The Big Peach and its distinct southern style
Located near the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, the “city in the forest” has become a sprawling metropolis of over 5,500,000 people and is constantly evolving. Don’t be fooled though, because much of this urban monolith is covered under a thick canopy of greenery. Though a lot of the city was destroyed during the Civil War, Atlanta is resilient and became an icon in the South for civil rights and progressive transportation systems. Now, its many suburbs and featured venues showcase the fusion of homestyle southern cooking with other cultural influences. Atlanta is also known for its magnificent architecture, where different styles pervade each of its historic neighborhoods. Driving down Ponce de Leon Avenue, North Decatur Road or Peachtree Street, one can see the different visages of Atlanta’s history alongside its contemporary design. Each town is as distinct as the next, so make sure to discover all that this beautifully diverse city has to offer.
Located at the heart of Peachtree Street in the Brookwood neighborhood, R. Thomas Deluxe Grill has a fun and familiar flair—in both its food and decor—that keeps diners returning for more. Though originally established as a late-night burger joint, this landmark has evolved into a gourmet establishment that approaches a variety of southern dishes with a healthy, California style. Open 24 hours, this environmentally-minded spot offers diners a delicious menu of both meaty and vegetarian options, like the signature breakfast dish Sunrise Surprise (two scrambled eggs with organic salad and collard greens), the quinoa-based Thai Express or a Cajun Sautee with free-range chicken and plenty of spice. Wash it down with a whole coconut drink for a soothing, refreshing taste that is extremely gratifying on a summer day in Atlanta. To take in all that R. Thomas has to offer, dine inside to enjoy the disco lights that smatter the ceiling, and interact with amicable and knowledgeable staff. Be sure to visit the right side of the building on the way out to see the parrots, bells and unique ornaments that grace this Atlanta staple. R. Thomas is also just a few short steps from Ardmore Park, a lush spot with a beautiful walking path that spans over Peachtree and provides an idyllic backdrop for a picnic or a stroll.
Downtown Decatur has been popping up with delicious eateries, but at the true heart of it—located in a warmly lit restaurant bursting with exotic aromas and rustic decor—lies the Iberian Pig. Those unfamiliar with tapas may find the Iberian Pig's extensive range of options a little daunting at first. Thankfully, the well-informed staff will explain everything you need to know. The Croquetas de Queso y Cerdo—cheese- and meat-filled croquettes topped with a refreshing herbed crème fraiche and a touch of a robust tomato-quince sauce—offer a perfect balance of flavors. The bacon-wrapped dates also offer tastebuds a satisfying mesh of textures and flavors with their mix of soft and crunchy with sweet and savory. To finish this culinary journey, taste the churros with chocolate dipping sauce. The centrally located Iberian Pig is conveniently nearby Plaza Theater. Atlanta's oldest operating cinema, the Plaza has been showing solely independent films since 1939.
Tucked away in residential Decatur lies one of the best kept secrets on Briarcliff Road: Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. A historic Gothic-Tudor mansion that fills with jazz music on its lawn during the summer months, Callanwolde is a beacon for Atlanta’s performing, visual and literary arts. There are adult classes for visual arts, yoga, fitness, photography, novel writing and more; while children have available a wide range of classes, such as dancing, drawing, painting and music. However, one of the most interesting things this Fine Arts Center hosts is storytelling. One of Georgia's best folkloric traditions is "oratorical aesthetics"—a reflection of the region's fascination with strong personal narratives told through the spoken word. Both professionals and students at FAC have the chance to entertain audiences with tales for every age.
Among the many truck parks that have come to grace Atlanta, W.O.W. has established itself as one of the premier vendors of delicious fresh food served up quickly. If you’re looking for southwest-style arepas or a hearty bowl filled with meat, cheese and potatoes or grits—along with a famous creamy cilantro jalapeño “kicky sauce”—then you have come to the right place. Due to W.O.W.’s growing popularity, this traveling food truck has made its way across much of the southeast, and even over to Tennessee's Bonnaroo festival this year. You can catch W.O.W. and its vibrant truck painted with cartoon-like illustrations at one of many locations, but for food and fun, find it at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. The city's first permanent food truck site, the park is located on the grounds of an abandoned hotel, which the AFTP has rehabilitated to provide a place for the community to come together for lunch, dinner, local art, fresh produce, outdoor activities, special events and more.
