I don’t like traveling without doing some research ahead of time—where am I going? What is there that is interesting to see? Where can I find local food? This time I was headed to a conference in Atlanta, GA, a place I have only previously seen from the airport. But I had had no time to read up on anything so I was flying blind. As we were getting close to landing, I asked my seatmate, who has lived in Atlanta for 26 years, where she would recommend I go to eat. She suggested The Varsity, “a landmark, a greasy spoon,” she said, “near your hotel.” Is that an endorsement or not? I couldn’t say.
I rode the shuttle with two women who were very excited to be in Atlanta. As we passed a restaurant, one said to the other, “Oh that’s Pitty Patty’s. Gloria told us about it, remember?” Then it hit me. Of course Atlanta would have references to Gone with the Wind! What she was referring to was Pittypat’s Porch, a restaurant specializing in Southern food since 1967. I was hoping to have a Southern meal before I left town at the end of the week; maybe I would go there. . . .
But not that first night. My hotel was right on the Georgia Tech campus and so I ended up at the Cypress Street Pint & Plate for dinner. It was hot and we ate on the patio. The sweet potato nachos sounded interesting, as did the smoked brisket mac and cheese (in cooler weather perhaps), but I wound up with the house-smoked brisket melt (cheddar, caramelized onions, pickles, mustard bbq). It came very large and already stabbed; the mustard bbq sauce was very different from the red sauces I usually see, and it went very well with the beef. What went very well with the meal was my Illusive Traveler Shandy—perfect on a hot day.
Day 2 brought a trip to the Georgia Aquarium, where I watched whale sharks being fed, and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which focuses on the civil rights movement between 1954 and the late 1960s. Watching newscasts about Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination brought back many memories of 1968 for me. I asked the docent if they had anything about Daisy Myers and Levittown, but he said the focus was on what was happening in the South. So, with Charleston never far from our thoughts, we saw displays on the four little girls from the Birmingham church, the lunchcounter sit-ins, the March on Washington, and so much more.
For dinner that evening someone suggested a restaurant just across the street from our hotel: The Spence. As a friend would say, what’s not to like? Unique appetizers? Got ‘em! Small plates? Yay! Varied enough menu that I considered going back for my final night? Absolutely! (and I still regret that didn’t happen!) Drinks? Why of course! The wines are listed as either “Tried and True” (meaning they serve it regularly) or “Leap of Faith” (they thought it might be good but can’t say for sure that you will like it). I started with a Pancho Villa cocktail, for which there are many many recipes online; this one had pisco, whiskey, and baked cherries. It was heavenly.
For food I ordered the house ricotta with local tomatoes, pea shoots, mint, and chili flakes (pictured above--it’s under “snacks” on the menu) and the Georgia shrimp with passion fruit, melon, fennel, radish & jalapeno lime vinaigrette “small plate.” Servings were perfectly portioned so we all went for dessert—in my case the old-fashioned semifreddo, with orange cake and bourbon anglaise (very light, very pleasant). Favorite meal from my visit by far.
The next two days were all meetings and conference food. Not complaining—learned a lot from speakers and colleagues. I never did get my Southern meal, but I did hear photographer Dan Winters speak and see some of his work; I recommend his new book, Road to Seeing. We were in the historic Academy of Medicine for Dan's talk--above our heads as we walked in was the chandelier featured in Gone with the Wind. I'll admit I'm not a big fan, but my sister and a friend are so I sent them a picture of it!
On my last evening, I vowed to get a little tourist-ing done. My hotel was not far from the Fox Theatre where I thought Gone with the Wind had premiered (turns out it was closed by then!). It is, however, a gorgeously restored theater and I wish I had been there on a day they give tours.
From the Fox, I walked a few blocks to The Varsity, that “greasy spoon” that had been recommended to me on the plane. The “world’s largest drive-in,” The Varsity has been in business since 1928 and Georgia Tech fans pack the place before games. I was there at about 7:30 on a weekday evening and the place was teeming with customers. I stopped at the gift shop for a t-shirt and a free paper hat like they wear behind the counter.
Just as I thought my tourist-ing was over and I headed back toward the hotel, I saw rising up in front of me a large Olympic-like torch, right in the middle of a parking lot next to the interstate. Seems it’s a local boondoggle, left over from the 1996 Olympics. Would have been cool to climb it, but these days it’s all closed up.
The next morning I decided to take a little walk before our breakfast and meetings. This time I headed north, through business and residential neighborhoods that melted into one another, to the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. Of course it was not open (after all, I was there at 8 a.m.) but I took a picture anyway. It looked out of place among the other, more modern buildings.
If I had had the time to research all this before coming to Atlanta, I might have planned better. I might have had that Southern food. I might have even rented a car to see this. But alas. However, some excellent food, a new t-shirt, a lot of great professional contacts, and more ideas to improve my research magazine than I can possibly accomplish . . . I really can’t ask for more than that.