There’s a category of restaurants across the south called meat and three. These beloved restaurants serve home-style food – bountiful plates of southern favorites available in any combination you want. They fall somewhere between fast casual and family dining, sort of filling the niche occupied by diners in the northeast, but mostly unknown above the Mason-Dixon line
In Macon, Georgia the H & H restaurant is a typical example but with an added dash of celebrity. There are other meat and threes in town including Jeneane’s At Pinebrook and the Bear’s Den. Each has their own personality and devoted partisans.
Meat and three cooking can be described as soul food – there’s a strong African American influence – but it could be more broadly defined as southern home-style.
The menu at H & H lists nine kinds of meat and twelve sides. Pricing is based on how much you order. Meat plus two (sides) is $12, plus three is $13. It’s also possible to order two meats plus sides or just sides and no meat. The combinations are limitless.
Favorites on the meat list include fried chicken, meatloaf, fried pork chop and chicken & dumplings. Collards, butter beans, squash casserole and fried okra lead the list of twelve sides.
The golden brown fried chicken – crunchy and moist – is a southern icon. “White or dark” is the question when ordering. My sides included collards and mashed potatoes. The waitress advised that the
buttery biscuit was the best choice among the included breads. Marsha’s catfish, sealed in sturdy cornmeal breading, was accompanied by butterbeans, squash casserole and cornbread. She sighed over the squash, saying “it takes me back to dinner at Grandma’s.”
Banana pudding is a southern staple. At H & H the smooth pudding ($4) was laced with sliced fruit and crumbled vanilla wafers. Yum.
The cheerful but no-nonsense staff is happy to chat as lunch winds down and share a few recipe tips that make their food so delicious and authentic.
The downtown location has seen the city’s prosperity come and go since they opened in 1959. Founded by two sisters, Louise Hudson and Inez Hill, it was run by Mama Louise until she died at age 93.
During their formative years when the legendary Allman Brothers band was headquartered in Macon, Mama Louise took them under her wing and fed them when they were low on funds. Her generosity earned her the band’s lifelong patronage, a special place in rock and roll history, and even a seat on the tour bus for one season. The association with the band kept fans coming even when downtown was emptying out.
On the Friday we ate lunch, the customers seemed representative of the mix of locals and tourists who enjoy the H & H: a single UPS driver; three roofers who were treated like regulars; families of aging rockers in their vintage concert T shirts; and two women wearing IDs from the hospital across the street.
The restaurant has been updated (restored is too strong) to be presentable but not too polished or slick. The paint is fresh, the rock and roll memorabilia is the real thing, but everything else is pretty old school – blue gingham oilcloth on the tables, stackable banquet chairs, and homey sayings on chalkboards. The original sign still hangs out front over the modest entrance. The banquette I sat on seemed like an old church pew, the kind where you hoped the sermon wouldn’t be too long.
There’s a colorful two-story mural on the outside of the restaurant depicting the Allman Brothers at their favorite table plus Louise Hudson and Inez Hill – all equally beloved in Macon.
Marsha’s cousin Brooks, a life-long Maconite, once told me, “Meat and three – if you’re doing it right there’s cornbread and tea.” Believe me, there’s all that and more at H & H.