It’s no longer just fried chicken, chitterlings, and pound cake.
Every time I go to Atlanta, I can’t help but think it’s a baby Los Angeles. Terrible traffic—even Sunday mornings—sprawling layout with no discernible center, and strip malls galore. The differences (yes, there are many) don’t quite work in Atlanta’s favor: LA has the beach, heavenly weather, and one of the most health-forward food scenes in the world. As Joy the Baker remarked of her hometown years ago, “We don’t meet for soy lattes anymore, we meet for spin class and expensive bottled juices. It feels equal parts obnoxious and healthful.”
Atlanta has foothills, kill-your-hair humidity, and a fetish for fried food. In short, it’s not the ideal destination if you’re even a slight health nut.
So what, if any, redeeming qualities does ATL have to offer a healthy-food lover? More than you might imagine. Urban sprawl is a pain in terms of getting from one side of the city to the other, but it also fosters strong neighborhood identities. Just as LA has the Hills, Hollywood, Venice, and Bel-Air, Atlanta has Midtown, Decatur, Buckhead, Kirkwood, and a dozen other boroughs that are forging unique identities—and collecting their own assortment of better-for-you eateries.
Don’t get me wrong: As a southerner, I have a reverence for biscuits, barbecue (vinegar only, please), fatback-simmered collards, and banana pudding. Plus, Southern cuisine has thankfully been swept up in the foodie renaissance. Chefs like Mashama Bailey of Savannah’s The Grey, Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, and Atlanta’s very own Linton Hopkins are breaking the fried-drumstick-and-gravy mold with outlandish flair. Sweetbreads with truffle batons, anyone?
I will not pretend to be an expert on anything Atlanta, but during my half a dozen visits in so many years, a few concepts have stood out, whether it’s for their quality, inventiveness, or blissful inclusion of salads on the menu.
Make your sojourn to Bojangles’ and Cook Out (my California-transplanted friend cried tears of joy when she opened her Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits Box), but then check out these spots when you’ve reached fried-food capacity.