Mindy’s Meat Plus Three: Serious Eating Southern Style

It must be a Southern thing because I’d never heard of Meat Plus Three, aka M&3, until my friend Mindy Bianca shared with me six restaurants–three in Mobile, Alabama and three in Spartanburg, South Carolina where a meat-centered meal (think fried chicken, catfish, or ribs) comes with three sides.

“By my calculations, that’s six meats and 18 sides,” says Mindy, who used what she calls Mindy Math to come up with that number. “And goodness knows how many gallons of iced tea.”

Nothing Fancy

Now don’t go looking up M&3 because Google will take you to either an ad for a very fancy BMW or a bunch of three-star Michelin restaurants. Now as wonderful as M&3s are, you’re not going to find serious looking people taking little bites of fancy looking food, chewing slowly and then writing notes in leather bound notebooks. If you see that, you’re not in a M&3 restaurant. How do you know? Because anyone at a M&3 is going to be chowing down big time. And if they have to write something down, they do it on a napkin. I mean, we’re talking seriously down-home cooking and just as seriously delicious.

Alabama

MOBILE, ALABAMA

Mama’s on Dauphin

22o Dauphin Street

            Mama’s is a fixture in downtown Mobile, a popular spot for local businesspeople on their lunch breaks and visitors checking out the nearby attractions. The restaurant truly believes in supporting other small businesses, so they source their produce from local farmers markets and gear their menus to the seasons. If you want to get real serious about all this, Mindy says that technically, Mama’s is a meat and two, as each entrée comes with just two sides. But she’s giving Mama’s a pass because  a lot of those proteins automatically get mashed potatoes and gravy with them/

            “That’s why Mama’s makes it to my list of M&3’s,” she says, noting that her pick here is their Meatloaf Monday with  mashed taters as part of the entrée. “I suggest adding squash casserole and fried okra as the other sides.

Mindy’s Pro Tip: Order an entrée that comes with mashed potatoes … because you still get two other sides!

The Noble South

203 Dauphin Street

            Right down the street from Mama’s, The Noble South is an upscale meat and three, which is an entirely new concept. Afterall, part of the charm of a M&3 are uneven legs on your table or chair (that’s easily fixable by slipping in some sugar packets under the too short leg and yes, sugar packets are another sign of M&3s), cracked linoleum floors—those aren’t fixable with sugar packets so just go with the ambience, or flatware and glassware that doesn’t match. Yelling from the kitchen also counts. So seeing white tablecloths at The Noble South at dinner time was a little off. Could it really be an M&3?

            Turns out that  Chef/Owner Chris Rainosek has the concept down pat. He offers a “lunch plate” with a changing selection of proteins comes with a choice of one, two or three sides. Of course, all is fresh whether it’s from local farms or the Gulf of Mexico. You do know that Mobile is on the Gulf, right?

            Chris changes the menu all the time and everything is good but if fried catfish with sides of heirloom tomatoes, cucumber salad and creamer peas are being offered when you stop by, go for it.

Meat Boss

5401 Cottage Hill Road

            This meat and three is a bit unconventional, as it’s a mashup of the standard M&3 and a BBQ joint. But don’t judge. You can still do a meat and three … just know that all the meat is smoked in-house and totally cuttable with just a fork. Or, better yet, pulled apart with your fingers.

             There’s a six-step process here which can be a little complicated, but you can figure it out. After all, I did and I’m really bad at math.

            First you pick your meat, followed by your bread, sauce, basic toppings, the amazing sides, and your drink. Here’s an example: beef brisket with that Alabama specialty–white BBQ sauce—recipe follows), cheddar cheese,  sides of slaw, Boss beans, and potato salad; and sweet tea to drink.

            It’s really worth the work of figuring out.

