Appreciating all that makes America special

Food: The Varsity, Atlanta

President Clinton ate a grilled chicken sandwich at the Varsity. Pathetic. Photo uploaded by blogs.ajc.com.

President Clinton ate a grilled chicken sandwich at the Varsity. Pathetic. Photo uploaded by blogs.ajc.com.

“What’ll ya have!” For 81 years, visitors at The Varsity drive-in in Atlanta have been greeted with those words. In a world that moved from individually owned restaurants to large chains, The Varsity has stayed small in terms of locations while becoming “The World’s Largest Drive-In.”

How large, exactly? The flagship downtown location spreads across more than two acres, covers two city blocks, has more than 600 parking spaces, and can accommodate more than 800 people inside. And get a load of the food consumed. Two miles of hot dogs, a ton of onions, 2500 pounds of potatoes, 300 gallons of chili, and 5000 fried pies. EACH DAY.

Anyone can be off a diet for one meal. Uploaded by disneymike.com.

Anyone can be off a diet for one meal. Uploaded by disneymike.com.

Over the years, The Varsity has fed thousands of Georgia Tech students (the campus is right across the road) as well as the rich (Warren Buffet) and famous (Elvis). Clark Gable came by when he was in town for the premiere of Gone with the Wind (Great American Thing No. 29). And Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush all ate there while they were in office.

Freshness is an obsession with The Varsity. Founder Frank Gordy, who died in 1983, had a saying: “No food over 12 hours old.” Someone once asked him what the restaurant did with its leftovers. “We don’t have any,” he said.

If you go, here’s some jargon to help you fit in. Hamburgers are “steaks.” Want some chips? Get “a bag of rags.” Prefer onion rings? Say, “Ring one.” And if you ask for a hot dog, you’ll get one on a bun with chili and mustard. The video: A tour with an annoying guy, but at least you get a feel for the place.

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