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Birmingham Hounds: Let's Talk Meat and Threes. And how John T. Edge is wrong about us.

Fellow 'hounds, I just finished reading a piece written by John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance (a great organization, btw) about how Nashville is the mecca of meat & threes "with more than a half-dozen great restaurants to choose from, while cities of equal or larger size—say Atlanta or Birmingham or Charlotte—can claim only a couple or three truly great lunch spots."

Um, what?!

I can think of some really great places just off the top of my head:
Niki's West (the king of them all)
Bright Star (at lunch, it is a meat & three)
Q&S Soul Food on 41st St
The Anchorage in Homewood
PawPaw Patch on Greensprings
Tracy's Downtown
Niki's Downtown
The Smokehouse by the Farmer's Market off Finley
Ted's Downtown
Joel's in Trussville
Sarris on 31st St
Dale's Southern Grill in Hoover
Eagles Restaurant on 16th St over by ACIPCO
Irondale Cafe

Now if those are the ones I can think of in just a couple of minutes, there have to be worlds more.

And I don't mean to disagree with the author over quantity, I mean we have quantity but we also have quality. To be honest, I can live for a while without going to the PawPaw Patch or Sarris. But really when it's written that we only have "two or three truly great lunch spots" when it comes to meat and threes, that's just something I can't agree with.

What do y'all think?

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The entire piece by John T. Edge, who I usually agree with a lot more, is here: http://www.southernfoodways.com/oral_...

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  1. As a caveat, my parents owned two meat and three (affiliated) restaurants growing up and I worked in one or both fof them or the better part of 6+ years in highschool and college. I love me some meat and three.

    Most meat and threes these days are serving gussied up canned or frozen Sysco products (same with the folks' places). As we all know, food costs are high (and ever increasing due to fuel costs) so (food) profit is thin; any way to cut corners for a number of these places is the difference between closing their doors or staying open another week. I still love the food at most such places, assuming they know how much fatback and other fresh(er) ingredients to add, so long as they have not been sitting on the steam table all day.

    With all of that said, yes Nikki's seems to be the best of the ones I have tried, partly due to turnover. Very little that I do not like there, although the fried chicken could use a little more flavor. Does anyone do spicy fried chicken here, aside from Popeyes?

    Tracy's is ok, but was a little bland. Still, it's close to me.

    I need to get to Eagle's, the original Green Acres cafe, and the Family Restaurant discussed in this thread.

    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/401727

    I hear the Smokehouse is the best of them but have not tried it.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Dax

      I tend to agree with Dax's comment that there are way too many canned or frozen veggies being served these days. Having said that, I respond to the ones you listed as follows:

      Niki's West (the king of them all)--Of the ones I have been to, I agree that is probably the best.

      Bright Star (at lunch, it is a meat & three)--Can be very good, but it is a bit of a hike from my downtown office. I like the snapper throats a lot.

      Q&S Soul Food on 41st St--Never been.

      The Anchorage in Homewood--Capable of greatness, but I have had some so-so meals there.

      PawPaw Patch on Greensprings--I thought it closed. The last time I ate there (years ago) it was not good at all. They were most assuredly using frozen veggies.

      Tracy's Downtown--Never been.

      Niki's Downtown--Atrocious, and not to be confused with the West location. I had one of the worst lunches ever (everything was cold) there 2 months ago and will never go back.

      The Smokehouse by the Farmer's Market off Finley--Never been (no excuse for that, and need to go soon).

      Ted's Downtown--OK.

      Joel's in Trussville--Have not been in years, but it used to be very good to excellent (fried chicken was great).

      Sarris on 31st St--Never been.

      Dale's Southern Grill in Hoover--Never been (too far of a drive for me at lunch).

      Eagles Restaurant on 16th St over by ACIPCO--Never been.

      Irondale Cafe--The old grey mare she ain't what she used to be.

      I guess that John's City Diner may be too upscale for this list, but I like it a lot.

      1. re: pinotboy

        FYI Tracy's Downtown is now closed. That weird little place next to Lucy's advertises itself as a Meat and 3 also. Still need to try Smokehouse. Maybe tomorrow.

        1. re: Dax

          You can also check off the Anchorage in Homewood. They are closing in the near future (if they haven't already) due to lease issues. My vote is for the Irondale Cafe. Their chicken is scrumptuous. Courtney's on Southside has a darn good meat & three menu as well.

