Southern Charm is Alive and Well in the New South

By Doug & Morri

We went to Atlanta to see the “Old South”:  pillared plantation mansions, live oaks draped in moss, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping over cobblestones. Big mistake! “For that,” drawled our guide with a laugh, “you’ll have to go to Savannah.”

Union General William T. Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground during his infamous Civil War “March to the Sea”. For Atlantans, that seemed a good reason to rebuild. Today, this booming, bustling Sunbelt city offers the best of the “new” South — intriguing architecture, wonderful attractions, delicious nouvelle Southern cuisine and warm, welcoming people who exude that legendary Southern charm.

Get to know this city at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. It’s easy to enjoy half a day among the Center’s 38 wooded acres. Engaging multimedia exhibits on the history of Atlanta, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement and Southern folk art, captivated us. The Center even has a permanent gallery celebrating golf legend Bobby Jones, the first amateur to win a Grand Slam.

Stroll along a winding trail to Tullie Smith Farm, a rustic pre-Civil War farm complete with slave cabin. Swan House, an imposing granite mansion, affords a glimpse of how wealthy Atlantans lived in the “Roaring 20s”.

Before leaving Buckhead, we lunched at the Horseradish Grill, where we discovered “meat and three”, a Southern combo of meat and three vegetables selected from a long list of both. The child in you will be delighted to know that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable! Meat choices included fish and chicken, so one of us chose blackened catfish with black-eyed peas, braised collard greens, and creamy grits.

What could be more Southern than that?

How about chicken fried steak?  There’s no chicken! It’s simply deep-fried, breaded steak.  Or pulled BBQ pork –so tender it flakes apart with a fork?

In Virginia Highland, a boutique and gallery neighborhood, we indulged in “comfort food” at Murphy’s where desserts range from poached pears to warm Tollhouse pie. If our mouth-puckering Key Lime tart was any indication, its desserts don’t suffer from the Southern addiction to sugar!

In Midtown, we lucked into South Country Kitchen where Chef Jay Swift has a reputation for innovative Southern cuisine. Our sautéed chicken livers smothered in caramelized onions, country ham and creamed corn were marvelous! The corn bread muffins, savory not sweet, were the best we’ve ever tasted.

But there’s more to do in Atlanta than feast!

For sheer amazement, tour the fabulous Fox Theatre. Built in 1929 by the Atlanta Shriners, this stunning landmark combines fantastical Moorish and Egyptian styles. Onion domes and minarets adorn the exterior. Inside, a ballroom recalls the Karnack Temple in Egypt. The 5,000-seat theatre is a dazzling recreation of a Moorish courtyard, complete with a star-filled desert sky. Once a cinema, the Fox now hosts the Atlanta Ballet and other performance groups.

Restoration Director Molly Fortune told us that Atlanta has several other Art Deco buildings, which you can explore during an Atlanta Preservation Center walking tour.

Gone With the Wind, the most popular novel ever published, still casts its spell on Atlanta. At the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum we walked through “the dump,” Mitchell’s affectionate term for her tiny first floor apartment in a converted 1899 house. We were surprised to learn that Gone With the Wind was her first and only novel, despite its unmatched success (only the Bible outsells it).

As writers and collectors, we couldn’t resist a CNN studio tour, where we really did see news in the making, and a visit to the World of Coca-Cola, where we tasted every flavor marketed by Coca-Cola™ around the world. For diehard Coke collectors, this museum houses the world’s best collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia.

We finally found a little of the “Old South” at 3,200-acre Stone Mountain Park, 18 miles outside the city. The focal point of the park is a gigantic bald bubble of granite that affords a spectacular view of Atlanta from its 825-foot high summit.

From a cable car, we got a good look at the Confederate Memorial carved nine-stories tall into the bare face of the mountain. A scenic train circles the base, starting and ending in Crossroadstm, a family theme park complete with blacksmith, grist mill, candle shop, riverboat and more. A great place to spend a day with the kids! Nearby, Southern belles welcome visitors to a restored antebellum plantation and farmyard.

While we marveled at Atlanta’s history and architecture, our most moving experience was at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. When we walked into the Ebenezer Baptist Church where King preached, his “I have a Dream” speech was playing over the sound system — eerie and powerful. Next door, his tomb rests amidst a large shining pool.

Outside the Church, a panhandler accosted us. Fortunately, a dapper gentleman with a deep, resonant voice came to our rescue. After firmly but kindly telling the panhandler to get lost, he introduced himself as a deacon of the new Ebenezer Baptist Church across the street. He chatted with us about his congregation, its community work and King’s legacy. His warmth and sincerity shone through. Of all the friendly, helpful Atlantans we met, that encounter was definitely a high point — an uplifting end to a wonderful trip.

© 2003 Doug & Morri Productions. Doug Long and Morri Mostow www.dougandmorri.com are freelance travel writers and broadcasters.

