Meat me in Old Town
He Ate: A carnivore’s haven
The plant eaters had won, or so we thought. Even our family was riven by the war. My son convinced our granddaughter that eating meat was a crime, and unhealthy. Another granddaughter took to Facebook to declare that vegetarians live longer than flesh eaters. I despaired. Perhaps it was best to slink into my cave, cuddle with a mastodon bone and dream of roadkill.
And yet ... there was talk in the heartland of a counter-revolution, whispers of a little place, a haven, where meat was openly and wildly celebrated, where even the mere mention of spinach was cause for banishment ...
— The Carnivore Chronicles
Yeah, OK, that little ditty is as close as I can get to “The Hunger Games.” But as described above, several in our clan have flirted with or embraced vegetarianism. Me? I am an unrepentant, protein-addicted carnivore.
Now I know another place to get my fix: Meat. It is, indeed, a little place in Old Town that celebrates the remains of four- and two-legged critters. And it does so with devilish humor. “Lettuce is forbidden,” the menu scolds. Near the restrooms is a photo of panic-stricken green peppers with the warning, “Every day, thousands of innocent plants are killed by vegetarians. Help end the violence.”
Does Meat lay claim to the best smoked pork or beef brisket I’ve ever tasted? No, that honor goes to an outdoor barbecue joint tucked in a swamp in southern Mississippi.
But I am convinced that Meat gets several things right, and the things it gets wrong are correctible.
The signature dishes at Meat are based around meats that have been slow-smoked for up to 18 hours using various wood combinations. The result is what you’d expect from folks who know their way around a smoker: a charred, crisp exterior, a delicate “smoke ring” beneath the surface and a juicy, pink interior (yes, it’s fully cooked).
On our first visit, I had the Meat Plate ($13.95) of pulled pork with an add-on of sliced beef brisket for an extra $4.50. The thinly sliced brisket was a standout, a perfect trio of smoke, juice and tenderness.
Judy opted for a dozen smoked chicken wings ($12), which are brined, coated with a spice rub and smoked. For the finishing touch, they flash fry the wings. I don’t really get the frying bit, but the result was good. Not great, but good.
A week later, on a return visit, I had the full slab of spare ribs ($24). Jackpot! The ribs (not baby back) were, as billed, big and meaty. They were tender but not approaching mushy — unlike the overcooked “fall off the bone” kind some restaurants serve. The bonus is Meat’s house-made sauces. More on those in a minute.
Judy’s Chin-Gorilla Meatwich, ($12) was a medley of pulled pork, grilled pineapple, bacon and house-made pimento cheese spread on a grilled kaiser roll. We loved the taste combinations — and would have loved it more if crisp grilled onions were added, as the menu promised.
I appreciate how you can customize the various Meatwiches with a meat foundation of your choice — pork, beef brisket, turkey or hamburger.
Now, let’s hand Meat a to-do list:
1. For Pete’s sake, label the different scratch-made sauces. It’s a time-waster for servers to recite them, and I don’t dine out to take a memory quiz. Paste some labels on the squeeze bottles, or hand me a Sharpie and I’ll do it for you. The sauces themselves, incidentally, are delicious.
2. Work on warmth. During both visits, several of the “hot” items were not. The great combo of garlic and parmesan cheese on fries was dulled by the fact this dish was decidedly un-hot.
3. The cornbread needs a “skin” on top to hold it together. Meat’s cornbread begins to crumble if you look at it wrong.
4. The bacon and bleu cheese potato salad was a hit, but Meat should reconsider other side dishes. The baked beans need more zest (I use dashes of liquid smoke, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces). The basic coleslaw is boredom in a bowl (though the jalapeno coleslaw is good). There are several places in town that make better mac-n-cheese. Experiment.
We had some service issues on one visit — shredded brisket instead of sliced, a lack of silverware — but in fairness, that was our server’s first day. And, Meat-goers be warned: The joint fills up quickly. On both visits, we arrived around 5 p.m. and seating was already limited.
If you’re waiting for a table, soak in the meat-oriented decor or have a drink — Meat has added a bar. Or just people watch. The place seems to revel in a cool mix of families, hipsters and men in suits. Vegetarians, walk on by.
