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Matthews Cafeteria

2229 Main St., Tucker, GA - (770) 491-9577
Posted By Michael Stern on 10/21/2012 4:48:00 AM
I recently was asked for dining suggestions around Atlanta by a guy who likes to eat Roadfood, but doesn't like that he likes it. By which I mean, he is a fashion-conscious kind of guy who wants to know only those restaurants anointed by recognized authorities. That sometimes does happen to a Roadfood eatery, as when Calvin Trillin praised Arthur Bryant's barbecue in the 1970s. Our Roadfood column in Gourmet magazine gave culturally insecure eaters permission to enjoy places they probably wouldn't otherwise have let themselves enjoy (because said places were dowdy, culinarily unhip, nutritionally incorrect), the logic being that if a review appeared in the esteemed Gourmet, it must be OK to like the restaurant!

I did not advise this person going to Atlanta to eat at Matthews Cafeteria; and frankly, I suspect that if we had suggested writing a review of Matthews for Gourmet, even the editors there might have nixed the idea. You see, to understand this place requires a hard core appreciation of such Roadfood cues as ancient walls painted institutional beige, a raucous cafeteria line where food is heaped upon the steam table with little regard for beauty, vegetables that are purposely overcooked, creamed corn that is crazy-creamy to the point that the kernels are a minor element, mac and cheese with macaroni so soft that it is inseparable from the cheese, and strawberry shortcake sweeter than a Twinkie. Yes, I actually like all these things ... and I love the fried chicken, for which no excuses need be made. It bears a fine, fragile crust, just salty enough to enhance the meat, which ranges from dripping moist to chewy bark infused with flavor.

Mostly, it is the experience of dining at Matthews Cafeteria that will win a Roadfooder's heart, even more than the unrepentant food. There certainly are better vegetables around Atlanta, and there's some superior fried chicken (like at Mary Mac's), but I doubt if there is any place that can compare to Matthews Cafeteria. The feel is mid-20th century Dixie (but integrated) -- a friendly, folksy Main Street eatery that exudes hospitality, from the Shriner greeter at the door wearing a fez and taking donations for the children's hospital to the red-checked tablecloths where townsfolk chat and easily make friends with a picture-taking stranger like myself. I hesitate even to call it charming, because most markers for charmingness are lacking, but if you love Roadfood, do check it out. You will see what I mean.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Fried Chicken
Creamed Corn
Mac 'n' Cheese
Strawberry Shortcake
Braised Cabbage
Banana Pudding
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

There is no time to arrange the food in a pretty way on the cafeteria line. This pile of chicken gets depleted fast as eat-here and take-out customers get their shares.
"There is no time to arrange the food in a pretty way on the cafeteria line. This pile of chicken gets depleted fast as eat-here and take-out customers get their shares."
Michael Stern





A new tray of macaroni and cheese had just been set out before my portion was scooped, so I got a good measure of crusty top to go with the creamy stuff.
"A new tray of macaroni and cheese had just been set out before my portion was scooped, so I got a good measure of crusty top to go with the creamy stuff."
Michael Stern


Dixie cooks know how to transform cabbage from a bland crucifer into a wickedly-good indulgence.
"Dixie cooks know how to transform cabbage from a bland crucifer into a wickedly-good indulgence."
Michael Stern


The creamiest, sweetest creamed corn, ever!
"The creamiest, sweetest creamed corn, ever!"
Michael Stern


Strawberry shortcake is served only when fresh strawberries are available. The cake is very sweet and saturated with fruity syrup.
"Strawberry shortcake is served only when fresh strawberries are available. The cake is very sweet and saturated with fruity syrup."
Michael Stern


Banana pudding is distinguished by a surfeit of perfectly ripe banana slices and plenty of vanilla wafers. The ersatz whippo is a minor distraction.
"Banana pudding is distinguished by a surfeit of perfectly ripe banana slices and plenty of vanilla wafers. The ersatz whippo is a minor distraction."
Michael Stern


This fellow greeted customers and opened the door, taking donations for the children's hospital.
"This fellow greeted customers and opened the door, taking donations for the children's hospital."
Michael Stern


Where the locals eat. Just about everybody who comes to Matthews Cafeteria knows everybody else who comes here.
"Where the locals eat. Just about everybody who comes to Matthews Cafeteria knows everybody else who comes here."
Michael Stern


There is a sign in the window, but nothing else to indicate that the restaurant is here ... except for a parking lot that is jam-packed at lunch time.
"There is a sign in the window, but nothing else to indicate that the restaurant is here ... except for a parking lot that is jam-packed at lunch time."
Michael Stern


When you go through the cafeteria line, you can select whatever chicken parts you like. This close view of a thigh shows the scrumptious brittle crust that veils moist meat inside.
"When you go through the cafeteria line, you can select whatever chicken parts you like. This close view of a thigh shows the scrumptious brittle crust that veils moist meat inside."
Michael Stern


I especially like cafeteria style dining because it provides such a good opportunity to look at so much good food. The challenge is to eliminate enough tempting items so that lunch will fit on a single tray.
"I especially like cafeteria style dining because it provides such a good opportunity to look at so much good food. The challenge is to eliminate enough tempting items so that lunch will fit on a single tray."
Michael Stern



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