Perhaps you know what day your favorite local restaurant features lima beans on the menu as the vegetable special, or when the chocolate layer cake is destined to make an appearance. If not, here’s your chance to find out, or to broaden your horizon beyond the lunch shop on your block. Today marks the start of Meet-and-Three, a biweekly series on Big Bite that will present, over the course of the next few months, people and stories behind some of the Triangle’s meat-and-three style restaurants.
Defined as a place with a plate lunch or dinner that offers a choice of one meat entrée and three vegetable sides, meat-and-threes first began to proliferate in the South during the early 20th century. The restaurant was a result of changing needs of many of the region’s workers. As Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, explains, “Meat-and-three restaurants and cafes of the 1920s to the 1950s reflect the significant labor changes of the New South as the region transitioned from agriculture to industry and southern cities like Durham and Charlotte became working downtowns filled with a mix of mercantile, government offices, and professional buildings.”
New cafes created a place where office workers could buy cheap, fast and filling meals. (This was not necessarily the case for factory and millworkers, who were forced to eat on the job as they found time.) But while the table around which many gathered to eat lunch changed from a home setting, the menu did not—at least not overnight. “A plate lunch of one meat and three vegetable or starch sides, served with a buttered yeast roll, harkened back to the traditional mid-day dinner of rural Southerners, but was served uptown,” Ferris said.
After World War II, restaurants increasingly popped up outside of town centers with the rise of the highway system and a car culture financed in part by money that veterans received from the GI Bill. With this came an onslaught of barbecue stands and drive-up cafes like the Toot-N-Tell restaurant near Highway 70 in Garner.
*Read on in the Indy Week.