For many Atlanta dining is synonymous with the New South.

The Atrium at Atlanta's
Georgian Terrace Hotel.
(Click the photo.)

Livingston Bar at The Georgian Terrace.

Within Georgian social order a city like Savannah, its eighteenth century roots well preserved, represents a gracious Old South that “was”; Atlanta, conversely, gives testimony to the commercial hum that “is”.

Like many generalities this one blurs upon inspection.

Recent summer days spent roaming Atlanta gave me plenty of reason to think that this lively metropolis enjoys basking in its Southern traditions.

I split my lodging time between a pair of hotels which reflect Atlanta past and present.

The century-old Georgian Terrace has renovated, preserved, and expanded the eighteenth century style suggested by its name.  Like many old-time Southern hostelries, the Georgian is characterized by cool, flowered atria and affable service.

Located on Peachtree Street in the city’s historic core, the hotel once hosted the Hollywood luminaries and social stir attendant upon the world premiere of “Gone With the Wind”.

Alas, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are long gone from Tara, but the hotel now features a roof top pool in which one can float, dream and absorb the night glitter of contemporary Atlanta.

Downstairs, Chef Gary Mennie favors the local and organic at his Livingston Restaurant and Bar.

My second hotel was the Omni at CNN center, soaring above all that is totally up-to-date in “the New York of the South”.  Steps away from the CNN cable news world headquarters, Olympic Park, Georgia Convention Center and Georgia Dome the “Omni” glories in what its name suggests — a magnet for everyone and everything at the heart of a rambunctious young city.

Click photo to book the
Omni at CNN Center.

The Omni is the perfect place to stay if you’d like to stroll around Atlanta’s snazzy new attractions:  Georgia Aquarium is a world class facility; World of Coca-Cola, which celebrates the history and tastes of a few hundred soft drinks, is one of the South’s most popular attractions; the fascinating tour of CNN studios can be coupled with a look at adjacent sports complexes like Philips Arena (basketball and hockey) or the Georgia Dome (college and professional football). 

Like to take in a Braves baseball game?  Turner Field is just a few miles away off the Interstate.

But I must admit that my enduring memory of this trip to Atlanta is likely to center around food—and especially the varieties of Southern cooking I encountered at a handful of restaurants.

In a word, what is uniquely Southern fare?

Elegant dining at Dogwood.

Mezzanine at Dogwood.

If I were limited to one word I’d probably have to say “grits”.  Trouble is, I don’t like grits.  Never did.  That is, until now.

For anyone who does not cotton to corn meal mush and feels guilty about it, may I suggest you take that weight off your shoulders at a Peachtree Street eatery called Dogwood?  

Try—just try it, believe me, you’ll like it!—the opening course Grits Bar.

Coaxed to a near risotto consistency, these warm, stone-ground grits come with a choice of three toppings, ranging from fried oysters to butter-poached lobster and pimento cheese.  Chef Shane Touhy focuses on fresh local ingredients which produce menu treats like Vidalia onion soup; a Berkshire pork chop with whole roasted shallots, corn pudding, and roasted tomato butter, and Concord grape pie with peanut butter ice cream.

Dogwood has an intimate feel which flows nicely with the careful presentations and unhurried service.

Breakfast has always been a substantial part of Southern cooking.  Atlanta hotels and restaurants are famous for their weekend brunches, but my favorite is a popular neighborhood place called the Highland Bakery.  Housed in an old industrial building of the close-in Fourth Ward, the Highland sets up super omelets and Eggs Benedict (with stone-ground grits, naturally) in addition to utterly Down South tummy warmers like sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup.

That ought to hold you ‘til five o’clock juleps!

Swan Coach House Restaurant.

Alternately, if you happen to have skipped a full breakfast there’s no more beguiling remedy in town than lunch at the Swan Coach House.  Once the carriage building of historic Swan House, this Southern institution is nestled into the wooded acreage of the Atlantic History Center.  With exquisite floral fabric walls and blossoming centerpieces at every table, the Atlanta landmark provides an utterly charming experience in the traditions of Southern hospitality.  

Don’t miss either the frozen fruit salad or heart-shaped pastries filled with chicken salad for which the Coach House has long been famous.

The influence of Louisiana cuisine—both the Creole and Cajun varieties—has made its way to Atlanta in a number of restaurants. 

I tried a hot new spot called Serpas True Food at the artists’ Studioplex in the Fourth Ward.  Chef Scott Serpas has come on up from New Orleans with a potpourri of fresh ideas like Crawfish beignets, Jumbo Sea Scallops in panang curry and Chocolate Blueberry Ginger Shortcake.

Cycling through Atlanta's
historic neighborhoods.

Ready to work off all those calories?  |

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta, which just happens to park its two-wheelers a few doors down from Serpas True Food, is ready to guide you on a half-day tour of “Atlanta: Old South and New Beginnings”.

Spinning down shady lanes of the older wards provides a glimpse of the history and culture of Atlanta from the Civil War through Civil Rights.  The tour covers Battle of Atlanta sites, Grant Park, Oakland Cemetery, Cabbage Town, Inman Park, and Sweet Auburn. 

Particularly moving is a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, which includes a museum, King family grave site and MLK’s childhood home.

Oakland Cemetery with
Civil War era monuments.

Other historical sites of interest include the newly renovated Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.  It houses both the apartment where Mitchell wrote “Gone With the Wind” and numerous exhibits associated with the popular novel and epic film of the 1930s. If GWW memorabilia is your thing, drop by Miss Pittypat’s Porch, named after Scarlett O’Hara’s aunt. Little has changed since the day the restaurant opened in 1967—the menus are still fans, the place settings still pewter, and of course they still have the mint juleps.

Pittypat's Porch, an Atlanta institution.

Over at the aforementioned Atlanta History Center in upscale Bucktown the permanent collections include extensive exhibits on the Civil War and the Centennial Olympic Games as well as a walk around the nineteenth century plantation-plain house called Tullie Smith Farm.  Here you get a look at rural life in antebellum Georgia with its open-hearth cooking, animal husbandry, smithing, weaving, quilting and spinning.

If you have a car and are travelling with family a good evening option is Stone Mountain Park, a theme venue which features a 1,600-foot-high granite rock carved with images of Confederate leaders.  A laser and music show every evening culminates in a fireworks display.

Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta.

Food offerings at the Park include Miss Katie’s Sideboard Restaurant featuring southern fare and waiters whose idea of “hand-tossed rolls” involves actually throwing them to you from across the dining room.  Fun!

A final word on what a few local pundits have characterized as ”Atlanta’s identity crisis”.   Are we destined to become the New York or perhaps the Chicago or of the South? Mightn’t a newer western metropolis like Los Angeles serve as a model?

Cilantro Corn Pancakes —
breakfast treat, southern style.

Those are fine cities, no doubt, but my advice to Atlantans is “chill out, y’all!”  You have a distinctive environment which blends historical and contemporary elements all your own.  You possess the sine qua non for any real city, and that is VITALITY—a quality not readily purchased.   And keep those stone-ground grits coming—I’m a convert.  

Best website for information on touring Atlanta is available at the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

They have extensive lists of Atlanta restaurants sub-divided by cuisine.  Atlanta is truly a great restaurant town! 

Atlanta has many four and five star hotels, many of them located in swank Bucktown.  For the flavor of venerable Atlanta you might want to try The Georgian Terrace (  If your time in the city is short and you wish to cover the major attractions or attend sporting events, the Omni Hotel CNN Center is a particularly convenient home base.  More information is at

— Feature by Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Food & Wine Editor.