When Harold’s Meat + Three opened a few months ago, taking as its inspiration a sainted Southern dining institution, I could only roll my eyes. The type of restaurant called a "meat and three" has long been a fixture of small towns from Georgia to Arkansas, a sort of Dixie diner dispensing fried chicken, meatloaf, and sweet-glazed pork ribs at prices everyone could afford. These entirely predictable mains shared the plate with three generous sides, hence the name. The side-dish choices ran to mac & cheese, collard greens, coleslaw, and mashed potatoes swimming in gravy, with a bonus piece of cornbread. I wondered at what wallet-busting prices this institution might be recreated for us Yankee city folks at Harold’s.
The restaurant’s namesake is Harold Moore, whose most recent stint at Commerce in the West Village ended not long ago. The chef’s current project is situated in the Arlo Hotel (named after Arlo Guthrie?), just north of Canal Street in a wind-whipped non-neighborhood near the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. The space is luxuriously large, with a main dining room ending in a kitchen where logs flame up merrily in an open hearth. Overhead, industrial fixtures shine down on a floor that might have been designed by M.C. Escher, the tiles matrixed in dizzying fashion.
A parallel dining room contains a liquor bar, a salad bar, and picture windows overlooking an outdoor terrace, which will be a fine place to dine in summer — assuming the restaurant survives. I believe it will. The menu offers a series of starters, including deviled eggs topped with bacon, steak tartare, pimento cheese spread, and visits to that salad bar, which, aside from a few luxury items, is nothing special. Anyway, you should skip the appetizers or "you’ll ruin your dinner," as my mother might say. True to the promise of a real meat and three, a main course with three sides at Harold’s is plenty of food. (Especially since a free biscuit often precedes your meal and a tiny soft-serve cone follows it.)
Priced from $18 to $42 (the former for a veggie burger, the latter for prime rib), 18 main courses are presented, along with 24 sides. The prime rib is a delight, carved tableside as it oozes juices, and so’s the hanger steak. It comes napped with an agreeable wine sauce, listed on the menu — which is not above spouting French — as "marchand du vin." Other notable choices include roast chicken, beer-can style; a thick pork chop; seared sea scallops; and veal meatballs. In the first weeks those meatballs came in gravy, later in tomato sauce. Indeed, the chef is always diddling with the menu, making every visit an adventure.
One day, I arrived to discover the pork chop, once plainly grilled, was now being offered Sichuan-style. It came in an "au jus" that was only slightly spicy, while a coating of Sichuan peppercorns on the surface of the meat furnished a substantial tingle. Score one surreal taste sensation for the chef. Less successfully, an entree of tripe bathed in New Mexican green chiles was a failure one evening, with too many white beans and too little offal. But the price was right ($19), and Moore must be praised for trying something new.
The sides are a mixed bag; some are a good value, while others are too meager. My favorites over several visits have been the buttery mashed potatoes, wood-roasted butternut squash, and shockingly, naked sliced avocado, served with no dressing and all the better for it. Avocado fixes everything, right? Less appealing sides included a roasted artichoke heart so small it almost disappeared, as well as a broccoli-and-rice casserole that had too little of the treelike veggie in it, with what there was minced overly fine.
One of the great things about Harold’s Meat + Three is that it can function as a real meat and three if you choose the right things. Thus, you can get fried chicken ($24) with sides of grits, creamy coleslaw, and mac & cheese, just like you might find in, say, Beaufort, South Carolina, or Fort Deposit, Alabama. The chicken is really a half Cornish game hen, lightly battered and delicately fried, and it comes with a pair of sauces: pepper-dotted gravy and aromatic honey. I advise you to pour the gravy over your grits and enjoy the crusty bird one nibble at a time with no sauce. Skip the honey.
Cost: Dinner for two, featuring two “meat and three” meals and two glasses of wine, with tax but not tip, $95.
Sample dishes: seared sea scallops, fried chicken, hanger steak, prime rib
What to drink: beer, wine, or mixed drinks
Bonus tip: This being a hotel restaurant, brunch is available seven days a week beginning at 7 a.m. At dinnertime, keep your eye on the daily specials; Sunday’s plate of chicken and dumplings is particularly good, and so is Tuesday’s smothered pork chop.