Three’s Company

Virginia’s meat-and-three restaurants recall Southern culinary tradition and pride of place.

The meat-and-three is exactly what it sounds like: diners choose their main meat, usually from options such as barbecue, ribs, fish or meatloaf, along with three quintessentially Southern sides—think bowls of collard greens, hot buttery cornbread and heaps of baked mac and cheese. The meat-and-three is a hallmark of Southern-style eateries, at once announcing a restaurant’s sub-Mason-Dixon-ness and exciting patrons’ expectations for home-style taste.

In Winchester, chef Brian Pellatt leads the way in Southern comfort food at Bonnie Blue.

“We try to hit as much of the South as we can,” Pellatt says. “[Co-founder] Christian Schweiger’s from Texas, I’m from North Carolina. I grew up a little bit south of Ashland, and that was the prime area for pulled pork and coleslaw—we try to keep that as close as we can.”

The Bonnie Blue lunch and dinner menus feature classic mains, including five-bone ribs, fried catfish, pulled pork and Texas beef brisket. Patrons of Bonnie Blue choose two sides from an offering of potato salad, slaw, pinto beans and other sides, and cornbread rounds out the plate as only good Southern cornbread can do. “Cornbread gives balance to everything— it’s what pulls it together,” Pellatt explains.

Pellatt takes pride in knowing his food’s heritage and how the meat-and-three came to be.

“It started as something for people who were working everyday, who needed strength and sustenance and energy. You have to feed your body,” says Pellatt. “Initially it came from what you were able to offer up that came out of the ground. If there’s refrigerator transportation, or you had a hog farm nearby, you could make collard greens and brisket and everything like that.”

Although the restaurant is growing, Pellatt is committed to Southern flavor. “We’ve kind of expanded our repertoire,” he says, “but we’re definitely Southern based. We do a lot of South Carolina—we do an incredible shrimp and grits. We do catfish and Friday fish fry out of Mississippi. We do Maryland crab.” But Pellatt’s favorite meat-and-three hearkens to his childhood in Ashland: “Bonnie Blue’s smoked pulled pork, the coleslaw from my youth and collard greens with a big slab of buttered cornbread.”

In 2015, husband and wife team Josh and Jessica Bufford opened Talley’s Meat & Three in Richmond.

“My husband and I are both from the South,” shares Jessica. “I grew up in North Carolina and he spent most summers in Dalton, Georgia on his great-grandpa Talley’s farm. Meat-and-three style eating is what we grew up on and still enjoy eating today.”

Talley’s mains include Cheerwine-smoked brisket, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, fried shrimp and a tomato pie made from locally grown tomatoes, an option Jessica pronounces “a winner.” Diners choose from two or three sides, including apple coleslaw, cheddar grits and deviled eggs, along with a choice of bread.

The inspiration for Talley’s food comes from childhoods past. “My grandpa was a meat and potatoes kind of guy,” says Jessica. “We shared meals around the dinner table almost every night of the week.” Josh had similar experiences with his great-grandfather and the restaurant’s namesake, Talley, and many of the restaurant’s menu items are based on recipes from his grandmother, Mimi. “You can’t forget Mimi’s jalapeño cornbread!” Josh says.

Jessica believes the best of the meat-and-three tradition goes far beyond the food itself.

“There’s so much more to sharing a meal than just eating,” she says. “Food should fill your stomach, heart and soul.” BonnieBlue.us, TalleysRVA.com

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