Take a food tour of Castleberry Hill

Fill up on food, drink and history in this downtown Atlanta neighborhood

Editor’s Note: As of Feb. 13, 2020, Smoke Ring and McCoughtry’s Ice Cream have closed.

Residents of Castleberry Hill need no reminder that the eat-drink-be-merry scene in their neck of the woods has picked up momentum. But when was the last time you stuffed your face in this storied downtown neighborhood?

While superstars take to the field all the time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just a stone's throw away, celebs frequent Castleberry Hill venues, too. In fact, a handful of Atlanta's own A-listers own some of these joints.

Without question, a gustatory tour of Castleberry Hill starts at Paschal's Restaurant (180 Northside Drive, Atlanta. 404-525-2023, paschalsatlanta.com). Brothers Robert and James Paschal peddled only sandwiches and soda when they opened the place at 837 W. Hunter St. (later renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in 1947. A little over a decade later, they expanded, moving the operation across the street, where it served as the unofficial headquarters for the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Power players still gather for Southern specialties at Paschal's, albeit at its location on Northside Drive, home since 2002.

Start with an order of fried green tomatoes before moving on to the restaurant’s signature fried chicken (I’ll take mine with a side of collard greens). With history on the walls as much as it is on the plate, no visit here is complete without a walk around the two-story place to see photos of black history makers who’ve pulled up a chair at Paschal’s through the years.

If Paschal's is a place to celebrate the past, the buzzy spot of today is Old Lady Gang (177 Peters St. SW, Atlanta. 404-692-4407, oldladygang.com). The creation of "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Kandi Burruss and her husband Todd Tucker serves Southern cuisine using recipes from a trio of Burruss' family members: her aunts, Nora Wilcox and Bertha Jones, as well as her mother, Joyce Jones.

Like Paschal’s, fried chicken is a staple here, but scanning the room during a recent lunch visit, many a diner was devouring Mama Sharon’s Chicken and Crème Anglaise French Toast drenched with maple syrup. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, indulge in the deep-fried whipped deviled eggs topped with sugared bacon. While you’re at it, you might as well throw in an appetizer portion of the shrimp and grits with a better-than-average garlic cream sauce.

For dessert, simply walk down a couple of storefronts where more celeb sightings may await at McCoughtry's Ice Cream (177 Peters St., Atlanta. 470-440-5598, Facebook: McCoughtry's Ice Cream). A venture by Atlanta Dream player and two-time Olympic gold champion Angel McCoughtry, the small shop offers a variety of ice cream as well as frozen pops and snow cones. The majority of ice cream hails from local manufacturer Greenwood, although McCoughtry's offers a handful of its own creations, all vegan, including the ever-popular strawberry lemonade Italian ice.

In the mood for Mexican? Nearby is No Mas! Cantina (180 Walker St. SW, Atlanta. 404-574-5678, nomascantina.com). A Negra Modelo plus a basketful of chips and salsa make No Mas an easy pick for spending a few hours watching soccer. The restaurant has the usual — tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas. For something lighter, consider the soup of the day (a recent visit brought a tummy-warming pumpkin soup) and pair it with the Cantina house salad punched up with the flavors of corn pico and Chipotle ranch dressing. Weekend brunch brings south of the border egg preparations, including chilaquiles.

If it's barbacoa you're after, follow the scent to Smoke Ring (309 Nelson St., Atlanta. 404-228-6377, smokeringatlanta.com). Among snacks, the deviled eggs recently got a delicious update. When sheer portion is what you're after, stuff your snout with the Pig Sty Nachos of waffle fries smothered with smoked pork, jalapeno rings, pico de gallo, queso and sour cream.

Smoked meat is everywhere on the menu, from a chicken kale salad with dried cranberries and a smoked beet vinaigrette to sandwiches like the bigger-than-your-face Showstopper that pairs pulled pork with bacon, pimento cheese and all the fixin’s. Any barbecue plate makes for a fine sampler. Make at least one meat a rack of ribs. As for sides, the crispy, sweet-glazed Brussels sprouts don’t disappoint.

Where to wet your whistle? Just steps from Smoke Ring is Elliott Street Deli and Pub (51 Elliott St. SW, Atlanta. 404-523-2174, elliottstreet.com). This bar feels so perfectly Atlantan: comfortable in its dim-lit, dive-y skin, with its "clothes" being the $1 bills stapled and taped all over the walls. There is no drink menu whatsoever. Who needs a drink menu when good enough is whatever's on tap? As for food, the dinky kitchen assembles some fine sandwiches. For a heck of a Reuben, try the Rachel.

Bottle Rocket (180 Walker St. SW, Atlanta. 404-574-5680, bottlerocketatl.com) is another neighborhood joint. Situated next to No Mas! Cantina, the atmosphere here is a bit like "Cheers," but the food isn't. Will it be sushi or a burger?

For an energetic club atmosphere, try Escobar Restaurant and Tapas (327 Peters St. SW, Atlanta. 404-941-7907, escobaratlanta.com), open since 2016. Collard green spring rolls and a pair of hot chicken sliders with a side of fries give the food menu funk and spunk. Among imbibes, the 1+1=2Chainz, a sweet mix of Hennessy cognac, green tea and agave nectar, is a nod to rapper 2 Chainz, the celeb weight behind the place who keeps crowds happy posing for selfies.

For something more subdued, check out Atlanta's newest cocktail lounge, Parlor (249 Peters St., Atlanta. 415-203-9938, parlorden.com).

Cocktails have a pre-Prohibition bent, and numerous among them pay homage to African-American contributions to the world of drink. The Cato Alexander, which features apple jack whiskey, recognizes the drink's namesake, a former South Carolina slave and the first "celebrity" black bartender in the U.S. The Mr. Jones cocktail, a variation of an Old-Fashioned, features Uncle Nearest whiskey, which honors Nathan "Nearest" Green, an ex-slave who taught Jack Daniels the distilling trade. There's even a mocktail made with black-owned, Atlanta-based Beauty Water. Patrons will also find a concise list of food-friendly local and international beers as well as an all-French wine selection.

With no kitchen in the tiny 800-square-foot space, Parlor offers a short menu of pre-assembled bites like popcorn holding the flavors of duck fat caramel or jalapeno cheddar, and olives served alongside candied nuts.

When wine is on your mind, consider Wine Shoe (339 Nelson St. SW, Atlanta. 404-220-9042, wineshoeatlanta.com). The small retail shop stocks a fun, highly affordable selection of vino. The space is also the site for classes and private events. Check out the class calendar posted on its website or host an event of your own.

Need an excuse to visit Castleberry Hill? Come for the art stroll. The self-guided tour occurs the second Friday of every month. Info sheets and maps are posted on the Castleberry Hill website the week of the event, and are available the night of the stroll at 180 Walker St., in front of Bottle Rocket. Once you're done soaking up art, stick around for the food and fun.


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