Why they all come back to Mary Mac’s

Recently, I attend the 65th anniversary party at Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta. Mary Mac’s is a destination for many visitors to the city. It was my first visit. I can now see why so many of Atlanta’s residents are regulars. When you enter Mary Mac’s you are treated to the much lauded Southern hospitality that you may be hard-put to find in more commercial establishments in Atlanta.

I also received a copy of the Mary Mac’s Tea Room: 65 Years of Recipes from Atlanta’s Favorite Dining Room. I couldn’t put it down; I read it straight through. The book is a fascinating history of Mary Mac’s and the people who helped create an Atlanta landmark. The story is compelling and the photographs capture the charm of a bygone age.
It also contains easy-to-follow recipes for the restaurant’s Southern favourites. The book is a veritable primer on classic Southern cooking. You can learn to make a tasty tomato pie, tempting squash casserole, crispy fried chicken, and many other tempting Dixie dishes. It also contains recipes for the restaurant’s signature desserts. My favourite is the blackberry jam cake, a spicy layer cake with sumptuous caramel icing.
This book is a priceless piece of Atlanta’s history, a fabulous gift for anyone who loves all things Southern.
For a taste of Mary Mac’ s Tea Room and their special brand of Southern charm, do not miss a word of our interview with owner and author John Ferrell.  
DD: Why did you decide to write the cookbook?
JF: Mary Mac’s is celebrating our 65th anniversary in 2010 and we are so thankful to have a loyal fan base over the years. Can you imagine serving generations of the same families? We receive a lot of requests for our recipes and we are so grateful, and when you add in our own iconic history and the fact that we have dedicated employees, many whom have been with us for decades, we knew it was something we needed to do.
DD: What is your personal favorite recipe(s) and why?
JF: From my personal standpoint, it is my mother’s: Mary Ferrell’s homemade Cream Cheese Pound Cake. I recall it as a child. Everyone loves it. We use the recipe for our Strawberry Shortcake at Mary Mac’s!
DD: What are the most popular recipes – and do you have any idea why?
JF: When you come to Mary Mac’s, the first thing that you will notice about our menu is that is has something for everyone. We have always had requests for our recipes, however recently we added Tomato Pie and it has become our most requested recipe. I think it is because tomatoes are a staple at most tables in the South, and the recipe is a wonderful hit at reunions or large gatherings. Second, I would say, we get a lot of requests for our Cornbread Dressing and Sweet Potato Soufflé recipes, especially around the holidays. We often receive requests to ship these and other traditional favorites to customers around the country!
DD: Who comes to Mary Mac’s? Do you have regulars? How did you become an "Atlanta destination"?
JF: Thank you for your observation and calling us a “destination”. I would tell you that after serving folks from all over the globe for 65 years, we had better know what we are doing by now! Call it honest, real, down-home, and non-pretentious, or as most do, just a visit back in time, where your senses will remind you of your childhood or perhaps sitting down at a favorite relatives house for a special meal. Our objective is to put a smile on your face and some goodness on your plate, with a true side of southern hospitality. I am most grateful that we accomplish this objective on a consistent basis!
Yes, we have regulars; many eat lunch with us every day! We have added some of their stories in our cookbook. Mary Mac’s also draws many of our visitors to Atlanta who are in search of an authentic southern dining experience.
DD: What defines Southern cooking? 
JF: If you grew up in the South, you will have an appreciation of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit from your garden. Many Southerners also had their own livestock and processed their own meats. These hands-on experiences, and the importance of cooking with fresh produce, can make a huge difference in how something tastes. I am proud that in this day of fast and flash, Mary Mac’s still realizes the importance of freshly-made, from-scratch menu selections.
DD: Mary Mac’s is as famous for hospitality as food. How have you maintained those good feelings for over 50 years? 
JF: Again, we are honored that you recognize our tradition of offering southern hospitality whenever you visit us. We are so proud of our staff and their efforts to welcome our guests. We work hard on training our staff that any problem they may face at work can be overcome by simply communicating with our guests and offering them a smiling faces and hospitality. Where else can you go and get your “back rubbed and your belly filled”. Our ‘Goodwill Ambassador’, Jo Carter, visits your table and checks on your experience while rubbing your back!
DD: Can you suggest a perfect party menu for a beginner cook from your cookbook? 
JF: I would say, bring them to Mary Mac’s and we will show them a great time! There is something for everyone and if we can’t find exactly what you want, you will at least a great back rub from Jo Carter! Of course, if you’re not close to Mary Mac’s I would recommend Fried Chicken, Whipped Potatoes, Macaroni and Cheese, Turnips or Collard Greens, Sliced Tomatoes, Cucumbers in Onions, and any of the desserts in our cookbook.
DD: Who are a few of the celebrities who have dined at Mary Mac’s, and what did they eat?
JF: We again are so thankful for our success and interest in Mary Mac’s. We have had so many folks come in, it is hard to keep up with them and their menu selections. I recall that when the former First Lady Hillary Clinton dined with us, we were visited by the Secret Service days in advance. It created a lot of excitement when the meal was being prepared. We are fortunate to be only three blocks from the Fabulous Fox Theater on Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta, where so many performers grace our doors while in Atlanta. We have served the Dalai Lama – who interestingly enough is not a vegetarian. He enjoyed our PotLicker and Fried Chicken. Richard Gere, Ted Danson, multiple governors, senators, congressmen and congresswomen, entertainers, and sports legends have all walked through our doors. The ones we love are the ones who keep coming back! www.marymacs.com