It’s my habit to scope out places to eat whenever I go somewhere. Thus, two years ago, when I started working near Midtown, Mary Mac’s Tea Room and its “authentic southern fare and hospitality” caught my attention (the cinnamon rolls in the bread basket in particular ). Two years later, I’m still working at the same place and I still haven’t tried the restaurant. Right after the semester started, I finally grabbed my friend, A, and told him, “OK, we have to go try this place already.” So we did.
Unfortunately, so did all of the church groups and retirement homes in Atlanta. It was a Wednesday night; I should have guessed it’d be packed. I really wanted to like this place: to have great southern food, warm hospitality, unlimited cinnamon rolls, all within a five-minute walk from my work place would be incredible. Alas, Mary Mac’s and I just weren’t meant to be.
A and I patiently waited for half an hour in a room packed with older women in spotless white suits fussing with their bright purple hats and gentlemen pretending not to notice the sweat running down into their mustaches. It’s sad to say that things got worse after the hostess called our name. For, you see, she called another party of two at the same time and all four of us went up to the hostess stand. A young man appeared and grabbed some menus, looked at us, and disappeared into the dining room. Without a single word. Um…hello? Were we supposed to wait for him to seat the other party first? Was he seating ours first? Were both parties supposed to follow him? A simple, “Welcome, right this way please,” would have cleared both the confusion and my growing irritation. Instead, both parties exchanged confused looks and trailed after him uncertainly into the crowded dining room. There he simply put down two menus each at two tables and disappeared into the crowd. We chose the table against the wall. I studied the menu, hoping the food will dispel my exasperation towards the bad service.
While we agonized over what to order, a woman with a small mop of gray-white hair suddenly appeared behind A and began to stroke his back absentmindedly. I struggled to hold in my laughter at A’s startled expression, for I had been prepared. When I had found Mary Mac’s on Yelp, I had read Yelper Teresa L’s review, which noted that if “Jo is at the restaurant, you will probably get a back rub during your visit.” “Jo” finished with A’s back and promptly came around the table to attend to mine.
Ignoring Jo and her backrubs, our friendly, but mildly bewildered, waitress proudly recited that nothing, nothing, has changed since Mary Mac’s first opened in 1945. Thus, the customers still scribble down their orders on slips of paper on the table and the servers bring the slips to the cooks, who then prepare food from original, unaltered recipes. If the recipes haven’t changed for over half a century, the food must be plate-licking delicious.
We eagerly waited our food after handing our papers to our waitress, who promptly returned with a basket of rolls. The large bowl of butter, a staple of Southern foods that was on every table, proved to be unnecessary. The dinner rolls were soft, hot, and generously buttered. However, they lacked salt and thus, quickly became bland, buttery fluffballs. If you like savory corn bread, you’ll like the corn muffins. I prefer the sweet ones, and thus, did not care for the corn muffins, either. The cinnamon rolls, which I had looked forward to, were a far cry from the gooey, oozing cinnamon rolls I had imagined. They weren’t hard, but neither were they fluffy soft. On the bright side, they weren’t too sweet!
The entrees, which came out surprisingly quickly, were unfortunately a letdown. I love marshmallows, brown sugar, and sweet potatoes, but this sweet potato souffle was terrifyingly sweet. I couldn’t eat anymore after three bites. The fried okra had a thick layer of breading and was nice and crunchy. The grilled pork was overly salty. One bite in particular tasted like biting into a meaty salt-lick. The fried pork chop wasn’t that bad. Its breading, similar to that of the fried okra, lacked seasoning, but the almost over-seasoned meat beneath it made up for it. A’s cheese and vegetable souffle tasted kind of like a vegetable mac and cheese, sans macaroni and salt – a little greasy, filled with vegetables and cheese, but had barely any salt. The vegetable soup tasted all right – not bad, not good, and unmemorable. I liked the chicken pot pie the most out of everything that evening. Along with the usual medley of peas, carrots, corn, and green beans, were decent-sized chunks of chicken and gravy, all encased securely within a hard pie blanket. We had enthusiastically agreed on splitting a Georgia peach cobbler for dessert when we first ordered. However, all thoughts of dessert faded from our minds by the end of our hearty, heavy meals. All in all, Mary Mac’s was a complete letdown for me. I might, might, go back to try their fried chicken. Otherwise, no, thank you, Mary Mac’s. I’ll find finger-licking southern fare elsewhere.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
224 Ponce de Leon Ave
Atlanta, GA 30308