Sometimes you need to go back to the basics: A no-frills, blue-collar meat-and-vegetable plate. prefer a meat and three vegetables. So here’s a quick look at some Mobile-area meat-and-threes worth knowing about.
This is a topic that can inspire some passion, so before you even start getting mad, please know that we’re already thinking about a follow-up list or two. Got a favorite you’d like to see included? Email LSpecker@AL.com. We don’t even mind if you stretch things a little bit. Maybe the place you have in mind is better known for hot dogs that stain the buns red. Maybe it’s got a lot of stuff on the menu besides blue plate specials. It’s ok. We’re all on the same side of the table here.
Mary’s Southern Cooking
Mary’s, at 3011 Spring Hill Ave. in Mobile’s Crichton area, is an absolute essential in this category. Its website promises exactly what you’re craving: An “Unfussy, cafeteria-style eatery dishing up hearty, down-home Southern and soul food classics.” It’s a small place with a tight parking lot but if you make the effort to squeeze in, you’ll be glad you did. Most options come with three vegetables, as the Lord intended. The menu changes daily; Tuesday’s includes beef tips ($16.99), chop steak ($13.99 lunch/$15.99 dinner), turkey necks ($11.99); spaghetti ($11.25), liver and onion ($12.99 lunch/$14.99 dinner), chicken tetrazzini ($11.25) and more. maryssoutherncookingmobile.com. Closed Saturdays and Mondays.
Big Time Diner
An accessible location (4936 Cottage Hill Road) that’s west of the beltline but not way out there in west Mobile doesn’t hurt. Neither does a reputation for good food. But ask people why they keep coming back to the Big Time Diner and they’ll tell you the quality of the service is a big draw. You get a pretty big menu that includes seafood dinners, burgers and sandwiches, old-fashioned shakes and malts and more. What you’re looking for at the moment is the Blue Plate Special, which gives you a meat and three for $12.75. There’s a two-veggie version for $11.75 and a four-veggie plate for $8.75. www.facebook.com/BigTimeDiner. Closed Sundays.
Cheryl’s is just across the Causeway from Mobile, at the top of the hill in Spanish Fort; 6580-D Spanish Fort Blvd. is the address. From the outside it’s a fairly generic storefront; inside it’s a bustling café with a small-town vibe, as longtime staff greet and tend to regulars. The chalkboard menu, posted daily on the restaurant’s Facebook page, is guaranteed to start you drooling. Tuesday’s version had a parmesan crusted pork chop, meatloaf with marinara, red beans & rice with Conecuh sausage and chicken & dumplings, your pick with three sides for $14.98. That was amid soups, salads, sandwiches and a homemade dessert lineup including chocolate dream pie, strawberry dream pie, Snickers dream pie, carrot cake, banana pudding and fresh peach ice cream. www.cherylscafespanishfort.com.
Cozy Brown’s Kitchen
Cozy Brown’s Kitchen, at 847 Wasson Ave. in Prichard, is as famous for the community-oriented mindset of its namesake as it is for its food. When the SEC Network Show “True South” did an episode on the Mobile area, it picked Cozy Brown and his restaurant dele as icons that exemplified the culinary and cultural landscape of the area. “Fish and grits is a birthright food here,” raved host John T. Edge. “Walk the line and make your choice. Cheese grits are regular. Gravy made from cooking pork chops or chicken legs. All served at prices that embarrass the fast-food houses.” Online menus show a breathtaking range, including seafood breakfast options.
Mama’s on Dauphin
Mama’s, at 220 Dauphin Street, has been downtown Mobile’s bastion of home cooking since 2003, and regulars don’t need a menu to know when their favorites feature in the daily rotation. Meatloaf or red beans and rice with Conecuh? Be there on Monday. Fried pork chops? You’re a Wednesday guy. Daily entrees are $11.25 with three sides, $9.95 with two. Seafood platters, sandwiches, salads and burgers round it out. They’ll round you out too, if you’re not careful. www.mamasondauphin.com.
Judy’s, at 3977 Government Boulevard, is another one of those places where a sleek strip-mall exterior gives way to a much homier vibe inside. It’s also surprisingly spacious. How strong is its drawing power? A visit on Monday, during a typical late-summer monsoon, found it packed despite weather that would make at lot of people think twice about going out at all. They stuck around even when a brief power outage plunged the place into darkness and left the registers scrambled. The staff soldiered through it like troupers who’ve seen it all before. The menu is large, encompassing salads, sandwiches, burgers, wings, steaks, seafood platters and more. Lunch entrees include smothered hamburger steak, country fried steak and chicken, chicken tenders and a pork chop, ranging from $9.99 to $12.99 with two veggies. One other note that might make a difference for some: Where many meat-and-three type places are alcohol-free, Judy’s offers a full bar. judysplacemobile.com.