M3, davis square
Meat n’ three. Meat and three sides. Emphasis on the meat. That’s the inspiration behind M3, Jason Owens’ (Local 149) casual new Southern-style restaurant right on Highland Ave. in Davis Square. Meat n’ three. Two little content words somehow have the power to incite so much fear. It’s not that I don’t eat meat. I love (good) barbeque and the long, charred kabab skewers that I grew up with. I love spending a winter evening in, softly singing to a slowly simmering braise or a summer one grilling a chicken over a charcoal flame. I classify my dishes by protein. But I’ll admit that the idea of eating large quantities of meat at every course of a meal — apps, snacks, mains — is a tad overwhelming.
Comforting, though, was the adorable space; it was playfully kitschy without being corny (think hanging ball jar lights; chalkboard tables and walls and, um, bathrooms; and a decorative, blue tin ceiling). To avoid an hour wait, our party of four sat at the diner-style counter, something I would recommend but only to twosomes in the future. Sitting so close to the open kitchen, though, I was ready to take on my meat. I was fearless.
To start, our group ordered four appetizers, two of which were even vegetarian (!). Fried Cheese Curds were at least 550 miles out of place at a Southern restaurant if we’re speaking strictly, yet they still managed to make for the perfect appetizer. Although there’s something about that “squeak” you get when you bite into a fresh cheese curd, I didn’t miss it at all, especially since these weren’t just gooey, but also flavorful. With an astonishingly light coating, these curds were dangerously poppable.
Crab Deviled Eggs were generously packed with crabmeat but needed more flavor. The Peaches & Cream salad dish was clunky, confusing, and too sweet for a starter. Duck Drumsticks weren’t meltingly tender, but they certainly boasted a lot of rich, flavorful meat and a smoky, fruity sauce. I would have been satisfied had the drumstick been my only serving of meat of the night, mainly because of my disappointment in my entrée.
Although touted by multiple servers as the star of the menu, the meat to my meat n’ three, the Beer Can Hen, was little more than a good show. I should have known that sticking beer cans up the butts of chickens is a sport best played in backyards, not in restaurant kitchens. This hen’s legs were appropriately succulent, but its breasts — cloaked in chewy, unrendered skin — were dry and flavorless. That’s sad since the beer can method is used to ensure a juicy bird. For kicks, I did take a healthy swig of my garlic, herb, and chicken fat-enhanced brew to quench my thirst. After the chicken, it wasn’t half bad.
Two of my “three,” the Root Vegetable Hash and the Apple Jicama Cole Slaw, were duds, but the Corn on the Cob is worth mentioning. It was evenly slathered with a chili butter that was far from spicy but that brought a rich smokiness to the sweet, well-cooked corn cob. If it were only kissed on the grill instead of under the salamander, it would have been worth returning for.
Other bites I tried included a thick but meaty and perfectly Pan Fried Catfish dish with a mayo-based white harissa sauce; a flavorful, duck fat-cooked, fennel-enhanced Burger; a bland and unmemorable Macaroni n’ Cheese; and some mediocre Fries, drizzled with a surprising chili-lime topping – it was a very welcome change from the every-restaurant’s parmesan, rosemary, truffle oil, or aioli frite accompaniments. Shrimp & Grits were reported to be excellent.
Whether this is complimentary, funny, or unfortunate, my highest rated bite of the night was that of a pickle. A Pickle. Perhaps you cannot trust a skinny cook (I’m not convinced), but you can definitely trust a chatty one. Sitting at the counter, we got to interact with the enthusiastic cook — let’s call him Peter Piper — in charge of these. Passionate about pickling, peppers, and pickled peppers, Chef Piper made a half hot and sour with great crunch that was hot enough to tickle your lips, but flavorful enough to leave you wanting more.
Desserts were gorgeous, diner style cakes and pies provided by Blue Tierra Chocolate Cafe in South Boston. Unfortunately, the Derby Pie (which, technically, cannot be called a Derby Pie) was all chocolate, lacking in nuts and a kick of bourbon flavor. The pocket of crust was not at all remarkable. Both cakes — the scarily red strawberry cake and the coconut cream cake in the first photo — were all squishy-moist and melted (the air condition wasn’t working, and I went during the local heat wave). Everything just tasted sadly artificial.
While I might not rush to return to M3 — there seemed to be more misses than hits for us — I can embrace the idea of meat n’ three with a little more confidence and ensure it will be a Davis Square hotspot. M3 had only being open for a week before our visit, and it’s evident that some of the food had yet to be mastered. And that’s OK. But, with a decent list of canned beers, a friendly and accommodating staff, and a mean pickler on the line, it would be a fitting summer destination after a day in the sun.