She Ate: Give in to the meat
If I had my druthers, I’d eat a massive portion of vegetables for at least two meals per day. I am constantly trying to present green things to the boyfriend in a way that he enjoys, but I frequently hear that “salads all the time” don’t fill him up, and we are always on the prowl to find a restaurant that balances our two styles of eating — mine: clean, fresh and healthy, and his: Oreos and sandwiches.
Meat is not that restaurant. As the name suggests, the menu at Meat is crafted with the most carnivorous of us in mind and heavily features pulled pork, beef brisket, and smoked turkey. Before Meat’s recent expansion, the boyfriend and I would enjoy the occasional rack of ribs and his favorite: the now-extinct Cartman burger. The burger was, for all intents and purposes, a normal bacon cheeseburger, until you looked at the bun. Instead of bread, it was a Little Debbie Honey Bun. Let that sink in. Meat isn’t the place if you’re trying to shed your winter weight.
Since the boyfriend and I take our eating seriously, we threw caution — and self-control — to the wind and headed to Old Town for dinner one night. We were surprised to find Meat packed to the gills with a motley crew of eaters: college students with their parents, young professionals, and bros sitting at the bar enjoying beers and bro time. Friends offered us the two empty seats at their four-seat table, which we gladly accepted in lieu of waiting 30 minutes for our own table. The renovation has doubled the size of Meat, but it looks like the popularity of the place has doubled as well.
The man and I started with the Buffalo Fries ($7), a basket of French fries topped with blue cheese crumbles, blue cheese dressing and buffalo sauce. The thick-cut fries demonstrate a huge improvement over the milquetoast shoestring variety that Meat used to serve. We liked them, but if you don’t like Buffalo wing sauce, skip this version and try one of the other smothered French fry offerings on the menu. A different kind of restaurant might call them variants of “poutine,” but then again, that restaurant probably wouldn’t have a framed photo of ‘90s heartthrob Gavin Rossdale, taken during his visit to the restaurant, hanging on the wall.
The boyfriend set out on a path into meat sweatdom and ordered a full rack of ribs ($24). Per the menu, he thought he was going to get pork ribs. What actually came to the table were beef ribs. Well spiced but quite dry, he doctored them with a variety of the house-made sauces sitting on the table. When she delivered our orders, the server gave us a rundown of the sauces held in a little bin on our table. The first was a traditional Kansas City BBQ, but as the presentation continued my brain turned off until she said the words “hot garlic.” I know it ain’t ladylike, but this lady loves garlic and loves spicy. This sauce, while flavorful and welcome in limited increments, was seriously flirting with the line between “pleasantly spicy” and “too spicy for you to enjoy what you’re eating because you are concerned that sweat has permeated your shirt and nobody is ever going to want to kiss you again because you’re an animal.” Be warned.
I ordered the Classic Chopped Brisket Meatwich ($11.25, including an upcharge for a premium side), which came out so dry that I essentially doused the thing in the hot garlic sauce. The boyfriend and I slept in separate beds that night (as we do every night, in case Grandma She Ate is reading this). My jalapeño cilantro slaw, surprisingly, offered little in the way spice, but the welcoming coolness was a perfect contrast to the spicy sandwich.
I returned for lunch a few days later with my friend Joe, who always asks me why I don’t give him a special mention in my articles when we dine together. He had a burger ($9.50), which I completely forgot to snag a bite of since we were too busy discussing his brand-new relationship. I do remember that he liked the burger, but that it pales in comparison to his new leading lady.
I had the Wolcott sandwich ($9.50), because I’m a sucker for a fried egg-topped anything. Oh how I love to poke a fork — or, in this case, a French fry — into the yolk and watch it ooze down the side of the bun, leaving a trail of glossy, cholesterol-y deliciousness in its wake. I devoured this sandwich. If Joe and I hadn’t agreed to be totally platonic friends years ago, my performance at the lunch table would have been the final nail in that coffin. I was layering fries on top of the brisket and practically shooting hot garlic sauce directly into my mouth from the bottle. It wasn’t pretty. But the next time you need a two-hand sandwich, the kind that will make you want to go home and shower before taking a nap, head to Meat. Just get there early, because the slow-smoked food supply is never guaranteed. RIP, Cartman Burger.