The Southern states are known for barbecue, fried chicken, and sweet tea, and DeKalb County, part of the Atlanta Metro area, puts its own spin on these and other Southern favorites. Plus, with an extremely diverse population along the Buford Highway, you’ll find some of the best authentic ethnic dishes, many with a Southern twist. DeKalb County’s take on Southern classics results in dishes that are extra rich, extra sweet, and oh so delicious.
While attending a travel writing conference in DeKalb County, the city hosted a food tour of the area. These are some of the delicious eats I discovered.
The Georgia peach, Georgia’s official state fruit, is a source of pride throughout the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks Georgia as one of the top four peach producing states. With their tender, juicy flavor, it’s no wonder that you’ll find a variety of peach incarnations during a peach-season visit to Georgia.
Peaches, butter, and flour combine to create luscious treats. Whether it’s peach pie, peach crisps, peach tarts, or peach cobblers, Georgians clamor to make and enjoy baked goods when peaches are in season. Revolution Donuts -- which has multiple locations around DeKalb County -- puts a unique spin on this baked delicacy with the Peach Slider. A light and yeasty donut is rolled in sugar then split open and stuffed with Georgia peaches. There’s a line out the door on weekends as peach devotees wait to purchase and savor one of these delicate treats before they sell out.
During peach season, il Giallo Osteria and Bar offers a dish created by Chef Libby Muldawer called Crostata di Pesca. This Southern-style peach cobbler is served warm and topped with vanilla gelato. Il Giallo Osteria and Bar is a favorite for dinner, too, ranking number 5 out of 112 restaurants in the Sandy Springs community that borders DeKalb County according to TripAdvisor reviewers.
Southern fried chicken has an almost cultish following. It’s the combination of spices and seasoning with unique cooking methods that leads to the perfect balance of crunchy yet juicy and tender fried chicken. Two restaurants in DeKalb County have honed distinct recipes that keep the customers coming back for more.
Matthews Cafeteria is an old-school cafeteria with a long row of entrees, salads, sides, and desserts from which to choose. This family-owned business opened in 1956 and has served Southern fare since the beginning. The fried chicken has a reputation as some of the best in the state. The macaroni and cheese is delicious, too, so you may want to choose a plate of mac and cheese and some greens to go with your chicken dinner. When I ate here, I enjoyed a plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, succulent collard greens, and a side of fried okra. It’s a cafeteria, so your options are only limited to your hunger. And whatever you choose will be authentic Southern food at its best.
The food at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is made in-house each day to give diners a taste of dishes like “grandma made.” The cabbage is shredded on site for the coleslaw, they cut their own potatoes for the potato salad, and they bake their own pies. Apparently, 60 years ago in Mason, Napoleon “Na” Vanderbuilt created fried chicken that could unite a community. According to Gus’s, “In an era of divisive racial attitudes the residents of Mason found that they could all -- black and white -- agree on how much they loved Na’s fried chicken.” The chicken still has a huge following for which GQ named Gus’s Fried Chicken “one of the top ten meals in the United States worth flying for.” Atlanta Magazine says “the fried chicken is a crispy, glorious lesson in Southern cookery.”
Many think of Texas or Kansas City when they hear of good barbecue, but DeKalb County has its fair share of competitors. Our lunch during the conference was catered by the Fox brothers, and we got the chance to taste their meats and sides, plus an old-time favorite: banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
Twin brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox were raised on Texas barbecue. After moving to Atlanta, the brothers were craving Texas-style barbecue and began throwing backyard gatherings for friends and family. When attendance at the small gatherings grew to more than 250 people, the brothers knew it was time to start taking their barbecue to the public. Fox Brothers Bar-B-Q was opened after a stint of testing the waters with a pop-up barbecue stand.
They opened a storefront and began serving guests their signature style of smoked brisket, pulled pork, wings, and a mix of original side dishes. In addition to the smoked meats and sides, Fox Brothers serves unique starters like Texas Fries, fries that are smothered with barbecue sauce, chopped brisket or pulled pork, plus jalapenos and melted cheese and served with ranch dressing. Or try The Tomminator, tater tots smothered with Brunswick Stew and topped with melted cheese.
If you prefer to stick with classic Southern-style barbecue, stop by The Greater Good BBQ. What could be more Southern than an order of potato skins topped with pimento cheese and chopped brisket? In addition to traditional smoked meats, you’ll also enjoy unique creations like the chili mac -- brisket chili topped with mac and cheese and cheese dip. The Greater Good’s family recipes and attention to detail while smoking the meats keep the crowds coming back to its three Georgia locations.
Fried pies, also known as hand pies, are a staple of Southern cooking. The mini pies originated as many recipes do, as home cooks used leftovers and scraps. When baking a pie, rather than wasting the small pieces of dough that didn’t go onto the crust, they were used to bake small hand-held pies. They’re portable and delicious and can be found at restaurants, bakeries, and farmer’s markets throughout DeKalb County.
