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Meat and Threes


ludja
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Help settle a friendly wager for me!

Has the term “Meat and Three” been around for awhile, say pre-1980 or 1970 or is it a new term to describe these types of Southern restaurants? Also, if you know of the phrase from that time or earlier, in what part of the South was it being used?

A friend who grew up in Atlanta during the 1960’s-1980’s says he never heard the term and thinks it must be a newer phrase, perhaps one just propogated on the internet or via cookbooks.

Is this true or do people know of the phrase being using earlier, say, pre-1980? It would be especially interesting to hear comments from people that lived in Atlanta before or during this time period, but it would be great to hear comments from all.

I’m wondering if the phrase was used by local residents in only certain parts of the South at an earlier time and then maybe spread via internet or cookbooks to other regions.

Thank you very much! :smile:

As an aside, here a short description of a Southern "Meat 'n Three" by Varmint in a thread on naming your favorite meat 'n three meals.

I love southern "meat 'n' 3" restaurants.  These are the places where you choose from a variety of meats and then 3 different "vegetables."  I use the quotes around vegetables simply because it's more appropriate to call them sides, particularly when there's deviled eggs and macaroni and cheese on the list.

Another aside, I lived in Chapel Hill for 4-5 years, and happily ate at Meat and Three's and some cafeterias that served similar fare, but I did not hear the expression there in late 80's. This could be explained by the fact that many of the people I hung out with were not Southerners. I think I heard the epression for the first time on eGullet athough I've now noticed it in other stories, cookbooks and publications.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Born in Southwest Georgia in 1963, and while they did not advertise themselves as such, I think that was what the general public referred to them as - for as long as I can remember.

I think it comes from cafeteria style dining - Morrison's and Davis Brothers - in which you had a choice of meat and 3 sides as a price point on the menu. You could also go a meat and 2.

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Help settle a friendly wager for me! 

Has the term “Meat and Three” been around for awhile, say pre-1980 or 1970 or is it a new term to describe these types of Southern restaurants?  Also, if you know of the phrase from that time or earlier, in what part of the South was it being used?

A friend who grew up in Atlanta during the 1960’s-1980’s says he never heard the term and thinks it must be a newer phrase, perhaps one just propogated on the internet or via cookbooks. 

Is this true or do people know of the phrase being using earlier, say, pre-1980? It would be especially interesting to hear comments from people that lived in Atlanta before or during this time period, but it would be great to hear comments from all. 

I’m wondering if the phrase was used by local residents in only certain parts of the South at an earlier time and then maybe spread via internet or cookbooks to other regions.

Thank you very much!  :smile:

As an aside, here a short description of a Southern "Meat 'n Three" by Varmint in a thread on naming your favorite meat 'n three meals.

I love southern "meat 'n' 3" restaurants.  These are the places where you choose from a variety of meats and then 3 different "vegetables."  I use the quotes around vegetables simply because it's more appropriate to call them sides, particularly when there's deviled eggs and macaroni and cheese on the list.

Another aside, I lived in Chapel Hill for 4-5 years, and happily ate at Meat and Three's and some cafeterias that served similar fare, but I did not hear the expression there in late 80's. This could be explained by the fact that many of the people I hung out with were not Southerners. I think I heard the epression for the first time on eGullet athough I've now noticed it in other stories, cookbooks and publications.

I'll bet if anyone has the answer they're probably to be found here:

http://www.meatandthree.com/

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Thanks for your reminiscences, annecros! That is an interesting point regarding the cafeterias. If back in the 60's and 70's, "meat and three" food was primarily found in cafeterias maybe they weren't typically called "meat and threes" then but just rather cafeterias.

Thanks much for the link, ChefCarey; it looks like a great directory of meat and three's. I may try emailing the people who run the site and see if they can shed some light on my question.

Where are all our southerners?

I need more personal testimonials and opinions on this topic. I just saw a flock of people on the Southern Hors D'oeuvres thread, so I know there are still some Southerners participating on the boards. I'm just interested about your personal stories regarding "meat and threes" and if you called them that and when.

