November 14, 2016 | BITE: My Journal

Harold’s Meat+Three: I’ll See You in My Dreams

Chef Harold Moore recognized me at once and started wooing us with his starters platter.
Chef Harold Moore recognized me at once and started wooing us with his starters platter.

          I’m excited about Harold’s Meat + Three. I didn’t grow up on this Southern cafeteria concept. But I like it. For me, sides can be better than the main. We’re three tonight, so that means I’ll get to taste nine sides. I didn’t intend to arrive so early, but now I have time to study the list and mark my must-haves. Will storming new restaurants ever get boring? I don’t think so.

The neon light from Harold's sign and the fuchsia glow above gives this spot a faraway roadside feel.

          Beef cuts and whole chickens are stored in a commercial cold box against the wall. And the room has a fuchsia glow above the red-and-white neon Harold’s logo on the brick wall. The place is crowded. There’s a private party at the bar, shouting to be heard over the music, which makes our banquette vibrate as if a subway were passing below.

Leaning in to describe the starters, Chef Harold assures us, "biscuits are on the way."

          I know Harold Moore from his time at three-star Montrachet and for his excellent whole roasted chicken for two, lush ragout of long pasta tubes with oxtail, trotters and tripe, and fabulous house-baked breads at the historic landmark Commerce which closed abruptly in June of 2015.

The deviled eggs make a great starter.  I never knew I needed dill pickle potato chips 'til I tasted them.

          Now, the good news is that Harold’s fantasies play right into mine. One is his antipasto platter. He spies me at once and when my friends arrive, he sends the redneck sampler over as a gift. There are pickles and excellent deviled eggs, pimento cheese spread and tomato, onion and blue cheese salad.

There are very spacious biscuits -- bigger than needed. But who says need is what dinner is about?

          “The biscuits will be here soon,” he advises as we start spreading the bright orange cheese on dill pickle potato chips. They’re Route 11 chips in a 2 oz. bag “Chipping Away since 1992,” is the motto. How fun is that? The warm biscuits arrive and suddenly, I can almost imagine we’re roadside in Alabama.

My fondness for salad bars dates back to my love of the smorgasbord table.

          Then there’s Harold’s salad bar (just $10 with dinner). Have I ever confessed how much I love even a low-rent salad bar? When I came to New York City, I dreamed of money and fame and gorgeous men who would be smitten with the real me, but I also dreamed of smorgasbord. I think that was before salad bars. Craig Claiborne loved The Stockholm and I followed the master’s fork. The cost of the smorgasbord at The Copenhagen in 1964 was $3.75 at lunch. “Guests could go back again and again for the same price.” Claiborne advised.

I manage to heap pasta salad, céleri remoulade, poached salmon, shrimp and beets on a medium-size glass dish.

          I didn’t test the Stockholm syndrome on Harold by going back again and again. While the salad bar is perfectly acceptable, it probably should not be mentioned in the same reverie as smorgasbord from its glory in the ’70s. The salad bar terrine, for instance, has a supermarket taste. But I love céleri remoulade and you don't see it enough these days. I wonder if millennials recognize celery root.

Suddenly it’s everyone’s birthday and the cake with splendorous sprinkles turns out to be surprisingly good.

The coconut cake is worthy of attention too. And the chocolate, it goes without saying. There, I said it.

          Harold has pretty much simplified dessert. Given a choice of chocolate, coconut, and birthday cake, we choose all three and why am I surprised? They are wonderful. Yes, even the birthday cake – Lauren blows out the candle -- with its chocolate filling between many layers and frosting jeweled with colored sprinkles.

You've already overdone it on the cakes and then Chef Moore returns with soft serve ice cream in a small cone.

          I should say, especially the birthday cake. In the middle of our cake attack, Harold comes by with glasses of milk. And then after, with the check, he offers soft serve in mini cones.

Thai-inspired pork ribs with a crunchy wedge of rosti potatoes, macaroni'n'cheese and crushed cauliflower.

          Did you notice I skipped over the meat + three exchange? It’s not because the middle part doesn’t have its charms. We taste and trade the chewy Thai pork ribs, acceptable fried chicken, and a remarkably luscious pork chop, rare as requested, juicy. scarlet but not raw.

My pal orders broccoli-rice casserole, coleslaw and baked artichoke heart with her fried chicken.

          The triangle of potatoes rosti is properly crunchy. The macaroni & cheese is fine, and also the crushed cauliflower, the broccoli and rice casserole, the Brussels sprouts salad, and green beans amandine. Green beans amandine – the ‘50s bride cooks. Alas, our cole slaw is drowned in mayo. Dinner cost $65 each with a drink each and tip. But if you’re fond of sweets, dessert will leave you smiling. I definitely planned to come back and taste more.

Another chum asks for bacon, green beans almondine and potato purée with his scallops.

          It’s quiet early one evening on my next visit, and the banquette doesn’t vibrate. I’m not sure why but the fried chicken doesn’t seem good enough the second time around. The daily special, shrimp and grits, is just okay. I’m guessing the meat + three have to be better to justify that long trip downtown. One of my companions orders his pork chop medium, and Harold comes by to see if that’s a mistake. “Cook it your way,” the man says agreeably, but Harold must have been conflicted, hesitant to serve it rare to a man who asked for medium. For my taste it’s dry and not worth eating.

I got the nightly special: shrimp and grits with Japanese sweet potatoes, cole slaw, and Brussels sprouts.

          The birthday cakes at the end are just as wonderful. I get to blow out the candle. And we laugh at the milk. Two of my pals drink theirs. And three of us take a lick or two of soft serve. I probably won’t be back. Maybe if it were in my zip code, I’d come for the salad bar and deviled eggs.

By nine, the room has filled. I'm guessing locals as well as hotel guests.

          You might want to go yourself. Give Harold a chance. Maybe try the whole branzino for just $29 or green chili tripe, or beef potpie. Take a run at the sides. Give in to cakes. Start with a cocktail to get into the mood.

The action in Harold's Meat + Three kitchen is on view from the tables nearest Renwick Street.

2 Renwick Street between Spring and Canal. In the Arlo Hudson Square Hotel. 212 390 8484. Sunday through Thursday 7 am to 11 pm. Friday and Saturday 7 am to 11:30 am.


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