Jean of Jean’s Fried Pies and More bakes and then sells her hand pies at the DeKalb Farmers Market. Depending on what she bakes that week you may find pineapple, apple, chocolate, apricot, or peach fried pies. While you’re there, you may want to pick up a loaf of her fresh-baked sourdough, banana, or blueberry bread, too. One loyal fan claims Jean makes the best fried pies in the world.
Bluetop -- another place to try fried pies in DeKalb County -- claims its menu features foods that are culinary but approachable. The restaurant’s goal is to create classic dishes with creative spins. While there, you’ll definitely want to try the fried apple pie a la mode.
In Downtown Atlanta, Panbury’s Pie Shop is a South African pie shop that bakes meat and fruit two-crust African-style hand pies. The meat varieties are described as portable pot pies. They also offer seasonal sweet fruit pies, peach included. All of the pies are handmade with Panbury’s signature flaky crust. Many of the pies can be ordered and shipped online if you can’t make it to their storefront.
Diverse Eats On The Buford Highway
Nicknamed the International Corridor by the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, the Buford Highway has an eight-mile stretch between Buford and Atlanta where more than 100 international restaurants are established. The city of Chamblee, one of the most diverse communities along the route, transitioned from a 90 percent white population in the 1980s to 65 percent foreign-born by 2000.
This transition has resulted in more than 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses representing the cultures of Korea, China, India, Bangladesh, Somalia, and Central America lining the Buford Highway. I was only able to sample a couple of the Buford Highway’s many restaurants, but have rounded up some establishments with excellent reviews from locals and fellow travelers for vacationers’ consideration.
Chefs Amy Wong and Howie Ewe came to the United States as entrepreneurs and opened Food Terminal, which offers a variety of Asian street foods with a heavy emphasis on Malaysian cuisine. There are so many options, you may have a tough time deciding what to order here. The menu is the size of a large magazine -- think pages filled with mouth-watering photos and descriptions of the many offerings. If you’re really struggling to decide what to eat, ask your server for recommendations.
I did eat here and it was my favorite restaurant of the tour. We watched as the chef made fresh pasta, then sat down to sample a variety of dishes from the immense menu. One popular dish -- and my favorite of what we sampled -- was the Grandma Wonton BBQ Pork. This luscious bowl consists of Cantonese tossed noodles topped with “Grandma’s” secret barbecue pork recipe (crispy, tender, slightly sweet), bok choy, bean sprouts, spring onions, fried wontons, a fried egg, and fried shallot.
For dessert, visit Roll It Up, a Thai street-inspired ice cream vendor. You can have your ice cream rolled -- the cream is poured onto a metal plate that’s chilled to -8 degrees, then rolled into circular tubes. Or go for the nitro version for a creamier ice cream. Top either with a variety of candies, brownies, syrups, and fruits to customize your ice cream experience. I had the rolled coffee ice cream topped with brownie bites and peanut butter cups. It was decadent and hit the spot on a hot August day.
COM Vietnamese Grill specializes in the grilling of superbly marinated meats and seafood. Try the pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef broth, rice noodles, cilantro, onions, basil, bean sprouts, jalapeno, lime, and sriracha and hoisin sauces. Add your choice of chicken, shrimp, lamb, beef, or tofu. The restaurant is highly recommended by Foodie Buddha, which calls it the place to get good Vietnamese food in Atlanta.
Order handmade tortillas for an authentic taco at El Rey Del Taco. Try it asada with grilled chuck steak, lengua with tongue, pollo with chicken, or suadero with beef flank. Or order a torta, a Mexican sandwich, like the Cubana with pastor meat, eggs, chorizo, ham, and hot dog. Several people recommended I try El Rey Del Taco, so I was disappointed not to make it on this trip. They have four stars from over 700 Yelp reviewers, and I have it added to my list for another DeKalb County visit.
There’s plenty of real Cajun food along the Buford Highway. At Crawfish Shack you’ll taste a fantastic fried shrimp po’boy. The po’boy is served on fresh French bread and dressed with remoulade sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and Boar’s Head pickle. This Cajun-style restaurant with a “twist of Vietnamese fusion” cooks all its food to order using live, in-season seafood to ensure every plate is as fresh as possible. The fans are speaking up on Facebook, giving Crawfish Shack rave reviews.
At Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, Chef Deborah VanTrece feeds people comfort food that crosses cultural divides. She categorizes it as global soul food; the soul food of different cultures around the globe as she has experienced them. Start with creative small plates like the Sorghum Molasses Pork Belly with Pickled Strawberries, then work your taste buds up to an entree like the Mississippi Fried Catfish that comes with pimento cheese grits, fried green tomato, and a spicy red tartar sauce.
I’d heard positive reviews of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, and with over 450 reviews on Yelp giving the unique establishment four stars, I know I’ll go back. One review said, “The food was GOOD. I didn't know what to expect with the smoked salmon belly bacon, but it was a piece of smoked salmon served on risotto and was one of the best things I've eaten in a while.” I’ve officially added that to my food bucket list!
During your Georgia trip, you won’t want to miss Atlanta’s best-kept secrets: nine amazing places to visit before and after these amazing DeKalb County meals.