Hunger Games fans and ladies who lunch share a passion: the Swan House, located on the campus of The Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia’s fashionable Buckhead neighborhood. The Swan Estate’s is a palatial neo-Greco stylized mansion designed by famed architect Phillip Trammell Shutze in 1928 for Edward Inman whose wealth not only built the Swan but also helped rebuild Atlanta after the Civil War.
Surrounded by classical landscaped gardens, the Swan’s opulent setting proved perfect as a featured location in the Hunger Games (Catching Fire), which draws thousands of the film’s devotee’s to tour. Thousands more come to follow the Swan’s pathways though its wooded hillside behind the main house to its fanciful two-story garage – better known as the Swan Coach House, a landmark that has attracted the hungry to leisurely lunch since opening in 1967.
Credited for the Swan Coach House’s creation are 12 like-minded women of the Forward Arts Foundation who selected the old carriage house for their new home. Beginning in 1965, the renovation project quickly grew to include a gallery, gift shop, and tearoom. Today, the Swan Coach House stands as one of the few surviving genteel tearoom refuges our mothers and grandmothers embraced. It’s the ultimate Atlanta luncheon destination for ladies and gents who relish history, genteel surroundings, and elegant plates filled with traditional luncheon fare.
At Swan House, chicken salad and shrimp salad rule, both made from vintage recipes, and scooped and served in crispy fried timbales. Timbales are a thin pastry shell made by a dipping a heated rosette iron fitted with a heart cup mold that is then deep-fried. A throwback specialty chefs seldom nowdays take the time to prepare, the Swan’s timbales a unique treat. The timbales are filled with either chicken or shrimp salad, paired and plated with the Swan’s signature Frozen Fruit Salad and a cheese straw deuce. Sound frou frou? Of course, it’s The Swan where over the top fancy fare is expected.
For those wanting something less fanciful consider spinach quiche or entrée salads such as the Cobb or grilled salmon. Hungry guests can indulge in full plate entrees of Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Curry or nicely stacked sandwiches like the turkey club, BLTs, burger or a substantial grilled focaccia filled with fried green tomato and pimento cheese.
Linger and Save Room for Dessert
Regulars insist on saving room for the French Silk Swan. It’s one of those desserts that should be on everyone’s must-eat list. Designed to resemble a swan, the dessert is made with a meringue base filled with a generous piping of creamy chocolate mousse wrapped in Chantilly whipped cream and finished with a sprinkle of slivered almonds and an curvy piece of pasty shaped like a swan’s neck.
Lunch at the Swan–with or without a dessert–is something you’ll want to take time to savor. So slow down. Order another glass of sweet tea or a mint julep and delight in the art of lunching leisurely and long conversations. Afterwards, stroll the grounds and take in the Atlanta History Center’s special and permanent exhibitions as Turning Point: The American Civil War, a poignant exhibit featuring more than 1,500 Union and Confederate artifacts that allow visitors to experience the war through the eyes of soldiers and civilians. Fasionistas will want to catch Fashion In Good Taste, a temporary exhibit housed in the Swan House mansion that spotlights clothing from the 1920s -1960s. Atlanta in 50 Objects, a favorite with both Atlanta natives and tourists, celebrates the city’s past to present from its Civil War losses to Civil Rights victories to its commercial culinary specialties of Coca-Cola to Varsity hot dogs.
The Atlanta History Center admission varies. An adult ticket is $16.50, which includes admission to its sister site The Margaret Mitchell House, home of famed Gone with the Wind author. Package tours for small groups include the Capital Tour/Hunger Games: Behind the Swan House Scenes and Taste Tours with lunch at the Swan Coach House.
Atlanta History Center’s hours are Monday through Saturday 10am -5:30 pm, Sundays noon to 5:30 pm. Lunch at The Swan Coach House is open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11 am – 2:30 pm. While The Swan Coach House welcomes walk-ins, but reservations ensure a table as crowds can be quite large, especially on Saturdays. Anyone can enjoy lunch or shop the Swan Coach House without a ticket for AHC. But don’t, especially if it’s your first time. Plan on making it a day of history and good things to savor as the ladies who lunch. – Story and photos by Suzanne Corbett, RFT Food History Editor
Be sure to check out the Swan House’s classic Frozen Fruit Salad Recipe.