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Busy Bee Café: Soul of the city 

Down home place where everybody knows your name

Beyond the iron bar windows and stark exterior of the Busy Bee Cafe (810 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, 404-525-9212. www.thebusybeecafe.com), you'll find an exceedingly warm room buzzing with a diverse mix of families, college students and dapper gents chatting up the no-nonsense staff.

If you need one reason to visit this 61-year-old soul food institution, it's the "beelicious" fried chicken ($9.50). You get your choice of dark or light meat and the crackly breading is never greasy, the meat always juicy thanks to a 12-hour marinade. Swine lovers will swoon over a plate of moist pork chops ($9.50) fried to golden brown. In addition to the regular menu, "specialties" – such as slow-cooked neck bones ($7.50) or baked chicken with gravy, dressing and cranberry sauce ($7.99) – change on a daily basis. Every dinner comes with two crumbly cornbread muffins and two "fresh veggies" chosen from a list of classics such as crunchy fried okra, turnip greens and tender candied yams. Don't fret if you're the odd man out at a table of carnivores – you can build a veggie plate with your choice of three or four sides ($7-$8). Homemade desserts – most notably the fresh blackberry cobbler ($3.50) and yellow cake with fudgy icing ($3.75) – beckon with their "just like Mom used to make" goodness. The freshly squeezed lemonade ($1.75-$2) and sweet tea ($1.35-$1.65) are so sugary you'll get a toothache, but it hurts so good.

While the Bee serves consistently delicious food, you can't dismiss its heart. Most of the customers know the staff by name and vice versa. Strangers make fast friends while waiting for a table (there's often a wait) or sitting side by side at the counter. And we've even seen the entire restaurant sing happy birthday to a blushing, middle-aged man. You can't put a price on this kind of soul.

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