Food Issue - Around the world: The South

Soul satisfaction at Busy Bee Cafe

No matter how many times you walk through Busy Bee Café’s iron-bar-clad doors, the gruff waitresses behind the counter will always size you up. But this uncomfortable moment is fleeting as they inevitably squint their eyes, then open them wide and greet you with an enthusiastic and motherly “Hey baby!” the moment they recognize you as a regular. There’s always a line at Busy Bee, but it moves as fast as the sweeter-than-Southern-ice-tea servers. The patrons, donning everything from cheeky Victoria’s Secret PINK sweatpants to service uniforms to three-piece suits, huddle en masse by the door and clamor for a coveted seat on the bench in front of the window as they wait for a taste of Atlanta history.

Busy Bee has served its particular brand of soul food since 1947 and many an important figure has chowed down in the timeworn seats. The walls that groan under the weight of signed photos from the likes of OutKast and Gladys Knight tell you Busy Bee has a pedigree; that it’s a place to be seen. But the Bee doesn’t care about anything except feeding you and your soul.

Platters of fried chicken with impossibly crackly skin; slow-cooked oxtails; thin fried pork chops covered in a creamy gravy; and crispy fried catfish reign as the most popular menu mainstays. A revolving list of homespun specials (slow-cooked neck bones, anyone?) add some variety to a menu that hasn’t changed much in the restaurant’s 63 years. Most folks have their favorites and rarely stray. That’s because this soul food spot isn’t about going somewhere to try something new. It’s the place you go for nostalgia, a full belly, and family with a little sweet tea on the side.

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