Buckhead, one of Atlanta’s ritzier suburbs, has become flooded with bars in the last decade as nightlife has begun to boom in this part of the metropolis. Among the pubs that have popped up, Holeman & Finch has gained notoriety for the meticulously handcrafted drinks that James Beard award-winning Chef Linton Hopkins includes on his menu of hearty fare. Hopkins combines classic southern foodways with modern artistry, and Holeman & Finch is a always abuzz with constant chatter from patrons sharing communal tables situated among rows of aged meats hanging on the walls. Try a more creative option at brunch, like the poached farm egg and duck liver served with griddled bacon and Johnny cakes drizzled with sorghum syrup, or come for the real energy surfacing later in the evening. Around 9PM every night, the crowd shifts into a jubilant babble as a man on a megaphone announces, “It’s burger time!” But only a handful of juicy double cheeseburgers are served on Holeman & Finch’s own signature toasted buns. Serious foodies should make their way to Restaurant Eugene on Peachtree Road, Chef Hopkins' other culinary endeavor. The restaurant epitomizes fine dining with local, seasonal cuisine, making it as much a neighborhood favorite as a culinary destination.
Using fresh produce sourced daily from local area farmers, Chai Pani does an excellent job of creating genuine Indian street food in a buzzing Atlanta atmosphere. Since opening in Asheville in 2009 to a line of customers that didn’t stop until the food ran out, the staff at Chai Pani maintain the same philosophy on customer service and authenticity. The founders, husband-and-wife duo Meherwan and Molly Irani, routinely go back to India throughout the year for new ways to update the menu as well as to buy specialty items only found there. To keep it as traditional as possible, they make all of their chutneys and sauces in-house. Try the kale pakoras—a delicious vegetarian alternative that combines a savory chickpea batter with a sweet yogurt and tangy green chutney sauce. For a culinary trip to another point on the globe, try Taqueria del Sol across the street on Ponce de Leon Avenue, which fuses Southern, Mexican and Southwestern dishes and stocks a wide range of tequilas.
Art Papers has—for almost 40 years—dedicated itself to exposing Atlantans to a world of contemporary art. The team behind this nonprofit uses a variety of approaches, from publishing bimonthly magazines to public programming, which includes a lecture series called “Art Papers Live!” as well as an annual art auction and critical writing workshops. The art auction takes place each year at the Mason Murer Fine Art Gallery, a beautiful center that highlights the paintings and photographs of renowned southern artists. Located in historic Inman Park, one of America’s first garden suburbs and the oldest suburb in Atlanta, Art Papers is surrounded by verdant foliage, beautiful turn-of-the-19-century architecture and discerning restaurants like Sotto Sotto and Wisteria (which has a sizable gluten-free menu).
Initially a logging town, Helen needed to do something different when its economy began to decline after the sawmills closed in the '50s. Tourism grew to be the main industry in this quaint town along the Chatahoochee River when it adopted a Bavarian layout. Though mostly a weekend getaway for Atlanta natives, people travel from all over during the fall for Helen’s creative take on Oktoberfest. Beautiful foliage surrounds the city making it perfect for drivers and motorcyclists to cruise swiftly across the open roads. Be sure to visit the Raven Cliffs for a glorious hike overlooking the river, which leads to waterfalls and plenty of scenic points. To perfectly take in this uniquely revitalized town, stay at at the Unicoi State Park, which hosts over 100 guest rooms and features a restaurant that serves delicious mountain trout—a true local favorite. A place that satisfies all kinds of interests, adventure in Helen is as easy to achieve as total relaxation.