There are not many sights on Memorial Drive. Besides the construction, the buildings of Downtown Atlanta and the view of the stadium may draw and keep attention for some time. However, what truly is a spectacle is how packed an unassuming little building’s parking lot could be, and what they’re making inside.
Since its opening in 2000, Ria’s Bluebird has been providing the Cabbagetown neighborhood, wallet-friendly and chef-quality food.
The inside is small, but very open with almost wall-to-wall body length windows, and features seats wrapping around the restaurant. There is artwork on the walls, and a bar for people needing to grab breakfast before work, not to mention a spacious patio with music of all genres blasting.
Ria Pell, the owner of Ria’s Bluebird that passed away in 2013, was a staple of the Atlanta community. She owned both Ria’s and a restaurant called Sauce that closed in 2012. Also in 2012, she was featured on the popular Food Network show Chopped, and won, which is a great achievement and put Ria’s Bluebird into the spotlight, even more than it already had been. She also ran the now defunct LGBT event called MondoHomo, featuring art and music.
All this makes for the homey feel that Pell wanted. There was a need to make sure that her restaurant had a focus on quality, but also on a sense of community, and she had done just that.
“Ria wanted to keep that breakfast and lunch, neighborhood feel. A place everyone can afford and come to, but with food that a chef has come up with,” Julie Pender, manager of the restaurant and friend of Ria’s, said. “She had worked in some higher end places, and also some lower end places, and she set out to create a restaurant that everyone can afford.”
Good Food for Everyone
Ria’s features quite a few dishes under $10 , including the pancakes, which in 2007 New York Times called the best in the country. There are numerous vegan and vegetarian options including the Bionic Breakfast, a skillet potato bowl with two different types of peppers, mushrooms, a spicy sauce and an optional cheese addition.
“It’s quality food that a chef has come up with, not just another plop and serve type place,” Pender said. Pender mentioned of the Brisket Breakfast, a signature dish of Ria’s that has become an unmoving staple, with slow roasted brisket, a rich broth, two poached eggs and a baguette.
Ria’s does things by their own rulebook. Their menu is simple but stern, and the dishes are not comparable to other chain breakfast and lunch spots because they stay true to the menu, but Pender assures that it is going to be good.
“We do it our way. You are going to want to have this experience if you come here. You aren’t going to get to make your own omelet or make it from scratch, but we do what we do well,” Pender said.
Ria’s features original fresh made dishes and specials that change frequently. It is a simple place, but it has developed a formula that historically has satisfied the community.
“Just being part of the historic community feels good, and [being able] contribute to the overall health and wealth of the place that we’re in,” Pender said.
Although it has become somewhat of a tourist spot for list lookers and award trackers, it’s a place to go when wanting to see where the locals go, or if wanting to be a local after moving to Atlanta, this would be an excellent place to try.
“Our menu, anyone can figure out, it’s chef driven food, but it is not intimidating. Everything is made with a sense of care and quality, but not something you won’t know what it is,” Pender said.
A Helping Hand
Ria’s also helps their community in their work for fundraisers and raising money as well.In 2016, they had days in the year that they donated their proceeds to charity, in memory of Ria.
They have also donated to the Erskine Fountain in Grant Park and the Youth Lost foundation, an organization that helps homeless LGBT youth.
There are no big chain mysteries to Ria’s, Pender believes that it is important to support businesses where you know to who and what the money is going to, and they make sure to give back when they can.
“Being accessible to people money-wise is a big draw, and then also you know you’re getting something with value behind it,” Pender said. Our employees are paid well, and treated with respect, and we contribute to schools, preschools and homeless shelters. I think it’s important to speak up when you have the position to speak up.”
Awards and Accolades
Ria’s has been featured in the ATL Food Bucketlist by Thrillist, and the 50 State of Biscuits project featured Ria’s for their homemade biscuits. They have been featured in Atlanta Magazine’s “Eat This,” featured on Spoon University
Address: 421 Memorial Dr SE, Atlanta, GA 30312