Let me tell you how to get one of the most decadent breakfasts that you’ve ever had. Go on down to the Silver Skillet. It’s an old-fashioned greasy spoon in Atlanta’s midtown, on 14th Street just west of the downtown connector. That’s what we call the stretch of Interstates 75 and 85 when they merge. The building has barely changed in fifty years, with faded prints of show horses on the walls and the old hand-painted signs with the daily specials behind the bar. You’ll want country ham with red-eye gravy, and two biscuits with white gravy, and a couple of eggs, preferably scrambled. And you’re probably going to want some sweet tea with it. If you’re the sort who likes coffee with your breakfast, trust me this once, you’ll want to pass this time around.
Red-eye gravy is most often made from mixing the drippings of the fried country ham with coffee. To hear my mother tell it, that’s why in northern Alabama, where she grew up, this was called, not very appetizingly, “grease gravy.” At the Silver Skillet, they apparently let their country ham, which is center-sliced and bone-in, marinate for several hours in a stew that includes – if you’re ready for this – soy sauce, brown sugar, paprika and Coca-Cola before they fry it. So it’s the grease from that marinate that gets mixed with coffee. I think that it works best as a dip. Have a small piece of ham dipped in gravy, followed by a small piece of biscuit dipped in the white gravy. Somehow manage to keep the current week’s Creative Loafing balanced in your lap under the formica table.
This ham is, by leagues, the best country ham that I’ve ever had. It is tender but chewy, and incredibly salty. You’re then dipping this salty meat into a gravy that’s at least one part soy sauce. You are going to need sweet tea, and not coffee. Probably about three glasses. And you’re still going to be licking your lips and smacking from salt overload about ninety minutes later.
At any rate, the Silver Skillet has been family-owned since 1967. The late George Decker bought the restaurant from its original owner and his daughter has run it since his passing in 1988. Open from 6 until 2 in the afternoon, there is usually a short wait during the week and a much longer one on weekends or during big events in the city that bring in the tourists. For my birthday last week, I treated myself to breakfast here. I got there just in time to claim one of two available tables, kicked back with my paper, had a very nice server call me “sweetie” and “hon” as she refilled my tea enough times for me to float away when I was finished.
Much later, after I had gassed up and stopped by someplace in the ‘burbs for some Christmas shopping, I went by a grocery store where my bank has a branch. I was still smacking my lips. It was that tasty and that salty. Clearly that’s not a meal for everybody, nor a meal for every day, but when the opportunity strikes to indulge just a little, how can anyone resist?