Southern through and through, meat-and-three refers to a meal comprising one serving of meat (or fish) and three side servings of vegetables—which in the lower U.S. includes mac-and-cheese, FYI—plus cornbread or a dinner roll. It is not known where, exactly, the meat-and-three tradition began, but it is a fact that these types of eateries are a staple of Nashville eating. It’s cheap, filling, down-home cooking, and a wonderful way to sample a wide variety of Southern food, reflecting both the West African food traditions brought to the region by slaves and the country food of (mostly) white farmers. Prepare to unbuckle those pants!
Where: The simple dining room of Sylvan Park restaurant (2209 Abbott Martin Rd.) makes an appropriate setting for hearty, low-cost Southern fare, served here on plastic partitioned plates by a hospitable, mostly female staff. The rotating menu is small but offers a good variety of choices: You can often find meats like fried or BBQ chicken, country ham, meatloaf, roast beef, and catfish, and sides including collard greens, stewed apples, fried okra, mac-and-cheese, mashed turnips, and green beans. It’s deservedly famed for its pies and puddings, which the ladies are not shy about insisting you try.
Eds’ note: Sylvan Park has unfortunately closed since we last visited. Please see our alternatives for more ideas.
Order: A meat-and-three runs $7.99 here (vegetarians have the option of ordering four vegetable sides as a meal for $6.05). If available, the lightly fried catfish—crispy outside, moist inside—is terrific with a squeeze of lemon and shake of hot sauce from the table. For sides, we loved the savory turnip greens, creamy mac-and-cheese, and fried eggplant, which was akin to ridiculously tasty seasoned fries made of eggplant. You get a choice of dense corn bread or a yeasty, pillowy dinner roll; we have to say the latter wins here. And it’s only appropriate to wash everything down with sweet tea, of which there are free refills.
For dessert? Try the sinfully sweet, moist chess pie; the classic banana pudding, thickened by hunks of banana and vanilla wafers; or the infamous chocolate pie—one of the restaurant’s several meringue pies, which stack a layer of foamy meringue atop a pudding-like base, rich chocolate in this case.
Alternatively: The weekday-lunch-only Arnold’s Country Kitchen (615-256-4455; 605 8th Ave. South, map), which won an “America’s Classic” James Beard award in 2009, places a high premium on fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch; the cafeteria-style restaurant is rightly celebrated for its meat-and-threes, especially its roast beef, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and chocolate pie. The vintage-y Elliston Place Soda Shop (615-327-1090; 2111 Elliston Pl., map) is another good bet for meat-and-three, with plenty of 1950s diner nostalgia and excellent milkshakes to boot.
Less traditional for its family-style ways but serving all the usual—and very delicious—meat-and-three fixings is the highly recommended Monell’s (multiple locations including 1235 6th Ave. North, map; see also: family-style Southern food); its “express” café at 2826 Bransford St. (map) offers a more typical meat-and-three experience. See this list for more meat-and-three joints in Tennessee, including Nashville.