Atlanta is home to some of the most intriguing and delicious culinary pursuits anywhere. It’s a hungry city, and yes, rightly famous for soul-soothing Southern-comfort foods. Thankfully, that voracious appetite has inspired local chefs to introduce new flavors and reinvent favorite dishes. It has diners flocking to restaurants from Cheshire Bridge to the Inman Park to discover the city’s best cooking.
For years, Midtown was Atlanta’s go-to neighborhood for fine dining, central lodging, and major attractions like the enormous Georgia Aquarium, literary landmarked Margaret Mitchell House, and the enlightening Center for Civil and Human Rights. Plus, Midtown and adjacent Ansley Park form the core of Atlanta’s LGBT neighborhood, home to queer hotspots like Blake’s on the Park club and My Sister’s Room, one of the country’s last remaining lesbian bars.
Thanks to savvy urban planning, Atlanta’s East Side has claimed some of the culinary spotlight. It’s largely due to the city’s BeltLine, the former rail line that’s now a “linear arboretum” around the city. Its first, four-mile span opened in 2014 as a landscaped walking-biking-skating path from Cabbagetown up to Piedmont Park. The first stretch is phase one of what eventually will be a full 22-mile loop. Parks, public art, and, of course, restaurants and food halls have cropped up all along the route, making a BeltLine jaunt a legit food tour.
Here’s a look at some of A-town’s most enticing eateries, in the East Side and beyond.
Befitting its perch along the BeltLine at mile marker 9.25, Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall honors the great outdoors through food and atmosphere. The main building houses a roomy, atmospheric bar and dining room with long wooden tables that conjure park vibes. The real show is the huge outdoor “grove,” enclosed by a fence and trees, and big enough to feel like you’ve entered a luxury campsite. It’s instant relaxation, complete with high-end folding chairs, umbrellas, campfire, and a vintage camper–cum–outdoor bar.
As the bench-style tables suggest, Ladybird is primed for groups, with a shareable picnic basket “trail snack” and “basecamp” combos of roasted spatchcock chicken with fixings, or the Backyard B.B.Q. board with pulled pork, ribs, sausage, and slaw. Individual dishes are hearty, balanced, and made all the more tantalizing by local ingredients. Try the shrimp-n-Grits, made with tasso ham, shallots, garlic, and cream, but don’t overlook the salad options either, especially the grilled romaine with anchovy vin dressing, or flank-steak salad with arugula and balsamic blueberry.
Ladybird proudly serves its three-day-weekend brunch Friday through Sunday, with seriously good campfire cuisine. It’s a short menu that features savory temptations like fried-oyster Benedict, Nashville hot-chicken biscuit, spicy Mississippi tamales, and grilled romaine with poached egg. Menus here change frequently based on seasonal ingredients, but you can count on favorites like the ever-popular three-cheese mac-n-cheese, BBQ kettle chips, and butterscotch-coconut rum cake.
The list of draft brews rotate and include local brands, as do the canned beers to suit the camping theme. Cocktails are solid too, and incorporate fresh herbs and house-made juices, though the seasonal patio punch is both delicious and aces for sharing under a starry sky. 684 John Wesley Dobbs Ave. NE. Tel: 404- 458-6838. www.ladybirdatlanta.com.