Meat and Three, Yankee-Style
Yet another mash-up of sorts is occurring in Chicago and New York, with the opening of several concepts that put a contemporary twist on the traditional “meat-and-three” restaurants of the American South.
Meat and threes give dining guests the choice of one entrée along with three side dishes, from a menu that usually offers six to eight main dishes and up to a dozen sides. The cuisine is classic Southern homestyle comfort food. Typical entrées might include fried chicken, meatloaf, country-fried steak and roast ham, with sides such as green beans, corn, potato salad and macaroni and cheese. These restaurants provided their guests with high levels of variety and customizability nearly a century before the first Chipotle.
Now the idea is making its way north, as operators recognize the opportunity to create differentiation with their own version of a meat and three, and with each taking a slightly different approach to adapting the concept to their market. One commonality they share, however, is uniformly well-prepared and delicious cuisine.
The menu at Mr. Donahue’s is limited to five mains and a dozen sides, with classic offerings that are tweaked to maximize appeal to its Manhattanite clientele. Here, the chicken is from a rotisserie rather than a fryer, the trout steak is grilled, meatballs are made with turkey, and the meatloaf is dry aged. Chicken-Fried Pork Cheeks offer guests a truly indulgent option. The side dish of Mac ’n Cheese is completely traditional, while most others are slightly upscaled. Pickled Beets are sprinkled with goat cheese, Braised Greens are tossed with olive oil and lemon bread crumbs, and the Roasted Squash is topped with rosemary meringue.
Harold’s Meat + Three in New York’s Hudson Square is a sprawling space with an equally large menu that is evenly divided between classic Southern and contemporary American fare. More than two dozen entrées are offered. The daily specials that include Smothered Pork Chops, Fried Fish, Ham Steak and Meatloaf are straightforward meat-and-three staples, and the menu includes the requisite Fried Chicken, Beef Pot Pie and Country-Fried Steak. Likewise, traditional sides include grits, potato salad, peas and carrots, and green beans. But from there the menu exits the South and does not look back, with main dishes such as Grilled Salmon Bordelaise, Filet au Poivre, Whole Branzino with Citrus Vinaigrette, Curried Lamb Shank, and sides that include Baked Artichoke Heart, Crushed Cauliflower, Sliced Avocado and Quinoa Salad.
Saint Lou’s Assembly in Chicago limits its menu to five mains and eight sides, with little Southern influence evident in main dishes that include an Indian mash-up of Roasted Chicken in Tikka Masala Sauce, a tender Duck Confit, Seared Diver Scallops and Grilled Skirt Steak. The housemade Grilled Tasso Ham is the lone dish with meat-and-three roots, as is the side of Mac ’n Cheese, which is offered alongside Brown Butter Sunchokes, Smashed Yuca, Red Curry Lentils, and Roast Shiitakes and Turnips.
So, whether a Southern theme is carried through or not, these Northern meat and threes are presenting a unique menu proposition in their markets, serving inspired versions of craveable American comfort fare in a format that satisfies consumer demand for greater choice and customizability.