South Carolina

SPARTANBURG COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA

Wade’s Restaurant

1000 N. Pine Street, Spartanburg

            This is the quintessential meat and three and an absolute legend in South Carolina’s Upstate. Wade and Betty Lindsay opened a small grocery store on this site in 1947 and by the 1970s it had become a full-fledged meat and three. Wade’s is known far and wide for its fried chicken but the chicken pot pie is wonderful and not something you typically find at a M&3. Whether you go for the pot pie or the chicken, you definitely have to order the sweet potato souffle. And since carbs don’t count when you’re on the road, go with the navy beans and creamed corn. Then comes another hard choice—corn bread or yeast rolls. I know, it’s tough. But keep in mind that Wade’s serves some 3500 yeast rolls a day. That’s how good there are.

Mustard Seed BBQ

2000 S.J. Workman Highway, Woodruff

            When you get  outside of Spartanburg, don’t bother with a map. Just follow the aroma of a wood burning smoker coming from the direction of tiny Woodruff. There’s not much to see at Mustard Seed BBQ—it’s just a little  building with a big parking lot. But it’s home to a BBQ/Meat and Many (think Meat Boss in Mobile). The restaurant hosts their famous Soul Food Sunday Buffet. There’s no limit to the number of sides you can get or how many refills you can ask for. and the standard BBQ menu expands to include fried chicken and fish as well as such favorites as mac and cheese, collards, and banana pudding.

 Just don’t be shy. No one’s really counting and if they are, well—you’re just passing through, they won’t see you again.

Charlene’s Home Cooking

1136 E. Blackstock, Moore

            On your world tour of meat and threes, stop by Charlene’s on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. But don’t mix up the days,  because she’s not open the other three days of the week. All in all, that’s probably good news as otherwise we’d have to hit the gym even more often. Charlene and Mike Davis use recipes from Charlene’s family headed by matriarch Ma Bessie. You just got to know she knows how to cook. The restaurant claims, “soul food just like Grandma’s” and I’m totally into that. But just for the record—and honesty’s sake–MY grandma, after raising six kids, never cooked again so what do I know about Grandma’s cooking but  she did take up drinking and the occasional cigarette but you get the idea). If Charlene were my grandma, though, I certainly would want seconds, no make that thirds of heaping helpings of her fried seafood platter along with sides of fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas and yum-yippity yams.

Duke’s Mayonnaise

Lolly’s Alabama White BBQ Sauce–Alabama White Sauce

Still made using Eugenia Duke’s original recipe dating back to 1917, Duke’s is the Southern king of mayonnaise. Eugenia, who lived in Greenville, South Carolina, made sandwiches in her home kitchen and sold them to army canteens during World War I. They were such a hit that even years later soldiers were still writing to Eugenia asking for her sandwich recipes and jars of her mayonnaise. So in 1923, she started putting it in a bottle and it remains a favorite to this day. Note to Northerners who can’t find Duke’s at the grocery store. You can order it or substitute Hellmann’s. The tastes are slightly different but it works.

  • 1 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • 2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish
  • 1 tsp. ground mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. white sugar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Additional pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Pour over grilled or smoked chicken or use as a dip or dressing.

ZYDECO, GUMBO, AND CAJUN HERITAGE: IT’S ALL PART OF THE CAJUN BAYOU FOOD TRAIL

Follow the Cajun Bayou Food Trail: A REAL Taste of Louisiana Cajun Country

Just 45 minutes from New Orleans, the Cajun Bayou Food Trail is a journey through the heart of Lafourche Parish and the ultimate road trip for those wanting to explore Louisiana’s food scene. Known as the Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, this region of the state takes its culinary delights so seriously that the name Lafourche is French for the fork. While some will explain, patiently, the term is a geographical reference to a split in the  Mississippi River, we’re thinking that any place with a name synonymous with an eating utensil surely knows its way around a menu.

So grab your car keys and your sunglasses—but you won’t need to bring your own Lafourche as any place on the parish’s Cajun Bayou Food Trail have their own—and hit the road. There are currently 18 restaurants on the trail including the recently added Cinclare Southern Bistro.