          1. re: sheilal

            Nikki's West and Irondale Cafe get my votes.
            But frankly, meat-and-three was a bigger part of the landscape in other Southern cities I've lived in. Macon, Ga., had Birmingham beat in my book.

    2. I think Nashville has way more than half a dozen, too.

      5 Replies
      1. re: jamiecarroll

        I don't mean this to sound snide or uppity but I'm afraid it will no matter how I say it so I'll just say it: I think no matter how good the food is, if the sign on the door says "No Curlers in Head" or similar then your greatness is going to be discounted somewhat.

        I grew up in NC and although I liked the food at Nikki's West fine, I never really had anything there that I thought was phenomenal or, frankly, was any better than what I used to get at the K&W cafeteria chain most days. Add to that the strange process where you go through the line for food but have somebody bring you a drink (is that how it works? can't remember) thus guilting you into a tip and the greatness of the experience sort of escaped me.

        I did go to Nikki's downtown once and agree with others above that it was not good. I went to Ted's once or twice and it was ok. The Paw Paw patch was, in a word, bad.

        That said, I have never eaten at a meat-n-3 in nashville or atlanta. In most of NC, my experience is that we don't really have real meat-n-3 type places--at least not with the steam tables, etc. Instead, we have more diners and restaurants that serve that sort of food but it's not as cafeteria style as like at Nikki's. Perhaps that makes a difference. On the flip side though, seems lots of the restaurant places give you only 2 sides--sigh.

        1. re: Guilty Gourmand

          I cannot guarantee it but I'll bet most of those places you ate at in NC had steam tables and heat lamps with the meats and vegetables in the kitchen. My parents used to run a meat and 3 (and yes, it was 3 then; the decline to meat and 2 these days is lamentable) although we called it "country cooking." It just was not economical of labor and space to attempt to cook much to order (although bone-in fried chicken should be or have a very quick turnover). Our steam tables were in the kitchen so hardly anyone ever saw them (although you could see them at the take-out place). The fried items were usually fried a basket at a time and luckily the turnover was very good so most of the food was served within 10 min of frying. We used to do a booming business, so we were doing something right (I worked at one or the other for +/- 7 years).

          I really hadn't seen much of the meat and 3 "public" steam table set-up until I moved here, although oddly I saw a few in the Boston area.

          Scrumptiouschef makes it sound like these places aren't steam table, but I'll bet some are hidden away in the kitchen.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/401727

          1. re: Dax

            Dax
            I read and re-read the post to see if I referred to the cooking at my favorite soul food restaurants as "a la minute".

            Couldn't find any.

            But,you are correct.Steamtables are afoot at every soul food restaurant in Bham.What's more,in most of these joints the food quality doesn't decline appreciably from being prepared in the morning and served all day.Hell,Collards,Blackeyes,Green Beans,Smothered Pork et al probably get better as the day goes on.They're sitting there simmering in their juices,the flavors are building and I'm getting hungry right now just thinking about it.

            "A la minute" cooking is available at the original Green Acres Cafe where I recently dined and was summarily blown AWAY by how amazing the Fried Chicken and Fried Green Tomatoes were.

            It's not meat and 3 fare.It's a Fried Food house now which is fine.They drop the chow in the deep fat when you place the order and I can tell you as vaunted as Austin's food scene is we have nothing that's even close.

            My review from an earlier post: Best Fried Chicken-Best Fried Green Tomatoes.Birmingham Al

            I'm on the tail end of a three state Fried Chicken Wing eating frenzy and I'm circling through Northside Birmingham Alabama looking for the original Green Acres Cafe on 29th Ave North,the others are unaffiliated.

            Riding through the old neighborhoods north of downtown proper I'm amazed at how beautiful Birmingham is.The houses are enormous 3-4000 sf Craftsman style homes built in the 1900-1925 range.The lawns are neatly manicured and towering American Hardwoods are everywhere.If I lived in Bham this would be my neighborhood.

            I amble along until like magic Green Acres just sort of appears.It's changed considerably but is in the same location.A new brick facade provides the portal to the deliciousness I used to know and love.