(By looking at the site ChefCarey linked to I learned that one the thriving centers of meat and threes is Memphis.)

Thank you!

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Where are all our southerners? 

I need more personal testimonials and opinions on this topic.  I just saw a flock of people on the Southern Hors D'oeuvres thread, so I know there are still some Southerners participating on the boards.  I'm just interested about your personal stories regarding "meat and threes" and if you called them that and when.

Well, okay, here's one of them.

I recall my uncle (who was a truck driver, and so ate in a lot of divey sorts of places) using the term "meat and three" on occasion back in the late 1960s. He also used the term "cafe" to refer to small roadside restaurants, and to my aunt's enduring shame once gave a set of her cast off curtains (that he'd been instructed to take to the dump, I believe) to one in Galax, VA, where they lived. So everytime we drove by this restaurant (whose door my aunt had most certainly never darkened) things got very tense in the car, as we all knew the story about the curtains.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Meat and three was a term used in restaurants in the 40s, in Paducah, KY, Memphis, TN, and Stuttgart, Arkansas which were cities that I remember having these meals in family restaurants.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I just got this response from John T. Edge, who knows a little about Southern food:

The best explanation I've heard was from Hap Townes of Nashville, whose father was the grand ol man of the business. He told me the term originated from the honor system by which bills were paid in such places: As in you walk up to the register after you eat and say "I had a meat-and-three."

Makes sense to me.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I just got this response from John T. Edge, who knows a little about Southern food:

The best explanation I've heard was from Hap Townes of Nashville, whose father was the grand ol man of the business. He told me the term originated from the honor system by which bills were paid in such places: As in you walk up to the register after you eat and say "I had a meat-and-three."

Makes sense to me.

Does that imply that there used to be other choices? I mean, could you have ordered a "meat-and-two." Why didn't people just say they had the "special"?

I'm not sure I find the "honor system" explanation real convincing. (Although most origin story of popular terms often seem like folk myths.)

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Just one more data point: I grew up in Memphis and started going to a few of these in high school (especially Buntyn's), but I didn't start hearing the phrase "meat and three" until a few years ago. I still haven't actually seen it in a restaurant, but I don't live there anymore, so my meat-and-three experiences are mere annual events at this point.

I wasn't much of a vegetable eater back then. For me, the more resonant expression would have been meat-and-biscuits. Or meat-and-mashed.

Susan

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Where are all our southerners? 

II know there are still some Southerners participating on the boards.  I'm just interested about your personal stories regarding "meat and threes" and if you called them that and when.

(By looking at the site ChefCarey linked to I learned that one the thriving centers of meat and threes is Memphis.)

Thank you!

I guess I would qualify as one.

Elite (pronounced E-Light) Cafe, Clarksdale, MS. Memories only---don't know if it's still in existence. Website of Morgan Freeman's Madidi seems to place it on about the same piece of real estate.

Heavy crockery dishes, some with the actual dividers scrolled into the plates, though no dam could hold back all that dumplin' gravy or pot likker. Slabs of pink juicy ham, two crisp chunks of fried chicken, beef and gravy, liver and onions---any and all appeared from day to day, with hearty low-cooked vegetables, as well as mac and cheese and cornbread dressing, both listed in the vegetable column (along with several kinds of jello, most involving canned peaches, marshmallows, or both).

Round Table, Columbia, MS---though that one would qualify as a meat 'n' twelve. Tables seat about ten or twelve, with plates set on the perimeter. You sit with whoever's there, catch a bowl or platter as it spins past you, help yourself, and try to find a setting-down place for it next time around, so you can pick up another dish. Super food, lovely proprietors---two ladies who own and supervise; not an immaculate curl out of place, and pristine dresses creased just SO as they sit down, take a sip of their 40-weight tea, and speak toward the kitchen: "Mighty good tea today, Margrit!"

I tried to imagine the life they must live, just supervising all those wonderful cooks every day---I thought of them as waking to their coffee, reading the Jackson Daily Ledger in their silky robes, then dressing, stockings rolled just below their knees, and drifting downstairs to take in the delicious aromas and the serene temper of the white-draped dining rooms, ready to receive their guests with the aplomb and ease of royalty.

