As schoolmates at Agnes Scott College, a small, private women’s college just outside of Atlanta, my friend Melissa and I were like most other Agnes students — we kept close to campus. After four years, it’s common for students to get a little restless. Our campus takes up only two blocks, and while it is stunning, you quickly realize when you graduate just how big the world beyond the front lawn. Above image: General brunch image courtesy of merc67 via Shutterstock.
Melissa and I remained in Atlanta when we finished college, both going to graduate school, though for different degrees. Somehow, we developed a tradition of meeting for brunch as a way of keeping in touch. And then, somehow, we came up with the idea that instead of coming back to the same place, wouldn’t it be more fun to brunch our way across Atlanta, this giant city that had figuratively sat in our backyard for four years?
Breakfast with Melissa has since become a mainstay in my grad school years, a way to stay connected to a dear friend, indulge in a great culinary experience, and dip into some of Atlanta’s best neighborhoods all at once.
Here’s a roundup of some of the best uber local eats for brunch in Atlanta we’ve had over the years, organized by neighborhood:
Sweet Melissa’s: Family owned and operated since 1989 and located right on the Decatur square, Sweet Melissa’s is home to some hearty omelets and the Mad Platter, a breakfast plate that features pancakes or french toast, two eggs, home fries or grits, and a meat. Proceed with caution, and come hungry.
Duck’s Cosmic Kitchen: Duck’s is tucked in the East Decatur Station complex off of College Avenue. Their sugared doughnuts are so popular that they’re sold daily in the wildly popular Dancing Goats and Ponce City Goats Coffee Bars. Because Duck’s makes all their baked goods in-house, grab the pastry basket off the Saturday brunch menu. And get a glass of the blood orange juice. Another cool tidbit? You can even sign up for baking parties hosted by Chef Duck himself.
Flying Biscuit Cafe: The Flying Biscuit is a pretty ubiquitous restaurant in the Atlanta restaurant scene, probably one that will be recommended to those visiting Atlanta for a weekend. So, it’s worth including the Candler Park location, our personal favorite. Get there early, or expect to wait as long as an hour. Luckily Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party is a few shops up — a great place to grab a tea while you wait. And yes — definitely get a biscuit with your brunch, alongside a few of the “healthy options” their menu features.
Radial Cafe: The best things about Radial are its farm-to-table commitment and a menu that vegan and gluten-free friendly. You can dig into a stack of buckwheat pancakes and rest assured that 80-90% of Radial’s food waste is diverted from the landfill, disposable dining materials are compostable, and that even the plants that adorn the outdoor patio are watered with gray water.
Virginia Highlands/Highlands-Old Fourth Ward
Murphy’s: A restaurant, wine shop, and bakery all in one, Murphy’s has the upscale feel of the Highlands, paired with great service and friendly staff. Melissa and I were impressed with the small touches of the meal — the biscotti nestled against my latte, the basket of biscuits and muffins set in the center of our table before we even placed our order, the dollop of cream cheese icing found on the cinnamon roll that I ordered for breakfast. A great place for a customer-oriented experience. You can even come back on Tuesdays for weekly wine tastings.
Java Jive: Housed in an old laundromat, Java Jive, originally a coffee house, now known for one of the best breakfasts in the city, was part of Atlanta before the ’96 Olympics. What I love about this place is the funky retro vibe you’ll find inside–old chrome diner furniture, colorful coffee percolators affixed to the walls. Java Jive is cash only, but worth the free refills on your (great) coffee and the divine honey cinnamon butter they’ll put on top of your pecan waffles. Wow.
Rise-N-Dine: This breakfast joint looks like it sprang straight from someone’s perfect Pinterest board. Nestled in the heart of Emory Village (just beside Emory University’s campus), Rise-N-Dine is a local favorite, and it’s intimate space often means the weekend morning line is out the door. A place worth getting to early. Coffee and bacon are musts. And who knows? Eat breakfast there, and the staff may post a snapshot of you enjoying your meal on their Facebook page.
The General Muir: Found across the street from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The General Muir’s award-winning culinary aesthetic is “inspired by classic New York Jewish deli,” making it a great stop for any meal. Breakfast lovers like Melissa and I love the GM for it’s exceptional coffee bar and latkes — complete with applesauce and sour cream.
Ria’s Bluebird: Though Atlanta continues the passing of Chef Ria Pell, her legacy can still be found at Ria’s Bluebird, where the pancakes were voted “the world’s best pancakes” by the New York Times. Housed in a former liquor store, Ria’s is cozy and popular–a great weekday breakfast, if you can swing it.
Home Grown: I think what I like best about Home Grown is it’s persona — the vibes I got from the website alone before meeting Melissa there told me what I needed to know: “Their quaint restaurant offers a welcome bright spot that blooms brightly in a drab strip of Memorial Drive, in the heart of working-class Atlanta. It not only brightens the landscape, it brightens the bellies of everyone in the community. Home grown offers creative and delicious breakfast options and a hearty brunch menu on the weekend.” What’s not to like? Warning: a single pancake was bigger than my face.
Empire State South: ESS stopped me in my tracks. Housed in a posh space on the corner of Peachtree and 10th in the heart of Midtown, this restaurant is Southern class and culinary flourish all in one. Our server was one of the best we’ve ever had. Iced coffee, patio seating, deep friend french toast with a homemade marshmallow cream. Executive Chef Josh Hopkins’ motto of “cook good, local food” is easily found here, and more. Heaven.
West Egg Cafe: As an English student, it’s easy to like a restaurant whose name is an allusion to The Great Gatsby. And the food and coffee did not disappoint — a beautiful latte, a muffin from the bakery, and the Peachtree Plate (complete with fried green tomatoes). Since West Egg has nixed their dinner service, I’m ready to check out Oddbird, their new pop-up “restaurant within a restaurant,” featuring chicken and waffles and Nashville-style “hot chicken.”
Sun In My Belly: There is much to love about SIMB — it’s proximity to Decatur, it’s fanciful interior, it’s coffee bar, it’s sense of craftsmanship. But maybe what I love best of all is the challah french toast filled with honey ricotta. Or the honeyed bacon that comes with the Kirkwood Breakfast. I can’t decide. My favorite experience at SIMB was actually after brunch, when the owners hosted their first ever “Bellypalooza,” a night of music, local art, and great food, featuring performances by the owner, pictured below.
Le Petite Marche: Though the interior (walls covered in artfully arranged china plates) of LPM would suggest otherwise, I love the no-frills approach to this amazing food. You go up to the counter, you order, you sit, and a server brings out the most beautiful oatmeal or breakfast sandwich you’ve maybe ever had. And its story is even better: an actual market that hit hard times in the recession, LPM saved itself and revitalized the Kirkwood community by become a mainstay on the Atlanta breakfast scene.
One could easily explore Atlanta’s food scene by way of many other categories — coffee, cocktails, burgers, and the like. But there’s been something wonderful about waking up early to meet my friend. Atlanta is sort of perfect on a Saturday morning. There’s no stress-inducing traffic, no road rage, no extra ten minutes added to your trip time. Just joggers and dog walkers and morning light and the promise of good food, good company.
What’s your favorite spot for brunch in Atlanta? Please share in the comments below.
By Paige Sullivan