Our 13 favorite feel-good dishes in Atlanta

It’ll cure what ales you
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Best comfort food Atlanta
Caramel cake from Southern Sweets (bottom left; center) and The Bonzo from Murphy’s (top right)

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Caramel Cake
Southern Sweets Bakery
In the pantheon of Southern baking, there are few sweet stuffs that spark more nostalgia and debate than caramel cake. Every baker seems to take a different approach. Brown sugar or white? Cultured butter or no? And the cake . . . well, the proof is in the crumb, right? It has to be buttery and light, but sturdy enough to hold that heavy caramel mantle. Look no more. Indeed: Bake no more. Southern Sweets’ caramel cake is hands down the finest anywhere—ever. Layered with moist cake (remember to catch the crumbs in the tines of your fork) and golden, creamy caramel, it’s the kind of sweet goodness that goes beyond comforting to downright habit-forming. 186 Rio Circle, Decatur, 404-373-8752

The Bonzo
Murphy’s
Murphy’s weekend brunch sets the industry standard for the perfect cross between comfort and classic. There’s little here that won’t feel satisfyingly familiar, from crab cake Benedict to shrimp and grits. But hold off on those spicy Bloody Marys a little and save room for dessert. Murphy’s Bonzo cake—a classic to Atlantans—is really not a cake; it’s actually a brownie layered with cheesecake layered with chocolate mousse that’s topped with whipped cream. Whew. 997 Virginia Avenue, 404-872-0904

The No. 246 Meatball
No. 246
Scratch the surface of Italian American cooking, and you’ll find the meatball. Scratch the surface of chef Drew Belline’s fresh Italian menu at 246, and you’ll arrive at his version of the classic. It’s just the right size for sharing as an appetizer or hogging for yourself (the latter is recommended). Tender meat spiced with parsley is smothered in tomato sauce that’s seasoned with red wine, garlic, and herbs. It’s also perfect for ordering to-go. 129 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Decatur, 678-399-8246

Best comfort food Atlanta
Yeast Rolls from The Colonnade

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Homemade Yeast Rolls
The Colonnade
Blue hairs and bikers alike enjoy this Cheshire Bridge bastion of comfort food, where there’s enough fried chicken and pot roast for the table, and a strong martini or two to accompany. But it’s the rolls—pillowy, butter-laced, and light as air—that’ll get you hooked. 1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-874-5642

Farm Egg Baked in Celery Cream
Miller Union
Chef-owner Steven Satterfield may be one of our most quintessentially Southern chefs, but his cooking style at Miller Union’s kitchen borrows much from classical French techniques. The farm egg has become such a menu staple that customers would rise up if he ever removed it. It’s the sort of dish that seems too simple to be as good as it is: fresh farm eggs, gently coddled, then baked in a cream steeped in celery, thyme, onion, and bay leaf, just until the whites are done. This leaves the yolk blissfully runny and perfect as a dip for the crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-centered grilled toast. 999 Brady Avenue, 678-733-8550

Farm Cheese Fondu
Revival
Kevin Gillespie has come a long way since his days at Woodfire Grill, but much of who he is as a chef can be traced to his time with Michael Tuohy in that first restaurant. Tuohy’s California sensibilities and focus on fresh, local ingredients brought farm-to-table dining to Atlanta long before the term became a cliche. Gillespie’s second restaurant, Revival, embodies this vibe, with a prix fixe family meal and dishes such as fried catfish and bacon-wrapped meatloaf loading up a small but hearty list. Each creak in the wood floor, not to mention the framed family photos on the walls, says “comfort” as much as the menu items do. It’s easy to bypass an appetizer of “farm cheese fondu” for stout offerings of fried chicken and bone-in pork chops. Don’t. Cheese and cream, enveloping luscious wild mushrooms, come paired with grilled toast that’s part French, part farmhand, and all comfort. 129 Church Street, Decatur, 470-225-6770

