The Varsity

Review by: Jane & Michael Stern

Anyone who loves all-American food and has spent any time in Atlanta knows about the Varsity Drive-In … and most people have their own personal stories about good meals and good times they’ve had there. These extravagant tales tend to relate to the fact that The Varsity is huge and it is fast, the thrills commencing when you step up to the counter and an order-taker accosts you with the command, “What’ll ya’ have?” A few facts from the restaurant press book: two miles of hot dogs, three hundred gallons of chili, and five thousand fried pies are served every day to approximately 10,000 customers, twice that number when Georgia Tech plays at home. Senator Phil Gramm recalled that when he was at college in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution had a party for its paper boys. The organizer stepped up and ordered six thousand steaks, to go. Veteran counter man Erby Walker, without missing a beat, shot back, “Watcha drinkin’?”

Hot dogs are the house specialty – modest-size tube steaks served in steamy-soft buns, begging to be dolled up with condiments. The prime adornment is chili, a finely pulverized brew that perfectly complements either dog or burger. Chili dogs are customarily served with a line of mustard across their tops, and they are known among the staff as Yankee dogs, for their yellow streak. Dogs are customarily accompanied by cardboard boats full of crusty onion rings and/or excellent French fries.

To drink with this good grub, there’s a full menu of reliable southern favorites: ice cold buttermilk, gigantic cups full of Coke, PCs, and FOs. PC is Varsity lingo for chocolate milk (“plain chocolate”) as opposed to a chocolate milk shake (with ice cream). FO means frosted orange, which is the Varsity version of a California smoothie, reminiscent of Creamsicle-in-a-cup. With or without chili dogs, frosted oranges are one heck of a way to keep cool.

There is a second, equally wonderful Varsity in Athens, Georgia at 1000 Broad St., phone number: 706-548-6325; and there is another “Varsity Jr.” in Atlanta, plus two locations in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties (suburbs of Atlanta).

Directions & Hours

11am - 9pm
  • Monday: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
  • Tuesday: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
  • Wednesday: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
  • Thursday: 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
  • Friday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • Saturday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
  • Sunday: 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM

What To Eat

Chili Dog

DISH
Frosted Orange

DISH
Onion rings

DISH
Peach Pie

DISH

The Varsity Recipes

Discuss

What do you think of The Varsity?

5 Responses to “The Varsity”

Jeff Beeton

November 12th, 2011

I ate at The Varsity last August 2010. I found the entire experience unsettling. My wife and I had heard so much about it from our daughter and son-in-law, who live east of Atlanta, so we decided to try it on a Saturday morning.

The ordering process was difficult, because I do not know the Southern lingo. I wanted a hot dog, onion rings, and a small diet Coke, and a burger for my wife with a small drink as well. The impatient youngster behind the counter was right on the edge of rude, loudly speaking in an unknown dialect to me.

I finally got the food and went to a table in the back. Not a clean table in sight, I finally found one (it was not real clean). The food was lukewarm at best and the rings had a greasy, off taste, as if the fryer oil had not been changed recently. All in all, I have to say, maybe inebriated college students find the food palatable; sober, I did not.

Reply

Walter Clark

November 3rd, 2011

Being a Native Atlantan (by the grace of God) I have had many thousands of Varsity hot dogs, cheese steaks, glorified steaks, orange drinks, fries, and “rangs” (onion rings to you newcomers). Back in the day, I recall there being only one line to order hot dogs, fries, rings, and drinks. You had better know what you wanted and be able to spit it out quick, or you would get some dirty looks. All the way down to the door on North Avenue was the hamburger/sandwich area, where you could get a glorified steak (mayo/tomato/lettuce), chili steak, cheese steak, or pimiento cheese sanmdwich.

There atmosphere accounts for a lot of the charm here, and the young kids trying to gruffly snarl, “Whaddall ya haaave, whaddall ya haave” just doesn’t move me like the old guys, and the 1960s. But time marches on. The rings are still the best, the chili dog is still great (and don’t leave off the onions), and the shaker of hot powdery substance on the table is still just as good as ever. I never drive through Atlanta without stopping at “The V.”

The food is quick, uniform, and a piece of America that’s fed hundreds of thousands of Tech students and fans. So, on a busy afternoon, go inside, fight your way to the counter, and when the counter guy says “Whaddall ya haave,” you come back with, “Gimme three all-the-way dogs, rangs, and a big orange.”

Reply

Ken Dobson

July 28th, 2011

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.

Reply

Joe Kirkpatrick

January 28th, 2008

Given the opportunity to revisit the “V” for the first time since the mid-seventies, I walked four blocks from my hotel room one evening last week when I was up in the area on business. While “The Varsity” once was a major draw to the Georgia Tech. area, I have to admit I was very dissapointed with my recent visit there.

My first warning, I suppose, was the lack of customers; there were only about a dozen diners present. Ignoring that, I ordered two All The Way Dogs, a Yankee Dog, a Ring one, and a P.C. My order was received quickly. I gathered the required stack of napkins, and a straw, and sat down.

I decided to eat the Yankee first. Hmmm… small dog. Appeared to be a 10:1. With only mustard on the small greasy dog, it was acceptable. Sipped some of the P.C.: good. Ring time: let’s just say they were drowning in goo. I ate only three and pushed them away. The All The Way… I studied this a bit first. Same small greasy dog, this time with a healthy dose of the V’s rendition of “chili” and other toppings. Now, if this was chili, well you could have fooled me. On a positive note, the diced onions on the dog were nice and fresh. I managed to finish that dog save for a bite or two.

Feeling woozy from the grease now accumulating in my digestive tract, I decided to skip the other dog. I finished my P.C. Everything else went to the trash container. I left as I arrived, slightly saddened that another Atlanta landmark had gone down the drain.

Reply

Michael Ellis

November 17th, 2007

Being a native Atlantan, I grew up first knowing the “mothership” Varsity on Spring Street at North Avenue. There are the busy times when you will be asked to step aside if you do not have your order perched on the tip of your tongue. As a youngster, my order was always the same because it was easy to remember and easy to say. “A naked dog and a hobo soda.” Translated: a plain hot dog, and a water.

Later, after moving to the ‘burbs, we frequented the Varsity Jr, near the corner of Cheshire Bridge Road, on Lindburgh Avenue. This was run the very same way by the owner’s daughter. I miss the old drive-up of yesteryear, and the likes of Flossie taking our orders. I believe at one time “back in the day” Nipsey Russell had even been a carhop there in Midtown Atlanta.

I find that my tastes have changed a bit, and prefer the yellow-streaked chili dog, rings and an FO. This equates to a chili dog with mustard, onion rings, and a frosty orange drink, which is like a liquid Creamsicle. The hot dogs are divine; try them anywhere from plain to loaded with chili, slaw, pimento cheese, onion and mustard… and forget the fries, the onion rings are the thing to have!

Gourmet? Perhaps not, but the total atmosphere and experience is a work of art nonetheless. The last time I drove 1000 miles to visit my hometown of Atlanta, The Varsity was on my “to do and eat” list!

Reply

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