If the term meat-and-three is foreign to you, welcome to the South.
In a place where food traditions are as strong as the tea is sweet, many Augusta-area restaurants still serve hearty meals using a basic formula: a serving of meat (usually fried or baked) with a choice of three accompaniment dishes (an array of vegetables and starches).
Moses' Diner serves up such Southern specialties daily. The restaurant is housed in the EconoLodge on Broad Street.
Ada Jones, a head cook, is sister of owner Glenn Moses. Both hail from a family of cooks and restaurant owners.
"I don't like to cook at home, but I love to do it for the public. I always loved doing it like this," she said one recent morning as she prepared the day's menu items.
Menu items include fried fish and chicken, country-fried steak, collard greens, yams, rice and black-eyed peas. There's also cornbread, iced tea and, for dessert, bread pudding.
Although many home-cooking restaurants offer "all-you-can-eat" meals, Mrs. Jones said most Moses customers can't even think about seconds.
"It sticks to your ribs, and when you're full, you're full for a while," she said.
In addition to hearty portions, the familiarity of Southern cooking keeps people coming back.
"I'm happier eating something I'm used to rather than something that's spiced up," said Ross Snellings, an Augusta native and self-proclaimed connoisseur of regional meat-and-threes.
Mr. Snellings explained the finer points of Southern cuisine over a plate of chicken-fried steak, yams and greens at Al's Family Restaurant in North Augusta, his favorite area meat-and-three.
Along with the protocols (at Al's, vegetables are odered by number only, please), there's knowing the difference between specialities.
The basic recipe for country-fried steak, for example, includes lightly floured steak sauteed and then baked in the oven. It's smothered with brown gravy and onions. Chicken-fried steak, on the other hand, uses breading similar to that for chicken before it's fried in a skillet. It's topped off with a cream gravy.
Talk to any Southerner about indigenous food, and most likely you'll hear something like, "nobody knows how to cook vegetables anymore."
That's probably because a more health-conscious society is wary of animal fat in cooking. And, because today's vegetables are cooked for shorter times to retain nutrients and taste, they have a crispy texture and bright color. Vegetables cooked in the Southern way often cook for hours - almost beyond recognition.
Mr. Snellings scoffs at the notion that such food is less healthy. He argues - tongue planted firmly in cheek - that the nutrients in Southern food are all in the "pot-likker," the natural juices created from simmering greens, beans and peas in ham hocks or hog jowls. Pot-likker is best sopped up with a biscuit or some cornbread.
Mr. Snellings and other traditionalists suggest that the finer aspects of Southern cooking are under assault by chain restaurants that use processed food high in sugar and hydrogenated fats.
Cooking with fresh vegetables - rather than canned or frozen - is definitely important, said Calvin Green, chef and owner of Hot Foods by Calvin on Broad Street.
But he doesn't adhere to the notion that vegetables have to be flavored with meat. He doesn't use pork to flavor vegetables, relying instead on spices and onion.
"It takes tender loving care and the proper seasoning," he said.
Tender loving care takes time, a luxury for most people these days. But those who cook authentic Southern fare - and those who enjoy eating it - said it remains an essential element.
"The essence of Southern cooking is the slowness that it's done," Mr. Snellings said.
Al's Family Restaurant, 611 Atomic Road, 278-3140; specialities include country-fried steak, banana pudding; 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Bill's Family Restaurant, 2518 Peach Orchard Road, 790-4613; 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Harvest Table Buffet, 1505 Gordon Highway, 793-1016; buffet-style; fried catfish and seafood on Friday and Saturday nights; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Hot Foods by Calvin, 2027 Broad St., 738-5666; specialties include smothered shrimp, fried chicken, smoked turkey and dressing; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Kuntry Kitchen, 2308 Lumpkin Road, 798-9819. 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Madison Day Kitchen, 1269 Wrightsboro Road, 722-4691; specialties include turkey wings and dressing, barbecue pig's feet and hog necks; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Mom's Country Kitchen, 1524 Gordon Highway, 798-9252; buffet-style; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Moses' Diner, 444 Broad St., 821-1743; specialties include bread pudding and barbecue ribs; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Old Country Buffet, 3435 Wrightsboro Road, 738-7847; family-style food; specialties include fried shrimp and barbecue ribs; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Po Folks, 3216 Peach Orchard Road, 793-5228; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Ruth's Family Restaurant, 3843 Washington Road, 863-5616; 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.