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Cornmeal-fried tilapia with collard greens, Mimi's jalapeño cornbread, mac 'n' cheese and pickled tomatoes (photo by Sarah Walor)
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Javier Cordero and Reem Alarain (photo by Sarah Walor)
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A child's meat and three meal: grilled salmon with green beans, mashed potatoes and a biscuit (photo by Sarah Walor)
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Will's Deviled Eggs (photo by Sarah Walor)
I grew up in small-town Virginia, a state that touts its Southern-ness more ferociously than, say, Alabama, as if proximity to the Mason-Dixon line calls legitimacy into question. Suffice to say, I am very familiar with the “meat and three” concept, a Southern staple not meant to be glamorous or crafty; it’s meant to nourish the body and soul with a massive plate of hot, affordable food. My favorite hometown meat and three was called Clarence’s, and I used to obliterate a chicken-fried steak with gravy, black-eyed peas, stewed collards and hush puppies weekly. Neither my high school table manners nor the slopped-in-bowls approach to plating were pretty, but damn, it was good.
Talley’s Meat & Three is brought to the West End by way of restaurateurs Josh and Jessica Bufford, also owners of Toast and Hutch Bar + Eatery. It takes the meat and three concept and environment to new heights: Beyond a sizable array of meats, veggies, sides and breads, it offers an appetizer selection as well as a range of sandwiches and salads. It also takes care of children of all ages with two different kids’ menus, since a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old tend to eat differently. The space itself is modern and cozy with its hand-lettering, dark paint and well-appointed lighting; it’s a very pleasant spot to get a meal.
Just like Clarence’s, no one item is life-changing, but each meal as a whole leaves you feeling satisfied. One drawback at Talley’s, though, is a phenomenon I see more and more frequently in restaurants: Every single side is packed with rich flavor, to a fault — the palate craves an occasional break. The ultra-tangy, tomato-laced collard greens, while in some ways fantastic, is typically a dish I would look to for a reprieve from fatty, flavorful elements like braised meats and mac ’n’ cheese. But Talley’s intense vinegar punch takes it just over the edge, and I noticed myself only taking a bite here and there. The same goes for the creamed corn and mashed potatoes, which, in spite of their creaminess, could have been finessed into a more buoyant break from assertive flavors and heaviness. The only bright, light side I sampled was the green beans, which were nicely steamed but unadorned.
Proteins devoured included the smoked chicken wings; fried shrimp; grilled salmon; smoked turkey breast with gravy; and smoked brisket with Cheerwine sauce, and that’s the order in which I’d eat them again, were I to return. Apple-bourbon chutney is a lovely accompaniment for chicken wings, their skins perfectly crisp and caramelized, cracking like the top of crème brûlée when bitten. A light fry on tender, sweet shrimp made for easy eating, and the well-seasoned salmon had a beautifully translucent, gem-pink center. The smoked turkey and the brisket suffered from the same ailments: a bit dry, a bit tough and more than a bit over-salted. Surprisingly, Cheerwine did not make its delightful, cherry-tinged appearance at all during the consumption of the brisket. But Talley’s can make a deviled egg. Candied bacon beckons from atop creamy, fluffy yolk, and both capers and shallots sharpen up the sweetness. The kitchen doesn’t overdo the grit-to-cheese ratio on its cheese grits; they’re particularly good with the grilled fish of the day or salmon. And any menu containing three kinds of cornbread — regular, jalapeño, gluten-free — is going to win my heart, whether it conquers every last taste bud or not.
Your plan of attack at Talley’s should be building a balanced plate, and getting your kids to eat vegetables. Prices could be a bit lower; $17 for a few smallish slices of turkey, three sides and bread isn’t highway robbery, though considering many sides are simple iterations of cheaper veggies, it’s also not an amazing deal. But then again, the quality of the preparation is a notch or two higher than your average meat and three. Because this is what I grew up eating, I’ll definitely be back. And I’d say there’s a pretty good chance you’ll go back, too.
2.5 out of 4 forks
Talley’s Meat & Three
7021 Three Chopt Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Prices: $5 to $18