A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a great neighborhood meat and three in Ensley. I know this may be controversial but-meat and threes have never been my favorite. They seem like they all serve the same greasy flavorless food in too-large quantities. But when I heard about this hole-in-the-wall that gets rave reviews, I had to try it.
The other factor drawing me to this particular meat and three was its location in Ensley. At one time, Ensley was a booming steel town outcropping of Birmingham’s city center. It inspired native Erskine Hawkins to compose the famous song Tuxedo Junction. Also, we recently went on a civil rights tour of Birmingham and learned that Ensley was the center of a great deal of very selfless, heroic civil rights organizing. Despite all of these things that put Ensley on Birmingham’s map in a big way, I realized we had never eaten there.
So one Sunday morning, off we went. For this culinary adventure, Mr. Foodie and I brought one of our favorite foodie couples-one half of which grew up in Birmingham eating at meat and threes, and the other, like me, is not from ’round here but knows a good meal when she eats one.
Jasmine’s is in a residential neighborhood, nestled on a small side street. Here’s the outside, so you know what you are looking for:
I love the vintage signs-gives the place a real neighborhoody feel, exactly what I had imagined it would be.
When we walked in, there were a few people in line ahead of us. We must have had that “no idea what to order” look on our faces as we scanned the extensive list of meat and veggies on the wall. The gentleman in front of us gave us a big smile. I asked whether he had ever eaten here before, to which he replied “this is my brother’s place, and EVERYTHING” is good. He told us they’re particularly known for their oxtail, but that their beef tips, chicken, and turkey necks are also fantastic.
I should probably stop here and tell you that surprisingly, despite the fact that I have a very broad food palate and write a very diverse food blog, I have a thing about meat. I am fine with the usual stuff – garden variety chicken, beef, fish – but I have a rule that I don’t eat meat that I don’t understand. Oxtail and turkey neck fall squarely in that category.
So, I asked for his thoughts on getting roast chicken and dressing – he approved – so we proceeded. Between the four of us, we practically ordered the whole menu – which would mean that if I could muster the nerve to do it, I could try some of those more mysterious meats.
I looked behind us as we paid for our meal and saw that the place was suddenly completely packed – standing room only – with people dressed for church, with a line out the door. Looks like we got there just in time!
The place has a few tables inside but given the crowd, not really enough space for us to eat our meal. So, we took our food to go and adjourned to our back porch for a meat and three picnic.
First, what I ordered. Delicious, juicy dark meat roast chicken with dressing, yams, and cornbread. The dressing was made up of chunky pieces of bread, which is exactly how I like it. The yams were sweet but not too sweet-just perfect. The cornbread was savory, but not greasy-delicious.
The perfect meal.
And of course, we shared. Mr Foodie ordered the beef tips over rice. They were hearty and delicious. The mac and cheese was made with real cheese, and was creamy and savory. Great compliment to the beef:
Our friends were more adventurous. My not from ’round here friend ordered the turkey necks, served with greens and cabbage. She explained that as a kid, she loved to eat leftover turkey necks from Thanksgiving but had never actually ordered them at a restaurant before. She was clearly enjoying hers so much that I had to try it-and wow. The juiciest possible dark meat, full of flavor. My friend commented on how huge they were-they are definitely enough for a meal. The cabbage and greens were also cooked perfectly and were delicious.
Our native Birminghamster friend ordered the oxtailwhich he insisted I try. I couldn’t imagine that this was really the tail of a cow, but he assured me it was. This wasn’t a reassuring thought, but I told myself this was my chance to have the best oxtail in town-so I gave it a shot. One of the meatiest, most delicious pieces of beef I’ve ever had. Served with mac n cheese, black eyed peas, corn and a cornbread muffin so good it already had a bite taken out:
I wish I could tell you what the corn and black eyed peas tasted like… And I remember they were good… But all I can really remember was that oxtail. Mmm-mmm. Yeah.
So to sum it up, Jasmine’s converted this Yankee skeptic into a meat and three fan and a lover of turkey necks and oxtail. That’s saying something.
Turns out that Jasmine’s is in Pratt City, which I thought was part of Ensley, but is just one neighborhood to the north (Village Creek is the dividing line). I’ll blame it on the fact that I’m not from ’round here, and that I haven’t found a great map that clearly delineates Birmingham’s neighborhoods…. Let me know if you have one I can post!