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The Varsity

61 North Ave., Atlanta, GA - (404) 881-1706
Posted By Ken Dobson on 7/28/2011 1:16:00 PM
I grew up 50 miles north of Atlanta in the pre-interstate highway era. Every time we went into the city (about twice a year) I begged to go to the Varsity. My order never varied: "one all-the-way dog walkin', rings, and a small FO."

Back in the day, the Varsity had other idiosyncrasies that set it apart. In addition to salt and pepper, the tables had shakers of paprika. Pimiento cheese, that Southern staple, is an option for the cheeseburgers. (My childhood memory is that it was the default, but I'm not certain. It may have been that my family would have it no other way so it just seemed like the default.) The PC (chocolate milk) comes with a cup of ice. If you don't need it, you order an NIPC.

When I was a student at UGA, I went to the Varsity Athens. At that time, the 101 College Avenue downtown location was in its death throes. It was on the central corner of downtown, across from the UGA Arch. Unfortunately, it was old and decrepit and lined with grease that had accumulated in the 43 years since its 1932 opening; a location not worthy of the brand. I never had sufficient faith in my immune system to eat there.

In 1963, they built another, larger restaurant, more like the Atlanta flagship with a large drive-in lot and carhops. Without fail on fall game days, I'd go for my standard order, but this time with two dogs, an order of "strings" [french fries] to go with the rings, and a Bud. (I think too little has been said here about the excellent quality and the history of their french fries. When I was a kid, the standard everywhere was bland, insipid crinkle fries. The Varsity was the first place I knew of to use unpeeled potatoes, cut fresh on-site. They are now one of many, but still very, very good. For non-Atlantans, Five Guys' plain fries are a close approximation.) Thus fortified, I would go to the stadium for some Bulldog football.

I now live in San Francisco, but whenever family or business takes me to Atlanta, I do whatever I have to to make it to the Varsity. Unlike some reviewers here, I have noticed no decline in quality in my 48 years of going there. I think that with their prodigious output (at the flagship location alone, "Two miles of hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies and 300 gallons of chili are made from scratch daily."), even the best quality control will allow an occasional clunker to be served. Also, after years living in California, I have found that non-Southerners have a more inclusive definition for "swimming in grease." Batter-dipped onion rings are going to be oily; get over it, jump in with both feet, and savor it.

I eat there now about as often as I did when I lived in Atlanta (my cardiologist would have it no other way) but it is still my favorite eatery anywhere, the one I would order from for my "Last Meal," and the one I long for most now that I'm so far from Home.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Chili Dog
Peach Pie
Frosted Orange
French Fries
Onion rings
Rate this place
A beautiful food pyramid, including pork (hot dog), beef (chili sauce), grain (bun), spice (mustard), vegetable (onion rings), and fruit (fried peach pie).
"A beautiful food pyramid, including pork (hot dog), beef (chili sauce), grain (bun), spice (mustard), vegetable (onion rings), and fruit (fried peach pie)."
Michael Stern





The Varsity's signature dish: a chili dog with a yellow streak.
"The Varsity's signature dish: a chili dog with a yellow streak."
Michael Stern


Once the peach pie is pulled apart, it gets pretty messy. Be sure to grab extra napkins when you carry your tray to a table.
"Once the peach pie is pulled apart, it gets pretty messy. Be sure to grab extra napkins when you carry your tray to a table."
Michael Stern


Thousands of peach pies are fried and served daily at the Varsity. Despite the mass production, they are Roadfood par excellence.
"Thousands of peach pies are fried and served daily at the Varsity. Despite the mass production, they are Roadfood par excellence. "
Michael Stern


The Varsity's crunchy onion rings are neatly arranged in the boat from big to small.
"The Varsity's crunchy onion rings are neatly arranged in the boat from big to small."
Cliff Strutz


Can you hear these rings crunch? No matter what else is on your tray at the Varsity, this tidy cluster needs to be there.
"Can you hear these rings crunch? No matter what else is on your tray at the Varsity, this tidy cluster needs to be there."
Michael Stern


Frosted Orange technically is a beverage, but it is thick enough to demand a spoon.
"Frosted Orange technically is a beverage, but it is thick enough to demand a spoon."
Michael Stern


Fried pies are popular throughout the South and the Varsity's peach version is especially good.
"Fried pies are popular throughout the South and the Varsity's peach version is especially good."
Cliff Strutz


The Varsity menu
"The Varsity menu"
Michael Stern


When we walked in to The Varsity, most of the ordering stations were open, so we approached the young lady who called out ''What'll you have, what'll you have'' the loudest.
"When we walked in to The Varsity, most of the ordering stations were open, so we approached the young lady who called out ''What'll you have, what'll you have'' the loudest."
Cliff Strutz


A rare sight:  the Varsity counter without a crowd.  This picture was taken in the morning, 30 seconds after opening.
"A rare sight: the Varsity counter without a crowd. This picture was taken in the morning, 30 seconds after opening."
Michael Stern


The drive-in area of the Varsity glows at night with neon and the giant red 'V' is easily visible from the nearby interstate.
"The drive-in area of the Varsity glows at night with neon and the giant red 'V' is easily visible from the nearby interstate."
Cliff Strutz


Exterior of Varsity, August 2007.
"Exterior of Varsity, August 2007."
Elaine Anderson


The world's largest drive-in.
"The world's largest drive-in."
Michael Stern



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