If You Go

Air Canada offers daily launched non-stop Jazz service between Toronto and Atlanta, with good connections from Montreal. Call Air Canada reservations at 1-888-247-2262 or book online at www.aircanada.ca

Concierge with Class

Jon Salvatore is the soul of discretion, the perfect attribute for an Air Canada concierge. With tact, diplomacy and resourcefulness, he eliminates airport hassles for high flyers: Executive First® travelers on international flights, Aeroplan Super Elite members, VIPs, pop stars and diplomats.

If you belong to this select crowd, you’ll recognize the 85 concierges by their distinctive black suits and lapel pins.  Salvatore, also sports a key-shaped Clefs d’Or pin, signifying his membership in this prestigious association of hotel concierges. Air Canada is the only airline affiliated with Les Clefs d’Or.

For the past three years, Air Canada concierges have been shepherding late VIPs to connecting flights, making hotel, car, theatre and restaurant reservations … and more. When a celeb or politico is whisked off a plane to a waiting limo at a back entrance, you can be sure that an Air Canada concierge made all the arrangements.

Must See Attractions in Atlanta

Swan House at the Atlanta History CentreAtlanta History Center 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Buckhead, (404) 814-4000: www.atlantahistorycenter.com

Fox Theatre 660 Peachtree Street NE, (404) 881-2100, www.foxtheatre.org

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Sweet Auburn, www.nps.gov/malu/

Atlanta Preservation Center for walking tours of historic areas of Atlanta. Tour hotline: (404) 688-3350 www.preserveatlanta.com

Margaret Mitchell House & MuseumMargaret Mitchell House & Museum
990 Peachtree Street NE (404) 249-7012 
www.gwtw.org

CNN Studio Tours CNN Center,
corner Centennial Olympic Park Drive
and Marietta Street
. Advance reservations needed:
(404) 827-2300
www.cnn.com/StudioTour

World of Coca-Cola 55 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, (404) 676-5151 www.woccatlanta.com

Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain Park, GeorgiaStone Mountain Park 
 www.stonemountainpark.com
This 3,200-acre park just 18 miles from downtown Atlanta is the premier recreational destination for Atlantans and visitors alike.

Where to Stay in Atlanta

In Stone Mountain Park

Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort - Stone MountainEvergreen Marriott
Conference Resort,
4021 Lakeview Drive,
Stone Mountain,
(770) 879-9000 
 
www.evergreenresort.com

 

 

In Atlanta

Westin Peachtree Plaza, 210 Peachtree St. (404) 659-1400  www.westinpeachtree.citysearch.com  Central, downtown location, with all the usual amenities.

Courtyard by Marriott, 175 Piedmont Ave. NE, (404) 659-2727  www.courtyard.com/atlcd Convenient downtown location, comfortable, moderately priced. On-site coin-operated laudromat.

The Georgian Terrace Hotel, 659 Peachtree Street, (404) 897-1991  www.thegeorgianterrace.com  An opulent landmark hotel in the heart of trendy Midtown.

Atlanta Bed & Breakfasts

King, Keith House Bed & Breakfast (Inman Park), 889 Edgewood Ave., (404) 688-7330   www.kingkeith.com

Gaslight Inn Bed & Breakfast (Virginia-Highland), 1001 St. Charles Ave., (404) 875-1001  www.gaslightinn.com

Beverly Hills Inn (Buckhead), 65 Sheridan Drive, (404) 233-8520  www.beverlyhillsinn.com

Where to Eat in Atlanta

Horseradish Grill 4320 Powers Ferry Road NW (in Buckhead), (404) 255-7277  www.horseradishgrill.com Housed in a former horse barn, this charming establishment serves typical Southern dishes but with a light, gourmet twist using the freshest of seasonal produce.

Murphy’s  997 Virginia Ave (corner North Highland), (404) 872-0904 www.murphysvh.com  This restaurant, bistro and wine bar has lots of charm and the cuisine, billed as Comfort Food, is exquisite. Murphy’s is known as a brunch location, with one of the most extensive brunch menus in the city. Many tempting desserts.

South City Kitchen 1144 Crescent Avenue (in Midtown), (404) 873-7358  www.southcitykitchen.com  Chef Jay Swift is well-known for his innovative use of Southern ingredients. A good example was a starter of sautéed chicken livers, smothered in caramelized onions, country ham, creamed corn and served on brioche toast. The corn bread muffins, stuffed full of whole kernels, were the best we’ve ever tasted.

Pittipat's Porch restaurantPittypat’s Porch 
25 International Blvd.,
(404) 525-8228 
 www.pittypatsporch.com
Old-style Southern Cuisine in a
charming Gone With The Wind setting,
conveniently located downtown,
across from the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

 

© 2003 Doug & Morri Productions. Doug Long and Morri Mostow are freelance travel writers and broadcasters.