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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.