You know those restaurants in TV shows where everyone always seems to meet – you know, the hangout? Places like The Max, or Central Perk, or MacLaren’s Pub, or Cheers, or Tom’s Restaurant, or countless others. I like to call those types of places Utopic Restaurants because, as hard as some places may try to cultivate a similar atmosphere, they either have it or they don’t. In reality, those places are very few and far between, making it truly something special when you come across one. I was extremely fortunate to grow up with one of those rare Utopic Restaurants right in my own neighborhood – The Oak Grove Market.
It may not look like much, but The Oak Grove Market really is something special. The Oak Grove Market originally got its start as a family run butcher shop back in 1969, but these days it is more of a restaurant than it is a market. They still butcher and sell their own meats, poultry, and fish, as well as some produce and odds and ends (nothing too fancy. Just a close, neighborhood place to grab a few things you may have forgotten at the grocery store), but the lunch line, for lack of a better term*, is what The Oak Grove Market has become known for.
*It’s not just a line for lunch, but until I started writing this post, I never needed a name for the lunch line. If someone said they were going to The Meat Market**, you knew exactly what that meant; they were going to get some food from the lunch line.
**Oh, and that’s another thing; originally the restaurant was The Oak Grove Meat Market, since they were, you know, formerly a butcher shop. But, long story short, they dropped “Meat” from the name. However, in the neighborhood, it is still very affectionately referred to simply as The Meat Market.
Burgers, hotdogs, pizza, wings, french fries, onion rings, and deli sandwiches are among the mainstays on the lunch line. Then there are the daily specials; grilled salmon, ribs, chicken cordon bleu, chicken nachos (which replaced my beloved chicken quesadilla. RIP.), prime rib sandwich, and lasagna just to name a few. They also offer an assortment of salads, deli salads (meaning things like potato salad, succotash, beet salad, etc.), and in my opinion, the best chicken salad in all of Atlanta (that my be an unproven opinion, but this whole blog is my opinion, so that’s kind of what you signed up for) (my all-time favorite chicken salad is from a small roadside shack in Clemson, SC called Goober’s. But that’s another post for another time).
Oh, and did I mention that they sell tortilla chips and cheese dip too? Like, restaurant quality tortilla chips and cheese dip that you can take come and have whenever you want. Not that grocery store stuff that is somehow always disappointing. Game changer!
My go-to (not to-go, go-to) order at The Oak Grove Market is their perfectly cooked, skin on grilled salmon with a side of onion rings (or asparagus if they have it that day) and a large sweet tea. But on Mondays, when the daily special is the prime rib sandwich, I’ll usually get that instead. Or sometimes I’m really feeling the chicken salad. Or if there’s something new on the line, I might try that. I guess I don’t really have a “usual” order. It’s all good.
A perfect example of this Oak Grove Market indecisiveness phenomenon was the last time I went to The Oak Grove Market: I fully intended to get the grilled salmon for lunch, but when I made it to the front of the line, the lasagna was calling my name loud and clear! And of course it didn’t disappoint. It was hot and cheesy, layered with spinach, ricotta cheese, and Italian sausage, while somehow maintaining its shape and not devolving into a mess on the plate. It was glorious.
I think that’s what I love the most about The Oak Grove Market; it’s familiar and comfortable, but you never know what’s going to show up on that “Specials” board. It is constantly changing while continuing to remain the same.
The Oak Grove Market is a Saturday lunch staple. It’s absolutely perfect for Saturdays. I can’t remember a Saturday at The Oak Grove Market that I haven’t unexpectedly run into someone that I know. It’s that kind of place, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But no matter the day of the week (except Sundays when they’re closed) or the time of day, The Oak Grove Market is bustling. Folks grabbing a quick, and cheap, breakfast on the way to work; kids having a snack, or hanging with friends, or doing some homework on the big red sectional after school; people picking up their pre-ordered, pre-made dinners to take home to their families (yeah, you can do that). The Oak Grove Market is the place to be!
I am often reluctant to recommend restaurants from my childhood because it can be difficult from me to discern if I love these places because the food is objectively good or if nostalgia and personal memories have seeped into my perception of these places over the years. I don’t have that problem with The Oak Grove Market. I know it’s good. I recommend it to anyone and everyone without hesitation whenever possible.
Going to The Oak Grove Market is like going home for me. Even for someone that has never been to The Oak Grove Market before, there’s something about it that makes you feel welcome and comfortable and instantly at ease. Like you’re part of the neighborhood – because in that moment, you are part of the neighborhood.
So, whenever you’re looking for a classic lunch (or any meal for that matter) or whenever you need a bit of that “welcome back home feeling”, no matter how far from home you really are, I recommend The Oak Grove Market. And don’t be surprised if you run into someone you know; you’re part of the neighborhood now.