Best comfort food Atlanta
Busy Bee Cafe

Photograph by Patrick Heagney

Banana Pudding
Busy Bee Cafe
Busy Bee has been a bustling soul food diner for generations of Atlantans, who flock to its doors (and wait in line) for myriad comfort go-tos, from fried chicken to meatloaf (only on Monday) and old-fashioned liver and onions. But the creamy banana pudding is the kind of cookie-and-custard combo that makes face-diving hard to resist. 810 M.L.K. Jr. Drive, 404-525-9212

The Tomminator
Fox Bros Bar-B-Q
Okay, okay—we know about the barbecue. The beef brisket alone is worth its weight in, well . . . barbecue. But then that special guy breaks up with you. Via text. And the car runs out of gas. And the next song on your playlist is R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts.” Face it: It’s Tomminator time. Crispy tater tots smothered in Brunswick stew and a heaping of melted cheese will have you bouncing to “Shiny Happy People” in no time. 1238 DeKalb Avenue, 404-577-4030

Brisket Breakfast
Ria’s Bluebird
Ria’s has been slinging breakfast for 16 years, earning a following that extends far beyond the boundaries of its Grant Park digs. It’s a “folks” kind of place that accommodates just about everyone. The menu is a mashup of gratifying breakfast offerings, from biscuits and gravy to vegetarian specialties and seasonal pancakes. But the brisket breakfast? Whether you’re nursing a hangover or ravenous, the slow-roasted beef—super tender and shredded in a lightly spiced gravy—served with a couple of poached eggs is just about perfect. Add some French bread for sopping up every last drop, and if you’ve got a spot, this will hit it. 421 Memorial Drive, 404-521-3737

Best comfort food Atlanta
Chicken and Dumplings from Ration and Dram

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Chicken and Dumplings
Ration and Dram
The new American fare dished out by Andy Minchow and company caters to the kid inside all of us. Case in point: The chicken and dumplings are exactly like Grandma’s. Find tender pastured chicken shredded and swimming in a soup of carrot, celery, onion, and thyme, with fluffy biscuit dumpling squares that offer a little bit of chew before giving way to melt-in-your-mouth wonderfulness. 130 Arizona Avenue, 678-974-8380

Cheese Sandwich
Seven Lamps
The label “cheese sandwich” doesn’t do justice to what’s actually brought to the table during lunch at chef-owner Drew Van Leuvan’s restaurant. Housemade buttery brioche enrobes egg, Gruyère, Monterey jack, fromage blanc, onion, and avocado. The whole affair is griddled like a toad-in-the-hole, creating a perfect indulgence when a salad just isn’t going to cut it. Shops Around Lenox, 404-467-8950

Fried Jumbo Shrimp
Baltimore Crab & Seafood
This slick seafood joint in Cascade, sister to BCS Pearl Lounge in Castleberry Hill, is the place to go to get your fry on. You know, lightly crisp, a little salty. Just enough breading to enhance, not overpower. Shrimp so big and juicy they pop in your mouth. And no cocktail or tartar sauce needed (even though it’s here). This is step-away-from-the-table-before-you-eat-anymore fried shrimp. Mac and cheese bits and banana pudding are optional. 1075 Fairburn Road, 404-505-2900

Best comfort food Atlanta
Kerala Fried Chicken at Spice to Table

Photograph by Andrew Thomas Lee

Kerala Fried Chicken
Spice to Table
Asha Gomez’s fried chicken recipes have been published in everything from Bon Appétit to her just-released cookbook, My Two Souths, in which her South Indian roots meet up with American Southern cooking. So why does this spicy brined beauty always taste better at her restaurant? Maybe it’s the brine, full of ginger and garlic, soaked in buttermilk. Then she brushes the chicken with coconut oil and crowns it with fried curry leaves. When the craving hits, nothing else will do. Schedule your urges appropriately, though; this KFC is available only on Tuesday and Saturday. [Editor’s Note 2/6/17: Asha Gomez announced that Spice to Table will close on February 24, 2017, and she will be serving a spur-of-the-moment menu daily until then.] 659 Auburn Avenue, 404-220-8945

This article originally appeared in our January 2017 issue.

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