Monday, December 20, 2010

Meet Meat-and-Three

Iron Pork Chop
930 Lebanon Pike
Nashville, TN
Visited October 13, 2010

Ah, the good ol’ “meat-and-three”.

The meat-and-three is as much a part of Nashville as cheesy pop-country songs and broken dreams.

Sometimes a good meat-and-three is the only thing to look forward to on a trip through Trashville.

I guess I should start with a definition of the meat-and-three, for those of you who have never ventured south of the Ohio River. (Southerners feel free to skip the next paragraph).

Meat-and-threes are humble little Southern-style restaurants that pop up all over weird places in middle Tennessee. The idea is you pick a meat from among four or five choices and then you pick three vegetables on the side from a board that typically lists 10-15 side dishes that rotate on a daily basis.

Hence, the name, “meat-and-three”.

Sweet tea is the requisite beverage. Biscuits or corn bread comes on the side (in the Iron Pork Chop's case, both). Pie is for desert.

The really appealing thing about meat-and-threes to occasional veggie frowners like me is that they usually play fast and lose with the definition of “vegetable”.

For example, macaroni-and-cheese is ALWAYS a meat-and-three veggie option. So is Jell-O, coleslaw and a whole host of other non-garden grown species that would make your Yankee grandmother roll over in her grave.

First of all, let me state that the Iron Pork Chop is not one of Nashville’s more famous celebrity-attended meat-and-threes. No Faith Hill sightings here.

No, I just happened to be driving by while I was hungry. I thought the name sounded cool, so I swerved my compact rental car into the parking lot.

Like Nashville’s best meat-and-threes, the Iron Pork Chop is not in the best location. In fact, it’s directly across the street from a motel that actually advertises rooms for $23 for three hour intervals and “free adult movies”.

But that’s okay. A trip to the seedy side of town is all part of the requisite meat-and-three experience.

The meat part was easy. At the Iron Pork Chop, you get the pork chop. Duh.

But narrowing the vegetables down to just three was harder than the well-worn mattresses across the street.

You have to understand, ordinary sounding vegetables like “green beans” at great meat-and-threes are anything but ordinary. Vegetarians ordering vegetables at a Nashville meat-and-three would run screaming from the building like Anderson Cooper at the Gold Club.

No. Green beans are never just green beans. They are always enhanced with pork or bacon or fat or all three to give them that delicious hearty flavor of the South. I’m convinced pig fat is the single essential ingredient in all Southern cooking, especially vegetables.

Vegans, don’t say I didn’t warn you. (Why are you reading this blog anyway?)

Squash casserole and stewed tomatoes are other meat-and-three staples, so sweet and slow cooked, they could qualify as desert. I’ve had squash casserole so carb-loaded, the dish could better be described as “squash cobbler”.

So I have to admit being a bit disappointed when I was served my chosen “three”.

The macaroni and cheese was the runny Kraft in-the-box kind your mother made you when you were a kid. Not too exciting.

The turnip greens had a decent earthy flavor to them, but no sign of any hog fat, hog jowl, ham hock, pork belly. Nothing. Just a vegetarian-friendly mulch of mushy greens.

Iron Pork Chop’s squash casserole tilted toward protein rather than carbs, as the squash was stewed in a mild cheese sauce which I really liked. Definitely the top draw of my chosen three.

The highlight of this meat-and-three was…the meat.

Pork chops can be tricky. Too often they can be bland, tough, dried up or -- heaven forbid -- all three.

But not Iron Pork Chop’s namesake.

This beauty is breaded and fried.

Do I need to repeat my Suit757 mantra about frying? Yeah, pig is good. Fried pig is awesome!

The thin crust reminded me of the zesty delicate layer of grease and corn meal you find on good fried chicken. It also locked in the flavor and moisture of the perfectly cooked chop.

If you are going to name your joint after a menu item, that menu item sure as heck better be good. The Iron Pork Chop passes.

Of course, no visit to a meat-and-three is complete without one very important meal capper – PIE!

My chocolate meringue was nice. I’m not sure it was home-made. But whether it is frozen, store-bought or from scratch, there just ain’t no such thing as a bad chocolate meringue pie.

It turns out the pie was a good analogy for my entire Iron Pork Chop experience. It was good. How could fried pig, Southern veggies and pie be anything but?

However, it just doesn’t quite live up to those other more famous Nashville meat-and-three legends like Arnold’s and the Loveless Café.

But hey, look on the bright side. At least you don’t have to fight Faith Hill for that last piece of pie.

Rating: Would Wear Shirt If It Were Free.
Iron Pork Chop on Urbanspoon

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