I was talking to a friend the other day and I mentioned my recent meal at a meat-and-three. Being a transplanted Yankee she never had the exquisite privilege of eating at one and I had to explain what it was. (I was patient with her, but frankly if you’re going to live in the South you really should learn the language.)
She proceeded to name some chain restaurant, thinking it was an example of meat-and-three, and I bowed up and said, “No! A meat-and-three is never a chain. That’s blasphemous.”
Our conversation made me realize a meat-and-three can’t be easily explained in a couple of sentences. So for all you carpet baggers out there, I offer a Meat-and-Three Primer.
A meat-and-three is most often a low-slung structure with a rusty corrugated roof situated on some back road. Typically there’s a portable sign outside and it adds authenticity if a few letters are missing or creative spelling is used (Peech pie or fried oakre). Expect to see at least six pick-up trucks in the parking lot. (Extra points if the lot is dirt.)
Many meat-and-threes are named after a woman, but it has to be an old-timey name like Edna or Willa Mae. You need to be able to imagine her in the kitchen covered in White Lily flour, fingers gnarled from patting out a lifetime of biscuits. (Trust me. You don’t want to be eating biscuits baked by some young upstart named Amber.)
The decor of the place is important. A black-and-white photo of John Wayne is de rigueur, especially if it’s the one where he’s wearing an eye patch. An element of kitsch is also critical. Meat-and-threes most always have a rooster motif (or some other barnyard animal) and rely heavily on gingham. Patriotic and religious items should also be on display and all flowers must be fake.
Once inside folks perch their backsides on a stool or park themselves in a booth. (There’s rarely a hostess.)
The menu, which is always sheathed in plastic, will feature a selection of fried meats and vegetables. (Note to vegetarians: There’s nothing for you to eat except maybe the fake flowers.) Biscuits, cornbread or hoe cakes come with the feast, and the tea will be very sweet. (They test it on possums and if their teeth fall out, it’s just right.)
The waitress will also be sweet, unless you ask her if the meat is responsible (heck, no) and then you’ll never see her again. She will shower you with endearments and say, “Holler if you need me.” (Don’t take her literally.)
Always order dessert because it’s probably homemade. When you’re done stuffing yourself, you will make the waitress happy if you say something authentically Southern like, “I’m full as a tick.”
Finally never ever talk about calories. Instead follow the advice of a framed homily I saw hanging in a local meat-and-three: “Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.”
This article appears in the August-September 2015 issue of Augusta Magazine.