Mary Mac's owner shares tea room recipes

It's an Atlanta landmark that's been around for more than six decades, serving up Southern favorites such as tomato pie, macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.

The only thing more rich than the food at Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta is perhaps the restaurant's history and popular customs. From filling out your own order form and getting that first complimentary cup of pot likker with a piece of cornbread, to its famous diners (Dalai Lama, President Carter, Hillary Clinton and James Brown, to name a few), Mary Mac's has certainly made its mark on downtown.

This week, John Ferrell, who took over ownership of the tea room in 1994, will share 125 recipes in his new cookbook "Mary Mac's Tea Room: 65 years of Recipes from Atlanta's Favorite Dining Room."  Ferrell will hold a book signing on Thursday at Borders on Ponce de Leon.

A few days ago, Ferrell talked about sharing favorite recipes and what the future looks like for Mary Mac's:

Q: What made you decide to do another cookbook?

A: We have so many new and different recipes. We only had 20 or so in the first book, and we wanted to let everybody know the recipes to some of their favorite dishes. The tomato pie recipe and cheese and vegetable soufflés are the most requested.

Q: How did some of the longtime employees like Flora Hunter feel about sharing some of their beloved recipes -- like the mac n’ cheese?

A: They’re fine with hit. Flora Hunter is what really makes the macaroni and cheese, and she’s really good at it.

Q: When did you first eat at the restaurant and what made you want to run it?

A: When I first visited Mary Mac’s, I was a student in hotel and restaurant management at Florida State. We did field trips. I believe it was 1978 or 1979 when we toured the restaurant and downtown Atlanta. Marie Lupo [daughter of then owner Margaret Lupo] was at FSU at the time, and Mr. and Mrs. Lupo invited us all to have breakfast. There were probably 20 or 30 of us. I do remember thinking I wanted to run a restaurant like this. But when I saw how big the kitchen was, I thought , "no way."

Q: For someone new to the area, how would you describe Mary Mac’s?

A: I think we kind of look at it as Atlanta’s dining room. We have a lot of regulars who always bring out-of-town guests. They come to Mary Mac’s at some point because it’s something they all want everybody to experience. I grew up in the South, and this is everything I grew up on. My grandparents cooked like this every day. We grew our vegetables and butchered our own beef. I think of it as an extension of one’s youth.

Q: What do you see in the future for the restaurant?

A: We’ve had great growth in the past several years. In fact, we're up 8 percent this year. We’re doing well and holding our own. There’s been talk of opening a second restaurant on the north side or the south side. It’s something I’ve talked with our management team about. We may grow and do that in the next two years. But Mary Mac’s is like a merry-go-round. It has its own momentum.

Event preview

John Ferrell will sign copies of "Mary Mac's Tea Room"

7:30 p.m. Thursday. Borders, 650 Ponce de Leon Ave., Suite 500, Atlanta. 404-607-7903.