Given out every year since 1998 by the foundation, the “America’s Classics” award honors a handful of independent and family-owned restaurants throughout the country that are more than a decade old and exhibit “timeless appeal” for the communities they serve.
First opened 75 years ago on Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) by Lucy Jackson, Busy Bee Cafe was (and is still) known for its soul-satisfying fried chicken and ham hocks. Jackson’s fried chicken became so legendary in Atlanta, that by the 1960s the restaurant was a frequent refueling stop and meeting place for Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Joseph Lowery.
Today, Busy Bee Cafe is owned by Tracy Gates, whose family took over the business in the 1980s. But Gates still serves up hundreds of plates weekly of Jackson’s fried chicken, which is marinated for 12 hours and hand-breaded before frying, along with ham hocks and fried catfish paired with comforting side dishes of collard greens, slabs of golden cornbread, and creamy mac and cheese.
Busy Bee Cafe, along with the five other America’s Classics restaurant winners, will be honored later this year during the June 13 James Beard Foundation awards ceremony taking place at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.
810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta. thebusybeecafe.com.