I hope I can make that choice a little easier for you. Those new to Wilson County may be uninitiated in the culture of the meat and three, but only a few days in town and anyone can be well educated in the joys of choosing a meal from a rotating selection of daily options, supplemented with two or three southern side dishes, of course.
Plates of fried chicken with macaroni and cheese, green beans and okra can be found all over the city, usually accompanied with some cornbread and sweet tea. Mashed potatoes are just as much an acceptable lunch item as French fries. Top it all off with a banana pudding, and you are a meat and three aficionado.
Tucked a block or two off the square in Lebanon lies a good meat-and-three restaurant, Elaine’s, which opened in April 2015, serving “good ole Southern home cooking.” The menu changes daily on a weekly rotation schedule. The combination of slap-your-mama good food, a down-home friendly staff and cheery atmosphere make Elaine’s worthy of your attention now.
But, all of that down-home atmosphere would be for nothing if the food wasn’t up to snuff, and the steady stream of customers at Elaine’s suggests the food is indeed a drawing point. Elaine’s doesn’t try to be fancy. They just do the things you love right, and that’s just fine with me. Any thoughts of dieting have to be cast aside when you visit Elaine’s, because true Southern food involves indulging in the likes of crispy fried green tomatoes, ham-hocked collard greens, deliciously smothered pork chops, fried chicken and other decadent delights.
Upon walking in the quaint little joint, you will line up to get your food cafeteria style – complete with authentic lunch trays – and choose from the daily options, which could include incredible fried chicken, catfish, meatloaf, chicken n dressing, cabbage, greens, beans and more southern staples. The food served at Elaine’s is exactly what you would expect from a Southern meat-and-three restaurant.
I could not resist ordering the catfish, which is the Friday special. If there’s a better fried catfish in town, I’d be surprised. You get three to four, meaty filets per order. A batter, composed of nearly entirely cornmeal, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, coats each filet and coaxes out the essential flavor. These are not overcooked one bit. The flesh has a slightly flaky texture without any dryness. While uniformly moist and tender, the only thing that could make these better would be if Elaine’s could cook up wild catfish. These farmed ones acquit themselves nicely, though.
Any down home eatery worth its bacon grease knows sides make the meal. Elaine’s turnip greens are sensational – tender but not mushy, with just the right amount of smoke and heat. White beans were perfect, lightly seasoned with bacon and not too salty. And don’t forget to try their sweet tea, as I loving refer to as “Table Wine of the South.”
The lunch prices are pretty good for the amount of food you get, and you can eat there for less than $10 per person.
Elaine’s has a few booths, but most of the restaurant’s seating is tables.
Affordable prices and friendly service make this restaurant all the more likeable, and its small town charm keeps both locals and out of towners coming back for more.
Elaine’s Country Restaurant
Service: Cafeteria style.
Ambience: Small diner style with about 15 tables.
Location: 1103 N. Cumberland St. in Lebanon.
Hours: Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 4:30 a.m. until 11 a.m.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Alcohol: Not available.