Childhood Family Food

Looking for health food in all the wrong places

Pop and Parker ready to enjoy their Varsity meal.
Pop and Parker ready to enjoy their Varsity meal.

During a recent visit to Atlanta, my father-in-law, son and I made one of our routine visits to The Varsity in downtown Atlanta.

Many of you are familiar with The Varsity and are now craving onion rings and a frozen orange.

For those of you not familiar with The Varsity, it is a drive-in restaurant that has turned into one of the most popular burger and hot dog places in the city. When you go there, in particular on a weekend, there will be literally hundreds of people in line waiting to grab a tray full of fried awesomeness. (Don’t be scared of the crowd — the lines move fast and you can always find a table.)

Standing in line, we scanned the menu, readying our order so we would be ready the moment the person behind the counter barked, “What’ll ya have????”

As we neared the front, I began to eavesdrop on the conversation behind me because, hey, if your conversation is loud enough that other people in line at The Varsity can hear it, it’s pretty much for everyone’s consumption.

The gentleman clearly was being brought to The Varsity against his will. He was also clearly better than most of the clientele there, as he was quick to tell you.

He then said the funniest thing I think I may have ever heard uttered: “Do you think they have something healthy, like a turkey dog?”

There are very few certainties in life. But one of them is this: If you are searching healthy choices, you’re going to come up empty at The Varsity. As my father in law said later, “They should offer a ‘healthy choices’ menu. It can be a blank piece of paper.’”

You don’t go to The Varsity to get your cholesterol in check. You go there for the deliciousness. Here’s what we ordered: My father-in-law: Chili dog, chili burger, onion rings and a sweet tea. Me: Two bacon burgers, onion rings and a Coke. My son: Grilled pimiento cheese, onion rings, frozen orange drink and a friend apple pie.

If you said, “Ewww. How unhealthy!” you should probably avoid The Varsity. If your mouth is watering, I’ll meet you downtown next time I’m in the ATL.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with eating healthy. I try and eat healthy quite a bit, and even enjoy an occasional restaurant meal that has not been deep fried. Most of the meals we eat at home are quite healthy. Except on wing night. Can’t let my Fry Daddy feel unloved.

But the point is, I don’t begrudge people who want to eat super healthy. What I don’t care for is people who come into a place like The Varsity and then complain about the fare available. It’s pretty clear what you’re getting yourself into there. It would be like if I walked into what was clearly a vegetarian restaurant and wondered where the ribeyes were.

I think the better choice would have been for that gentleman to find a restaurant offering different options. And, based on his ranting during his time in line, he might want to find said restaurant about a thousand miles north, because clearly he wasn’t a big fan of the South either.

As for me, I’ll embrace wherever I am and whatever we are eating. I’m always up for new people and new food and thus new adventures. But sometimes you wind up in familiar places, like The Varsity, and it’s good to go see your old friends chili dog and onion rings.

If you haven’t added The Varsity to your Bucket List, I highly recommend it. Of course, when they ask, “What’ll ya have?” if you’re inclined to answer, “Do you have turkey dogs?” you might want to find a different place for lunch.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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