“We’re thrilled to be included on the Louisiana Cajun Bayou Food Trail,” says Michael Dalmau, the owner of Cinclare Southern Bistro. “The restaurants that span this historic waterway might be different in what they do and how they do it but know this …. they all do it well. In South Louisiana – and especially up and down the Bayou – feeding and serving friends and family is not only what we do to pass a good time, but it’s how we show our love and support. It’s part of our DNA and that’s why we’re so good at it.”

All the stops on the trail feature authentic food accompanied by the unparalleled Southern hospitality.

According to my friend Mindy Bianca, chefs down this way tell how their favorite recipes feature the finest local ingredients along with a true love of their surroundings and heritage. The latter means treating guests the same as family–well, almost, you don’t have to clean up after dinner like you would at your mom’s. All this makes navigating the Cajun Bayou Food Trail an unparalleled culinary and travel experience.

The lives of the people of Lafourche Parish are fully intertwined with the bodies of water that are accessible throughout the region, most notably Bayou Lafourche, a 100-mile waterway that bisects the parish, and the Gulf of Mexico. Residents of the area view the Bayou and Gulf as their personal pantries, finding seafood and other delicacies within and along their waters. If you live here, you’re most likely not going to get kicked you out of the parish for not knowing how to whip up a tasty gumbo (though we can’t promise that’s true) but fortunately most if not all figure it out from an early age using recipes passed down through the  generations. That’s why those following the trail get to taste dishes authentic traditional foods that are part of the Parish’s gastronomic heritage–prepared and served as they have been for as long as some can remember. But that doesn’t mean some chefs don’t do their own riff with added ingredients or other ways to make them uniquely their own.

Celebrating not only the restaurants and local food purveyors that honor the culinary customs of the region, the parish also hosts six festivals and events dedicated to honoring and preserving its distinctive traditions. Think La Fete Des Vieux Temps in Raceland, Louisiana

Calling it a cultural gumbo, Mindy says that “restaurants lean toward plenty of fresh seafood and run the gamut from mom-and-pop operations to sophisticated dining rooms.

“The unifying element is that whether it’s fried shrimp at Spahr’s, a restaurant that now has three locations and that has been a staple here for more than 50 years, or an elegant and savory alligator-and-andouille sausage cheesecake appetizer at Kincare, which offers craft beverages and a more upscale dining experience in the heart of downtown Thibodaux, your meal is going to be both delicious and memorable.”

Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to pick up a Food Trail passport and map from any of the participating restaurants or download it from this website, then eat their way through the parish. Collect enough passport stamps and you’ll earn your way into a comfy Food Trail T-shirt. Trust us and order one size larger before hitting the trail. In these ever-changing and unpredictable times, requirements for completing a passport have been modified and the Food Trail can now be experienced more “virtually,” meaning that participating Trail restaurants offer curbside service.

For more information about the dining scene in Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, to download your passport and map, or to check out some pictures and start dreaming of crawfish and crabs, gumbo and gator, please visit http://www.lacajunbayou.com. The local businesses up and down the Bayou are ready to fill up your plate and offer you a lafourche to use.  

Other places to dine include Rose’s Cafe, Holly Marie’s Seafood Market in Raceland, Punch’s Seafood Market in Lockport, Harry’s Poboys in Larose, Politz’s in Thibodeaux, Cher-Aimee’s in Cutoff, and C. Moran’s in Golden Meadow.

What to Do in Lafourche Parish

You can’t eat all the time, right? In between meals check out some or all of the following stops:

Swamp Tours

Described as an otherworldly experience, like time travel into the state’s prehistoric past by  touring Lafourche Parish’s swamplands. Tour options includes the 2 Da Swamp Bayou Tours & Museum trips to Bayou Des Allemands with traditional Cajun music, and museum displays of artifacts Des Allemands’ early years. Airboat Tours by Arthur Matherne, open seasonally, is a high-octane thrill rides on its fleet of airboats. Torres Cajun Swamp Tours’ guides takes visitor the history and ecology of wetlands’ Bayou Boeuf.

