Farewell Atlanta 3: Zesto

I was sketching out our “Farewell Atlanta” week at the blog and wanted to visit four Atlanta restaurants that I enjoy that don’t get very much hobbyist press at all, the sort of fun, ultra-regional places that really only Atlantans know about. I wanted to write about the sort of places that, if Marie and I had been based in some other city all this time, we’d come to Atlanta on our road trips to sample alongside its barbecue. Now, if Martin’s was an obvious choice, then Zesto had to be included as well. Ages ago, I mentioned that Zesto and Martin’s were roughly similar to Birmingham’s Milo’s and Jack’s. Very roughly; it’s not a really good analogy, but there are some comparable points.

The Zesto chain had a very brief life span. There were once more than a hundred stores across the nation between 1945 and the chain’s abrupt closure. That happened either in 1951 or 1955 – accounts vary – and the Atlanta stores, which were initially an offshoot of one of the Columbia SC locations, became an independent chain. There are currently five Atlanta stores, and their website’s history is probably the most accurate and detailed available.

There are Zesto restaurants all around the country, along with stores with names like Frosto and Besto. Debra Jane Seltzer’s Roadside Architecture has documented them rather better than we’ll ever be able to, as several of the survivors are way up in Nebraska and South Dakota. I strongly suspect that the five-store Atlanta chain may be the largest of all the little mini-chains of Zestos in the US. None of them have had any formal relation to each other for more than sixty years.

At the beginning of June, we took a day to say goodbye to a few favorite Atlanta places. We started in Little Five Points, where I needed a new 45 box, and where we could have enjoyed burgers and shakes at the Zesto on Moreland. But frankly, that one’s kind of drab and the one on Piedmont, which opened in 1953 and was radically refreshed in the mid-1990s, is just so wonderful to visit. Besides, this was a day to drive around the city with the windows down and tell the streets we were leaving after such a long time.

Marie loves to order a chocolate banana malt here. I usually have a cherry milkshake. The burgers are okay. They’re a little better than interstate fast food but this is a place for ice cream first and foremost. They make some great desserts here, and I’ve always been pleased with the service at all the locations that I’ve visited. They employ some good people here.

The regular remodeling and refreshing as seen at the Piedmont store, and which we loved at the since-closed location on Ponce, admittedly prevents the stores from really looking or feeling like they did when they were built. The refreshes allowed a design team to put together lots of photos and things on the walls so you can enjoy a little “bubble nostalgia,” if you will, and look back into Atlanta’s history while you enjoy your cones, sundaes, or milkshakes. I’m not going to claim that Zesto is anything neat or magical or unexpected, but Atlanta doesn’t celebrate its older restaurants nearly enough, and I like what they do here. If you have a blog, you should check out Zesto and spread the word!

Do you enjoy classic adventure TV? I’m reliving some great shows from my own childhood with my five year-old son. Come join the fun at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time!


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