they made my late night life.

    this was a great post adam. I never would have thought atlanta was anything appealing either. thank you for showing me I was wrong. :)

  20. Adam,

    Thanks for this one! I have been following your blog for a while, and it has been such a treat to actually see you “in person” on The FN Dish.

    I am actually working my way through “The Gift of Southern Cooking”…what a treasure. There is not one resipe that I have not enjoyed deeply. Needless to say, I have fallen desperately in love with Miss Lewis and Scott. She must have been such a trip to be in the kitchen with.

  21. Adam, what a beautiful love letter to Atlanta. You captured so many of the things I love about the place. I’m a former Lawnguylander who will never go back! Love your blog and the way your career is taking off.

  22. That Lucy is adorable!!! That video made me miss my niece sooo much! She’s coming in tomorrow though, yay! (I guess my brother is too :)).

  23. thank you so much for the list! I am moving to Atlanta in 2 weeks time, and I can hardly wait to explore all the places you mentioned and fall in love with the city.

  24. YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I just happened to see your face on foodtv and I was like “wait a second that guy looks familiar”…lo and behold I remembered you and I’m sooooooo incredibly excited for you and your foodie website/show! You go boy!! It’s nice to know that I’m wasn’t the only person suffering through law school!!! CONGRATS!!! By the way, why the heck weren’t you cooking up some great stuff for the rest of us?! I totally missed out!

  25. YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I just happened to see your face on foodtv and I was like “wait a second that guy looks familiar”…lo and behold I remembered you and I’m sooooooo incredibly excited for you and your foodie website/show! You go boy!! It’s nice to know that I’m wasn’t the only person suffering through law school!!! CONGRATS!!! By the way, why the heck weren’t you cooking up some great stuff for the rest of us?! I totally missed out!

  26. YOU ARE AWESOME!!! I just happened to see your face on foodtv and I was like “wait a second that guy looks familiar”…lo and behold I remembered you and I’m sooooooo incredibly excited for you and your foodie website/show! You go boy!! It’s nice to know that I’m wasn’t the only person suffering through law school!!! CONGRATS!!! By the way, why the heck weren’t you cooking up some great stuff for the rest of us?! I totally missed out!

  27. Adam,

    I love Emily Saliers. Have for years.

    She is a true poet, gifted and utterly inspired in her writing of lyrics, singing of songs, and playing of the guitar.

    I envy your trip for your having eaten with her at Watershed more than anything else!

    That little girl is so cute too!

  28. This just beat out your Chez Panisse post as favorite AG ever for me–freankin’ fantastic.

    Not to mention, you just made me want to get on a plane to Atlanta, a city that has never been on my radar much. I can feel the love–all the way over here on the west coast.

    I’m going to be craving grits and pimento cheese for the rest of the day.

  29. Timothy In Atlanta

    Oh, Adam!! I hate I missed you; that weekend was SOMETHING else, to say the least of the weather.

    What a great Atlanta guide; you even touched on a few places I’ve yet to visit, and will certainly add to my “must try list”.

    So glad you and Craig had a nice time, and here’s to your not taking so long to visit again.


  30. I recently moved from Atlanta and worked in Roswell, in a quaint off the beaten track cafe called Anna Lee’s. Great soups, quiches, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. Very reasonable prices. Great staff!! Still looking for employment in NY that can duplicate that restaurant. Haven’t found it yet. Ever in Atlanta, check it out.

  31. Adam – As a native, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (and stomach!) for the glowing review of Atlanta and its food scene, which seems to be evergrowing, everimproving. Next time you’re down, check out The Farmhouse down in the Serenbe community (in Palmetto, about 30 miles south of city). It’s real proof that the local grower movement is thriving in and around Atlanta.

    Y’all come back soon!



  32. I’ve been a reader of yours since you lived down here in the ATL. People talk so much trash about Atlanta, it was refreshing to read your culinary love letter! I’ll admit I’m biased, having lived here my whole life, but Atlanta is a great town. Next time you’re here, you must try Sawicki’s Deli in Decatur and, if you’re in the mood for pasta, Ecco in Midtown. Those are my two new(ish) faves.

  33. Great post!

    I need to respond to Drink,Memory’s post about Athens. Farm 255 is a great idea but the cooking is not as good as the concept. Do by all means come to Athens but the best food here is at the Five and Ten Restaurant and at The National.

    If you like bone marrow try them at the National along with other tapas.

    Hope to see you down here.

  34. Shhhh!!! The best part about Atlanta is that the tourists and suburbanites don’t know that there’s anything outside the corporate touristy stuff downtown!

  35. Fully enjoyed and thanks for this re-visit to ATL. We love it and I suppose, just as there are many who dislike New York, Cleveland, or LA for their own reasons, like anywhere you have to give a place a chance. Your story helps the peeps with that “take away” message. Who is this Craig fellow? Did you come out of closet and get a boy? That’s refreshing too–if it were true that is. FYI-Atlanta does have a very well-balanced gay scene and like so many other well-kept secrets your blog gets the word out. thanks.

  36. I loved your guide to Atlanta. I’m from Atlanta, and it definitely highlights some of the best places. Hope you can visit again soon!

  37. As an ex-Atlantan, THANK YOU! This guide is great and I suddenly feel like I need to visit again, ASAP.

    I also adore Watershed, but I had no idea that Edna Lewis once cooked there. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

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