 E.D. White Historic Site

The White family was once among the Louisiana’s political elite. Patriarch Edward Douglas White was the state’s governor in the 1830s; his son and namesake became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the 1890s. The elder White’s home is now a Louisiana State Museum site and is a step back into the past showcasing the state’s history. Built from cypress in the Creole Plantation style in 1825, White purchased the home, re-imaging it as a Greek Revival mansion. Learn about the White family, the history of both the home’s history along with that of Chitimacha Indians and Cajun settlers, sugar plantation owners and the slaves that worked the fields in service of them by taking a tour of the E.D. White Historic Site in Thibodaux.

Restaurants in Thibodaux

Thibodaux’s restaurants and fresh markets reflect the local culture and cuisine. Top-rated restaurant spots include Fremin’s Restaurant, where you can take in the architecture of Thibodaux’s downtown area. The food is prepared with a view into the kitchen and the duck-and-andouille gumbo is like heaven in a bowl. Head to Off the Hook, a down-home spot with awesome po-boys, fried seafood and more gumbo! And try something different at the Cajun Potato Kitchen, a quirky and casual restaurant serving huge baked potatoes loaded with Cajun toppings. It’s fun and different and popular with the university crowd.  Get a full list of locals’ favorite restaurants.

Bayou Country Children’s Museum

You’d be hard pressed to find another museum in the U.S.—or really anywhere—that’s a Cajun-themed children’s museum. At Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux brings together Cajun history, education and fun, making it a great stop for family fun. Here children can play on a full-size sugar harvester, toss beads from a Mardi Gras float, climb aboard a shrimp boat and more.

Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building

The wetlands flowing through Southern Louisianna are a distinct part of Lafourche Parish where more than 100 miles of bayou meander throughout the parish. The Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building, located in Lockport is the place to learn how traditional Cajun boats were constructed, including their iconic pirogue boats and flat-bottomed vessels known locally as putt-putts that once common in the region’s bayous.

Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center

Part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve in Thibodaux, the center’s mission is to preserve Cajun tradition and offers such programs as their free Cajun music jam sessions every Monday afternoon, a Cajun-French meetup on Tuesdays, historical Thibodaux walking tours and boat tours of Bayou Lafourche. While there, stop at the Center’s museum store, which has Cajun music recordings, crafts and books for sale.

America’s Wetland Birding Trail

The trail, made up of 22 parishes includes Lafourche which is part of the Grand Isle Loop. The loop includes sections of Louisiana’s best-known barrier island as well as inland birding destinations teeming with shorebirds and seabirds. Download more information about the Grand Isle Loop on the Wetland Birding Trail.

Charter Fishing

Here are both a full list of charter boat companies in the area as well as saltwater fishing in Louisiana.

Bayou Lafourche Folklife and Heritage Museum

Located in a 1910 bank building in Lockport, , enjoy learning about the area’s fascinating history.

Mardi Gras in Lafourche Parish

They really know how to celebrate the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day or as it is also known—Fat Tuesday. Typically there are more than a dozen parades roll through the towns of Golden Meadow, Galliano, Larose, as well as the parish seat of Thibodaux. Learn more about the parade schedules.

Shrimp and Tasso Pasta

Recipe courtesy of Bourgeois Meat Market, a stop on the Cajun Bayou Culinary Trail

1 lb. Bourgeois Tasso

2 lb. shrimp

1 large onion

1 large bell pepper

1 talk of celery

1 can Rotel

1 qt. heavy whipping cream

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 bag bow tie pasta

Boil Bourgeois Tasso in a pot with just a little water until tender.

Add onion, celery, bell pepper, Rotel, and shrimp and smother down.

Add heavy whipping cream and let mixture come to a rolling boil.

Lower fire and add cheese to thicken.

Combine with cooked pasta and serve.

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