            Walking in everything is new and different.New walls,new tables and new chairs.I say a silent prayer that the Gratton Family is still in charge.YES.I spot a familiar face and then another.I'm in the right spot.

            The joint is flat packed at 2 in the afternoon.Everybody's kicked back watching "Tougher than Leather"on the teevees and the sweet smell of frying chicken fills the air.I join the queue and a few minutes later here comes the chow.

            I ate lunch at Princes Hot Chicken yesterday so my bar is REALLY high right now for fried chicken.

            Green Acres does not disappoint.

            The 5 wings appear with a side of hand cut fries and two discs of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES.They're not even on the menu and instead serve as a sort of fried lagniappe.

            These are the best fried green tomatoes I've ever eaten.Ever.

            The wings are beautiful.Golden hued,juicy but crisp on the outside.I requested them salt and pepper style and that is the only seasoning they have or need.

            The crowd begins to clear out so I make my way to the jukebox,punch in some Whodini,Latimore,R Kelley and Earth Wind and Fire and rear back with an ice cold Miller Lite....yes,here comes the glow.The good food,the cold beer the friendly environment...it's all coming together for me once more in this old haven of goodness.I miss the $4 pitchers of Michelob from when Mr.Gratton himself ran the joint but I can't worry about that when Soulville Records and Tapes,the great old vinyl shop around the way is now a beauty supplies store!

            The humanity.

            Rolling down 1st ave North in Bham recently I noticed "Cafe on 1st",a tiny building with a menu visible through the window that looked great.Oxtails,Collards,Fried Pork Chops...the only thing missing was a Fried Baloney Sandwich with a green Kool Aid Chaser.

            Bhams Soul Food scene sounds like it's still pretty strong.I like Edge's words generally but I'd stack the 'ham up against any Southern towns Black folks vittles.

            No matter what,the next time I'm that way I'll be piledriving my way through one of the finest Southern breakfasts I've ever had at Cedar Post.

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              You're right, you didn't specifically say those places were serving made-to-order country cooking, I think I just assumed that based on the Green Acres post. But I somehow imagined it as a meat and 3; the other location I tried on 3rd or 4th ave north certainly is not.

              Still need to get to Cedar Post. I don't each much breakfast these days during the week and well weekends are reserved for sleeping in late.

              Thanks Scrumptiouschef.

              1. re: scrumptiouschef

                Reviving the thread.

                Hate to hear about Family Reunion Cafe's closing.

                Last years visit to Smokehouse was depressing.The Hadjidakis family were not in sight.I guess the legend has changed hands.The steam line looked pitiful.I walked down it and continued right on out the door.Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever happen.

                What's the current hot spot for a good meat and 3 under ten dollars in Bham?

        2. While I haven't been to all the places listed above, I'm going to have to put in a vote for Nikki's West. I will agree, although, I've always thought the sitting down and getting a drink from a waitress is an odd idea...

          But I'm going to have to say that I hope Birmingham is not the Mecca of Meat'n'Threes. It's not that you can't get good food here, I just don't think it's the best.

          The best meat'n'three I've been to is City Cafe in Northport/Tuscaloosa. Maybe I'm just pining for my undergraduate days but that place was awesome. The turnover was incredible. The specials (Chicken and Dressing day) were something to behold. Great fried green tomatoes and the service could haven't been better. No matter how thirsty you were, it was impossible to get your sweet tea past the half empty point. The waitresses there simply did not allow this.

          1. Update:

            Niki's downtown is aweful.

            I've been to Bogue's (Southside) at least 10 times and it's ok at best plus the guy surving is a Grumppopotamus (not unusual at a meat and 3).

            Does anyone make their own mashed potatoes any more or do all use potato pearls/instant? Maybe John's City Diner as I recall but they are kind of overstated meat and three.

            1. Trying to revive this old thread (and Central South Birmingham posts) but I finally tried Eagle's Restaurant by the Acipco plant today. It is tiny so I just grabbed some takeout. I went with the oxtails which is a giant serving for about $12 including 2 sides and cornbread. The oxtails in gravy were great, very tender, but still quite fatty/gelatinous as one would expect. Not for the faint of heart (literally). Collards were super chopped and tasted frozen while the rice and gravy went well with the oxtails. Speaking of which, that is one fat cow as some of the tail sections were gigantic. Now I need a nap.