It’s hard to believe, but the retro-chic Buckhead Diner has passed the 25 year mark and is closing in on 30. So many Atlanta eateries now are doing crazy creative things with American comfort food classics that the cui-sine has become cliché. But the Buckhead Diner was the first to take roadhouse food like grilled cheese, meat-loaf and milkshakes into uncharted upscale territory.
The shiny chrome and neon behemoth popped up on Piedmont Road in 1987 to near instant acclaim. It wasn’t only the novelty of the food and decor that was the draw, but who may step out of a limo in the parking lot. This was just prior to Sir Elton John’s Atlanta penthouse residency, and he became a Diner regular. Mick Jagger, Kevin Bacon, Rod Stewart and Jessica Alba have also illuminated its interior.
The Diner’s menu remains as stuck in time as its concept; one can still revel in the grilled four cheese sand-wich with roasted tomato soup ($13) and the venerable veal and wild mushroom meatloaf with celery mashed spuds and French green beans ($19). A starter of warm Maytag blue cheese chips ($9) is mandatory. “Real” milk-shakes and fountain drinks like a black cow and authentic New York egg cream (which contains neither eggs nor cream; it’s made from chocolate syrup and carbonated water) will make one spin on one’s lunch counter stool with delight.
For the record, the Diner was the fourth outpost for the Buckhead Life restaurant group, which launched Buckhead on its fine dining trajectory with the opening of Pano and Paul’s in 1979. Paul Albrecht moved on early; Pano Karatassos continues to oversee the empire. Karatassos went on an expansion binge in the 1990s, swallowing up large chunks of real estate on Piedmont and Pharr roads to create new concepts, each more opulent and in-your-face than the last. His monstrous bronze fish sculpture erected in front of the Atlanta Fish Market on Pharr in 1993 elicited both wonder and revulsion. It is now accepted as a local landmark.
Buckhead Life has eased up on its local expansion somewhat; its last new Buckhead restaurant, Bistro Niko, opened in 2009. Karatassos has since set his sights on Florida, where he now operates three concepts. The Buckhead Diner is located at 3073 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, 30305. Call 404-262-3366 or visit www.buckheadrestaurants.com Reservations are recommended and dress is business casual.