The story of Atlanta’s Folks Southern Kitchen is another one where the small chain’s heyday seems to be behind them. However, unlike a couple of the earlier stories I’ve told here about, say, The Mad Italian and Old Hickory House, where the last remaining outpost of a chain is struggling to remain relevant, Folks still seems to have a pretty good bit of life in it. I say this even though the chain, which once numbered twenty stores in north Georgia, is down to ten around I-285. Two more, in Cumming and McDonough, were recently converted to a new “concept,” Rusty Rooster Cafe, which apparently serve very similar food in a “fast casual” setting. That we’re talking about food in terms like “concepts” and “fast casual” is probably a warning flag to many food lovers that the food’s quality might have been a little lost under the weight of marketing.
Folks was originally called, and you’ll love this, Po Folks. The first store opened in 1978. I’m not sure which that was, but I recall that the one on 41 and Windy Hill must have opened around that time. It had a bright red roof and all of the signage and menus were written in a tacky font meant to represent the scrawlings of an illiterate hillbilly. My own folks got takeaway from them quite frequently – their sweet tea was said to be the best of any restaurant – but I don’t remember ever actually eating there.
In 1994, the chain converted all of its locations from Po Folks to Folks Southern Kitchen. The reds were changed to greens, the hillbilly scrawls were replaced with a more elegant script, and, since Folks weren’t po no mo, the prices went up. It was this incarnation that expanded to its peak in number of stores, but a few years ago, the contraction began. I recall that they shuttered the restaurants in Roswell and Smyrna right at the same time, and probably a few others as well. I rarely see any advertising for this chain anymore.
Without making too much hoopla about it, my daughter loves Folks, and when we gave her a turn to pick an activity for our weekly dinner-or-movie night, she suggested this place. So last week, Marie and I took her to supper, meeting up with Neal, Samantha, Randy and Kimberly. Circumstances forced us to have a pretty long dinner; our server was congenial and attentive, but also incredibly slow. I thought that we’d never get our checks at the end of the evening.
Marie ordered the rainbow trout and declared it very tasty. It came with some mixed vegetables and sweet potato waffle fries. Sweet potato fries seem to be quite trendy lately, but these are the first ones that I can recall that are done waffle-style. My daughter had a chicken pot pie that she enjoyed very much and a side of Brunswick stew. I almost always just have a veggie plate here, since everything they offer as a side is as good or better as their entrees. This time out, I had fried green tomatoes, calico beans and corn nuggets.
Everyone really enjoyed their meal, but special praise was reserved for the bread. Folks serves up these incredibly tasty peach muffins that everybody really enjoys; Randy and Kimberly ordered another half-dozen to take home. Marie bucked the trend by having a biscuit and everyone else asked whether she was feeling all right.
And that’s the story of Folks. They may be smaller than they once were, marketing-synergy-speaking gobbledygook may be vomited all over their web pages, and the place may be as quiet as the grave in the evenings, but the food remains quite good. They talk big about their recipes being made from scratch and prepared fresh daily, and while it may lack the individual attention and focus of something smaller, it’s still a reasonably good dinner out, for rich or po.