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Two Hour ATL Gourmand: The Varsity Dine and Dash

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 5, 2010

I was in Honduras for 96 hours. There will be no TGU Gourmand stories. What went down there will only be in my memoirs as a very long chapter with many Tarantino style plots lines and twists. On my way home Saturday, I found myself at the Atlanta airport with two hours and five minutes to kill.

On my top ten list of 10,000 restaurants I have not yet eaten at but must before I die is a place called the Varsity in downtown Atlanta. The Varsity opened in 1928. It is the world’s largest drive in. The restaurant goes through two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, 5000 fried pies, 300 gallons of chili per day and is the largest single site consumer of Coca-Cola anywhere. The building sits on two acres with room for 600 cars outside. This hit my radar about ten years ago when I saw it in the Rick Sebak documentary A Hot Dog Show. I wanted a chili dog and longed to hear: “What’ll ya have….What’ll ya have” the continuous chorus coming from folks at the counter.

Google maps said I could get there in about 30 minutes using the Marta (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Tranist Authority) train and it would be a three minute walk from the station to the front door of the Varisty. I did some quick calculating. If I could get through customs by 6:50 pm this was a definite possibility. With no luggage and a flight of only 30 people I made it through the queues with a few minutes to spare. In the course of eight minutes I traveled from Terminal E to the main terminal, bought a Marta card, double checked my mission plan and found myself on the train platform. I missed my first train by 30 seconds. I recalculated my timetable and bail-out points. If I could get to The Varsity by 7:45 pm, I would still be able to pull this off. Game on!

So why not a cab you ask? I only had twenty seven dollars to my name and in theory with traffic Marta is much faster than cab or car. I popped on the train, checked the map and determined I was ten stations away from hot dog heaven. I spied a (lucky?) penny on the floor, picked it up and at that very second the train came to a sudden halt. The homeless folk who know the train looked a bit uncomfortable at this situation. So did the Marta conductor that came running through the cars. The other downside – if the train is not at a station – you can’t open the door. I was not going anywhere until this train was. I checked the clock it was 7:26 pm, my time cushion was deflating. The employee ran through the car a few more times saying nothing. At this point, I was thinking that it would suck to miss my flight. The train did finally restart with no explanation. At the next station I looked out the windows to see thousand of people trying the swarm onto the train. The Auburn vs. South Carolina game had just ended and drunken fans were fleeing the scene of the crime. It takes a long time to squeeze hundreds of college football enthusiasts onto cars that are meant to hold fifty. I checked the clock, 7:43 pm, four more stations to go.

I made it to the North Station at 7:51 pm. I ran to the Varisty dodging drunken football fan drivers and slid up to the counter to hear those magic words….”What’ll ya have”? My reply (after a decade of preparing for this moment): Two chili dogs, a small fry and a coke. The meal was so absolutely perfect. The fries were among the best I have had. The hots dogs were tasty. The chili sauce was exceptional. This was everything I wanted and more importantly it worked. I inhaled my hot dogs while walking around soaking in the atmosphere of The Varsity. I had about one minute to look at the downtown skyline then ran back to the station and hopped on the next train to the airport.

Heading back to the airport, once again at Five Points station, thousands of football nuts swarmed onto the train. I enjoyed the banter going back and forth between the winning and losing fans. There is a certain charm only a drunken southerner can pull off when trash talking someone so that an insult sounds like the sweetest bit of flattery one has ever heard. I do declare.

I made it back to the airport with fifteen minutes to spare. Would I do this scramble again? Absolutely. I was able to get a quick taste of a city I have never visited and checked off Georgia as a state I have officially visited (only seven left). The Varsity was worth the effort as well as worth the risk and associated slightly elevated stress levels.

I did have a several things going for me. Saturday nights are light travel periods – I was able to breeze through security and customs incredibly fast. I was able to OJ through the airport when I needed since I had no luggage. The Varsity is normally packed but since hordes of fans were still escaping the football game I was able to go straight to the counter. Everything worked out (any other day of the week or year, this could have been a big fail) and in the process I got my groove back via a little culinary adventure travel.

The Varsity
61 North Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia

3 Responses to “Two Hour ATL Gourmand: The Varsity Dine and Dash”

  1. Anna said

    Glad you made it back in one piece AND made it to your goal destination in Atlanta.

  2. Nice “speedrun” review of Varsity. 😉 I went there about 10 years ago and enjoyed it. Atlanta is a very cool city and worthy of a longer visit when you have a chance. A bit harder to get to without a car, but Flip Burger (from Chef Richard Blais) is an awesome burger joint that I imagine you’d love:

  3. brad said

    I’m extrememly jealous of your visit to the Varsity. I stayed within walking distance of it for a week 5 years ago before I knew it even existed. Missing out on it when it was so close is one the largest food regrets of my life.

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