Mary Mac's Tea Room

Mary Mac’s Tea Room and Papi’s Midtown East

Feast. Blackened catfish. Collard greens. Sweet potato soufflé. Pot likker.

I usually don’t find myself in Atlanta, but when I do, I make it to Mary Mac’s.

The backstory. This was the time before I started my Master’s in public health; I was visiting schools in Atlanta, specifically Emory, in order to make a decision on where I wanted to go. Although I didn’t end up attending Emory, I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance to do some food exploration in and around Atlanta.

As a city, Atlanta is rather spread out. A vehicle would have made things easier, but for those who don’t have a car, there is MARTA, a transportation system that is quite similar to BART. I wasn’t the biggest fan of it (nor am of BART), but it gets the job done. In the case of food exploration, I headed out on foot, which may not have been the safest thing to do, especially in downtown Atlanta. But it was alright. The food, on the other hand, was fantastic.

I hit two locations in the same night to maximize the food fun. One, southern hometown goodness, and two, Cuban cuisine, which I would eventually find myself to love (writing in the “future” tense here, since I do love that type of food right now).

Food hopping is difficult when alone. Tapas become a meal, entreés become a feast, and feasts become complete and utter gluttony. Eating alone subtracts from the experience, so when hopping alone, I usually go for the takeout-leftover combination. Try a little bit of everything and leave some for tomorrow. Usually works out pretty well, unless you don’t have a fridge. Then you just eat until your pants burst.


The night started with clearing the hotel nightstand so I could lay out all the food. It started with some cornbread, which was a bit dry, but had all the corn flavor that one could desire.

Blackened catfish.

Moved on to some blackened catfish. “Blackened” in this case really means dry-rubbed with cajun/creole spices and pan seared until the spices are nice and “burnt.” This imparts a smoky but not burnt flavor; the balance is delicate. Don’t overdo it.

Forests of fun.

Collard greens are usually made with a longer ingredient list than just boiled greens. There’s some pork/chicken stock involved, onions, smoked pork hocks, and vinegar. Boil and simmer for several hours until the greens are nice and tender.

Sweet pertaeto pie.

Mashed sweet potato. Sweet whipped cream, sugar, and sometimes some booze. All highly palatable items whipped together for a irresistible side.

Ropa vieja.

“Old Clothes,” is the literal translation. Shredded beef. Tomatoes. Cumin. Oregano. Onions. Peppers. Deliciousness like colorful rags. A heavy Cuban stew for the hearty.

Yeah. I ate all of it.