The fried bologna sandwich. Just wait until you bite into this thing. All photos: © tablehopper.com.
The three-piece fried chicken meat-and-three plate, with stewed okra and tomatoes, collards, and cauliflower gratin.
The meatloaf with smoked onion jam and gravy, with smothered green beans, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese.
Low-country gumbo with Dungeness crab and shrimp.
Big Mama’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich.
Fried. Bologna. Sandwich. With pimento cheese. When chef Brenda Buenviaje told me about the menu at the new restaurant (~BRENDA’S MEAT & THREE~) she would be opening with her partner and wife, Libby Truesdell—along with André and Jennifer Larzul—in the former Blue Jay Café, I knew I was going to want that sandwich. Isn’t it nice when you’re right? Which, quite frankly, is all of the time for me. It’s exhausting being me. (This is a running joke I have with my sister. I kid!)
A thick slice of fried Saag’s bologna ($8.25) is generously layered with pimento cheese (I hope your doctor doesn’t see you reading this) and tucked into a toasted bun—which seems part pain de mie and part brioche, and it’s not made by our usual bread players in the city—with bread-and-butter pickles and tomato and, of course, some special secret sauce that is like a love child of Thousand Island and rémoulade. This sandwich is one of those things that is so wrong but, really, so so right. You won’t find this on the menu at Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk, the mothership, where Brenda made her name with her NOLA classics, her biscuits, and her fried chicken, becoming one of the most popular brunch spots in the city.
Brenda’s Meat & Three is a different animal, more straightforward Southern in its scope instead of strictly New Orleans-based, and the daytime menu morphs into a classic Southern diner format at 5pm, with your choice of a meat entrée and three sides. There’s Brenda’s famed fried chicken ($16.75 for three pieces), which I found to be a bit more peppery here, and she shares that she also tweaked the dredge on this version so it stays crispy longer. She is constantly tinkering with the fried chicken, and confides, “I drive myself crazy.”
Meanwhile, I lost my mind for the “kickass” meatloaf ($16.50), so tender and spicy under its saucy spoonful of smoky onion jam and gravy. It’s indulgent comfort to the max with a side of fluffy mashed potatoes, smothered green beans (a bit salty), and mac and cheese (with crusty edges, yay). I have yet to finish a meat-and-three dinner—I opt to bring home the leftovers for a rather fulfilling lunch. Other rotating picks include chicken-fried steak, fried catfish, oxtails, and more, and all under $20. And the food comes out HOT, on hot plates. Yes.
The 20 or so sides are very appealing, I have even considered just doing a dinner tour of them (which you can, four for $15). The stewed okra and tomatoes, lively with thyme, plus the cauliflower gratin, and the porky-rich collards (which you can get vegan) are all fantastic. Vegetarians and vegans and even those who need to eat gluten-free have a surfeit of options to choose from.
Lunch has a nice buzz, with folks chowing down on po’boys, sharing a plate of shrimp hush puppies (you should do that too) and fried oyster salads with bacon and buttermilk dressing. You can warm up with a taste, cup, or bowl of “low-country gumbo” ($3-$11.50), which has tomato in it. Brenda says tomato is a point of contention for the “gumbo police,” but I like this version, with perfectly cooked shrimp and Dungeness crab added à la minute.
You’ll also see diners wrestling with the Big Mama’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($10.75), spilling over with a paillard that is fried in their usual recipe, and then gets a quick dunk in what Brenda calls “devil sauce.” Yeah, it has some kick. (But I do think the menu should clarify it’s a wet sandwich.)
Brunch packs ‘em in like Polk Street, although Brenda said if you come on the early side (before 10am) you have a better shot at a table (for now) and tucking into a plate of her best-in-class cream biscuits and gravy with two eggs ($8.25), and you may as well add on the Creole-fried cutlet for $4.95. More is more. Brenda’s stuffed johnnycakes ($8) are her own creation and are popular too.
There are three beers on tap, not your usual suspects, and the wine on tap means you can find a glass of Vinum pinot noir for $7, and I also had a glass of the Pol Clement brut from the Loire for just $6. Those prices say a lot, affirming it’s the kind of place they want you to be able to visit often.
Brenda really cares about feeding the neighborhood, and you don’t walk out of here hungry. You walk out stuffed like a turkey, which, let’s admit it, is sometimes what you want. Especially after a bad day, or on a cold night, or you just need some TLC—it’s why they call it comfort food. She is carefully trying to find that balance between quality ingredients and being affordable, so while the chicken isn’t organic, it is local and delivered fresh four times a week, and the seafood is 90 percent sustainable. Personally, I could do without the out-of-season tomatoes on a few dishes until they come back around, but some people just want their tomato on their sandwich, no matter what month it is.
The space got a nice overhaul and freshening up, and I’m so happy part of the diner’s original counter remains. Come early in the evening and you’ll see half the place dedicated to parents and their kids. The back patio—complete with sunny yellow chairs—is a bonus, and there are plans to add some heaters soon.
I have to do a shout-out to the incredibly warm staff here in their jaunty aprons—if you sit at the counter, you’ll have multiple folks check in on you, smile, ask how you like your meal, and sweetly inquire if you’re ready for some pie. They really help build the Southern hospitality vibe, even if their twang is more Californian than Carolinian. This place couldn’t be a more welcome addition to the Western Addition.
This review was based on three visits and one takeout order.