egend has it that iced tea was invented by a Native American tea merchant who could not sell his hot tea beverage at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Ask anyone in Georgia, though, and the origin of sweet tea is much further south than St. Louis. The South has truly capitalized on its distinctively sweet brew of iced tea over the years, so much so that while the rest of the country celebrates National Iced Tea Month in June, Georgians will be celebrating their own version of the potion — sweet tea! Whether your first taste of this sweet elixir was from the bottle or you’re still curious what all the fuss is about, a trip to Georgia — in June or any other month of the year — is sure to quench your thirst and satisfy your sweet tooth in one refreshing gulp.
The South’s largest city, Atlanta, serves sweet tea with biscuits, bagels, baguettes and barbecue. It’s served in paper cups at picnic tables, in family crystal atop white linen tablecloths and in every imaginable setting in between. Mary Mac’s Tea Room, for example, has been serving classic southern food in the heart of Atlanta since 1945. With its country fried steak, sweet potato soufflé and collard greens, it offers its own “Table Wine of the South” (sweet tea). This Atlanta institution serves more than 1,000 of the city’s attorneys, bankers, congressmen and others every day, many of whom are featured on the photographs adorning the walls. (If you’d like to recreate Mary Mac’s Sweet Tea at home, follow the recipe FunThingsToDoInAtlanta.com provided by “Mary Mac’s Tea Room: Stories and Recipes from Atlanta’s Classic Southern Kitchen” by Rebecca Lang, with recipes by original owner Margaret Lupo and current owner John Ferrell.)
Daddy D’z in downtown Atlanta serves another quintessential Southern combo: barbecue and blues. This cozy little dive is a popular after-work hangout for some of the city’s best ribs, washed down with the sweetest sweet tea on Memorial Drive. In the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, the original Chick-fil-A Dwarf House (aka the Hapeville Dwarf House) has been serving sweet tea since 1946. What began as a family undertaking with 10 counter stools and four tables has — with the help of the right combination of seasonings and tea so sweet it has patrons asking for the half-and-half (a half sweetened and half unsweetened glass of tea) — has grown into more than 1,020 restaurants in more than 30 states nationwide.
Venture outside of Atlanta to sip sweet tea and absorb Georgia’s antebellum ambiance and small-town charm. In the historic district of Social Circle near Madison, the city General Sherman refused to burn, the Blue Willow Inn serves its “Champagne of the South” with a traditional Southern feast in its many elegant dining rooms. This establishment earned Lewis Grizzard’s “absolute highest mark, five bowls of turnip greens,” and patrons are encouraged to linger in the oversized rockers sipping tea on the front porch or poolside after dining.
Eating “family style” at both the Dillard and Smith Houses is a legend in North Georgia and beyond. Served with southern hospitality, meals at the Dillard House in Dillard include farm-fresh vegetables, most grown right in the surrounding area, as well as overflowing bowls and platters of steaming, Southern food. A glass of sweet tea is practically a necessity with these generous portions! At the Smith House in Dahlonega, site of the country’s first gold rush, hungry appetites enjoy platters piled high with fried chicken, sweet baked ham and roast beef; bowls full of dumplings, beef stew, fried okra, candied yams and other fresh, steamed vegetables; and homemade, “melt in your mouth” breads.
A “must do” for Athens visitors, lunch at Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods can be a life-changing experience. When evangelist-turned-chef Weaver D first opened his restaurant and gave it its “Automatic for the People” motto, he had no idea that hometown band R.E.M. would use it for the title of its Grammy-nominated album. But his regulars knew long before the album’s debut just how “automatic” his service and dedication to flavor truly are. Besides R.E.M., regulars at Dexter’s modest, white cinderblock eatery near the University of Georgia campus have included college students, faculty, football heroes, locals, and world famous rock stars such as the B-52’s, and Widespread Panic. Weaver D is so dedicated to Southern flavor that he serves nothing but sweet tea with his legendary fried chicken and other soul food favorites.
A little further south in Juliette is the Whistle Stop Café, the original movie location for “Fried Green Tomatoes.” The location served as a general merchandise store for 45 years selling “everything from the cradle to the grave,” including groceries, gasoline, clothing, hardware and more.
Following the filming of the movie, the owner decided to make it a real café (franchises are available) and now serves Southern “meat and three” dishes, as well as hamburgers, sandwiches, sweet tea and, of course, fried green tomatoes.
In Macon, Nu-Way Weiners is one of the country’s oldest hot dog stands. Open since 1916, the original store with its neon sign is still in operation today, serving its secret recipe chili sauce over its private label hot dogs and offering large cups of sweet tea over its “famous flaky ice” to wash it all down. With 11 locations open today — seven in Macon, three in Warner Robins and one in Fort Valley — it is not quite as necessary to “Go a Long Way for a Nu-Way,” as the slogan originally suggested.
Still further into Georgia’s historic heartland is Country’s Barbecue in Columbus. Located in what once was a bus station, Country’s has been completely restored to 1940s and ‘50s style and even includes a period bus. Known for its barbecue but famous for its sweet tea, Country’s now sells tea bags featuring its own special blend for those who can’t get enough of this Southern delicacy!
In Savannah, Food Network chef Paula Deen serves up her sweet tea with a mint leaf and a lot of love at the renowned The Lady & Son’s Restaurant. Deen launched her own small catering business, The Bag Lady, with her two sons, Jamie and Bobby, in 1989; today, patrons enjoy the family’s cooking at the restaurant’s new location in Savannah’s charming Historic District.
Nearby Carey Hilliards Restaurant is a popular hangout after Friday night high school football games, serving fried chicken and shrimp, barbecue, Brunswick stew and sweet tea to the players and fans alike. The sweet tea is rumored to be so sweet that drinking too much of it will cause the shakes.
For an authentic Georgia treat, visit any of the state’s charming peach orchards, many of which encourage visitors to pick their own peaches and offer demonstrations on making peach ice cream, cobbler, jams and jellies, salsa, tea and more. In Fort Valley, Lane Packing is the largest peach grower and packer in the state. Visitors enjoy touring the facility (May through August) to see firsthand how peaches go from the orchard to the grocery store and shopping at the recently- expanded Roadside Market for the highest quality Georgia peaches, pecans and strawberries, as well as locally grown tomatoes, butterbeans, peas, asparagus, Vidalia onions and silver queen corn.
At Dickey Farms in Musella, one of the oldest peach growing farms in the state, visitors are allowed to purchase directly from the field, and at Kauffman’s in Montezuma, a Mennonite family-run peach and strawberry farm, visitors pick their own tasty treats and watch as they’re transformed into ice cream, lemonade, pies and more. Get lost in Georgia flavor at the AgriMaze at Taylor Orchards in Reynolds. Eleven acres of dense cornstalks comprise a delightful artwork maze for visitors to puzzle their ways through. Triumphant maze-goers are rewarded with fresh strawberries in the spring and peaches in the summer.
With the addition of a little Southern flair, what was once an iced version of a hot drink has evolved into the South’s signature beverage, and what could be mistaken for just another fruity treat can become a fun afternoon adventure, not to mention a refreshing snack, for the whole family. For the ultimate in Southern flavor and refreshment, experience Georgia’s sweet tea and fresh peaches year round.
For more information, visit www.georgia.org or call (800) VISIT GA.
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