Weekender Feature | M3 and The Painted Burro offer delicious alternatives to Davis staples
New Southern and Mexican eateries are finger-lickin’ good
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 02:09
Tired of eating at the same Davis Square eateries every weekend? Have no fear, a dynamic duo of restaurants opened recently in Davis Square, and both deserve a thorough tasting.
The first of these eateries is M3, a Southern-style restaurant that gets its name from “meat and three,” a phrase popular among restaurants below the Mason-Dixon Line that refers to meals composed of one main meat dish and three side plates. This small, black-walled space on Highland Avenue provides a comfortable and cozy atmosphere where customers can enjoy an impressive amount of food for a reasonable amount of money.
Creator and founder Jason Owens developed the idea for M3 as well as all of the food items on its menu. Originally from Nashville, he explained that most traditional southern “meat and threes” are cafeteria-style restaurants that usually offer only vegetable side dishes. His restaurant does things a little differently. M3’s sides encompass a wider range of options, from macaroni and cheese to peach cornbread.
“It’s a concept that I grew up with — Southern food is close to my heart,” Owens said. “I grew up with my grandmother and my mother cooking for me, and then I came up to Boston. However, this process is something I have wanted to do, [to represent] my roots so to speak. The meat-and-three concept is very authentic.”
Some of the dishes riff creatively on typical meat-and-three dishes.
“Many of the dishes are dishes I have cooked over the years,” Owens said. “Some of them I’ve done in moderation at other restaurants that I’ve created. They’re a collection of recipes from my family [from] over the years, and, other than that, they’re classic southern recipes you would find in a meat and three in Nashville.”
So what’s the difference between fried chicken here and fried chicken from fast food stops such as Kentucky Fried Chicken?
“I’m proud of the fried chicken, and I feel like we’re pretty authentic. It’s a little above street food,” Owens said. “Not to be pretentious, but it’s great food and great ingredients. A lot goes into it — it’s a 48-hour process. We don’t just take it off the truck and serve it up — we marinate it and dress it beforehand.”
Walls and tables double as chalkboards at M3; it’s an aesthetic highlight diners won’t find anywhere else in Davis Square.
“It’s something I’ve done for years. I can’t remember where, but I was at a place in New York and they had slate on the tables and you could write on them, and it was really cool,” Owens said. “In the South, a lot of the tables in cafes have writing on them. Songwriters write their lyrics on the tables.”
A southern-style restaurant is not unheard of in Davis Square, which hosts the famous Redbones, but a meat and three is a breed all its own. While considering locations, Owens was drawn to Davis Square’s unique culture.
“I love Davis Square. It’s a cool neighborhood [where the concept is] well received. It’s not the kind of concept restaurant you could stick anywhere,” he said.
Migrating culinarily southwest, Davis diners discover The Painted Burro, a Mexican restaurant that opened last March. The restaurant combines a massive cocktail and drink menu with traditionally prepared Mexican cuisine. Located near the end of the square on Elm Street, The Painted Burro is another great option for bar hoppers and gourmands alike.
For many, the bar is the main attraction of the restaurant.
“They’ve got one of the best margaritas in town,” senior Sam Ross said. “They’re comparable in price to some other bars, but [overall] they’re much better.”
When making margaritas, the Burro’s bar adds a unique touch: Instead of merely wiping the edge of the glass with water so salt sticks on the rim, The Painted Burro rubs the glass in oranges before dipping them in salt. Though subtle, this technique adds a mild citrusy flavor patrons have come to love.
The establishment’s tequila selection is arguably its strongest suit. Manager Kleber DeSouza wanted to represent a wide range of tequilas, both in price and style. The tequila offerings are separated into three distinct categories: Blancos, which are aged for fewer than 60 days, Reposados, which are aged between two months and a year in oak barrels, and Anejos, which are often aged for even longer in barrels which may have once contained bourbon or whiskey. These varieties exemplify the restaurant’s commitment to showcasing diversity in the tequila world.
“We tried to stick with small distilleries and hand-crafted tequilas, but there is a wide range of prices. There are tequilas that go from $6 a shot all the way to $44,” DeSouza said. “All of the tequilas are 100 percent agave.”