A sign says "Please take only one meat" but the vegetables pour out like manna from the kitchen; when the bowls get a bit low, they are replaced immediately, with the same or an equally delicious side dish. People come in, sit down, and begin from the beginning. I seem to remember going to the sideboard for your dish of pie or banana pudding.

Blue And White---Tunica, MS

This adjunct to a "filling station" has a long and illustrious history in the Delta. It has long featured wonderful food, a smalltown-cafe atmosphere, and take-no-prisoners waitresses whose approach was heralded by the crisp whisk of stiff nylon dresses, and whose training in waitress-ship must have included courses in deep-sigh, toe-tap, glass-clunkdown, brusque answers, and perfect memory of who-had-what. Usual meats---phenomenal threes. And PIE. Speak not of pie til you've had theirs.

I wonder how the B&W fares these days---Tunica has become a suburb of Memphis since the advent of all the casinos and enough blacktop to pave O'Hare. I like to imagine it's still there, still filled with families and farmers at lunchtime, all having a good hot noon dinner of ham and greens and cornbread, with a nice slice of sweet onion on a teensy plate at the side.

And in another little factory town, a seventies memory of another little caffay, part of another service station, whose proprietor served a 1.50 lunch of meat, three, dessert, and rolls you had to stand up and reach for as they floated away. Ladies usually ordered the "hafe-lunch" (owner's accent) of a small serving of meat, very slightly reduced portions of the threes, a roll, and a half-slice of pie---75 cents.

Neither factory nor cafe exist anymore, and the town is almost gone as well, melted into that good black Delta gumbo with the rain and sun.

It's amazing that I remember any of these from childhood---I do not think I ever looked at a menu until I was a teenager. My order was always the same: a hamburger, served the way everybody served it: mustard, onion, and a couple of slices of tongue-curling dill pickle. We had burgers at home, patted round and fried in a skillet, sometimes on Wonder Bread, sometimes on buns. But a burger with a grilled patty, slice of too-orange cheese laid on to droop down its corners whilst the two bun halves crisp-sizzled in the who-knows-how-old grease---now THAT was a sandwich.

And a dear friend asked me to lunch one day, down in her area---she said to allow time for the drive, and extra for lunch, of course. She also mentioned I was in for an "adventure." Had she mentioned the name of the place, I might have been mildly apprehensive, I of the backroads and thickets and acres of woods to stroll and drive, but not until we traversed several gravel roads and a quite rickety bridge and arrived at "Booger Holler" did she even hint at the nature of the "restaurant."

We walked up shiny-smooth wooden steps, into a flappy screendoor, and past little shelves with a few loaves of bread, a pint or two of mayonnaise, some big jars of fat pink smoke-sausage. She paid our four-dollar fee, we were handed a large flap-top takeout styrofoam container, and we walked down a little hallway. On the stove were four or five pots, and we were to just lift the lids and use the big spoons and ladles to help ourselves. A young man obligingly creaked open the wide oven door and dispensed biscuits or cornbread; we were made free to make a choice from the two tubs of canned K-Mart drinks embedded in the coldest icy water in history.

There were a couple of shaky picnic tables out under the shadetrees; their only accoutrements consisted of a tin can of plastic forks, one of knives, and a stack of napkins held down by a smooth rock. A jar of homemade wasptail peppersauce in a Tabasco bottle, along with matching clean, dry bottle filled with toothpicks, sat handy. We washed our hands at an outdoor faucet set over a ring of bricks, dried our hands from the spindle-roll of paper towels. We sat with the other lunchers, joined in the feasting and the conversation, and heard about hunting and crops and the newest news from the political pages. I remember that meal for its surprising simplicity, its well-prepared and rustically-served food, and the ease with which we were welcomed into that shabby little combination of store/home/restaurant. And all the men at table had removed their hats.

So there you go---never ask a Southerner unless you REALLY want to know.

Edited by racheld (log)
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