Shorthand for "meat and three" (sides, that is), M3 sits at the corner of Highland Avenue and Cutter Avenue, a short two blocks away from the 6-way intersection that defines Somerville's Davis Square. Geographically speaking, the bad news is that it's an easier-to-miss-than-it-ought-to-be one block a way from the triangle formed by Elm Street, Highland Avenue and Grove Street that many think of when they think of Davis Square. The good news is that the parking in that lesser travelled stretch is much more readily available.
Gastronomically speaking, it's a Southern style diner of sorts—not quite barbecue, but similar in spirit, even without ribs or a pulled pork sandwich—joining recent envelope pushers Tupelo (Inman Square), Hungry Mother (Kendall Square), Redd's in Rozzie (Roslindale) and very new newcomer Estelle's (South End).
The interior is old school Southern meets hipster modern. Tightly spaced stools along a counter allow up-close viewing of the open kitchen and oh-so-close cake displays and pickle jars. Tables further out include mismatched chairs. Blackboard menus highlight the ever-changing menu, much of which gets immersed into the fryolators.
Hog wings: Pork shanks with bones have slowly caught on at barbecue restaurants—usually smoked (see Larry J's in Boston), sometimes fried. Here they're baked and topped with a golden sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Tenderness was a big plus; flavor was very understated. The sweet and tangy barbecue sauce made a nice complement without overshadowing the pork.
Fried Green Tomatoes: I won't comment on authenticity or take sides based on style, so here's a description of what I had: batter that was light of color, lighter of crunch and heavy of application—though not so battered to obscure the tomatoes inside, which were more like a soft, pickly, sweet-tart jam. They're possibly too soft for some or too greasy for others, but I liked the uniqueness of the melt-in-your-mouth texture that might lose its novelty the next time around.
The Duckfat Burger
I have to admit, more than any of the Southern or quasi-barbecue items, it was the Duckfat Burger (how can you not love that name and the promised 9 herbs and spices?) that led me to try M3. This burger ($15 with fries) comes with a simple bun, toasted without butter and a little too much bun for the beef. Fancy pants lettuce, tomato and raw sliced onion occupy the bottom; a couple of warm, moist pepper bacon strips sit on top. The patty itself on both visits tasted and felt very unusual inside and out. The vibe hitting me was meatloaf the first time, shish kebab or koftka the second time. The promised seasoning was visible but light on the first try, then lived up to the billing on the second. Though glistening on the surface, inner leanness (always a problem with overhyped grass fed beef) and slight overdoneness halted juice flow both times. So where does the duckfat come in? That's what it's cooked in—hence the glistening exterior. The pepper bacon (limp on the first try, crisp on the second) was a saving grace, but everything else disappointed, especially the much-too-dry beef. Twice. Overall, not a burger I'd recommend.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: The first visit's LGC (lime garlic chili) fries (not an option but the standard offering) succeeded in bringing zingy flavor but were a little too much of a departure from fries and a lot too soggy under all the liquid. This changed over to BJC (blackened jerk Cajun) on the second visit, delivering fries that were limp and crispy at the same time. Darkened skins helped out a little; fiercely liberal seasoning helped out a lot. Both versions of fries were okay, but while the first was an interesting experiment, the BJC has more lasting power.
Fried Pickled Onions: Ordered off the specials board on the first visit, these were more like onion chunks than rings, startling with puckery tartness that you just don't find in an onion ring. Another interesting novelty that I'm glad I tried once but probably wouldn't seek out again.
The Brunchy Stuff
Chicken and Waffles ($11): Pale, rubbery waffles resembling an overused sponge more than waffles, these compensated with a unique flavor heightened by cherry and pecan. Heaped with butter and syrup just in case, they somehow worked. The fried chicken—three uncut wings—had a bit of a prefab feel to it (Weaver's frozen was mentioned) but the light, crisp batter and increasingly rare use of seasoning both pushed the chicken over the "doable" threshold.
Sausage ($2): A few different types are available at brunch (maple and duck apple), but we went with the venison blueberry because it was the most different. As expected, it had a slightly gamey flavor; unexpected was the lack of any in-your-face blueberry flavor, but the little wrinkled berries in every third bite gave the sausage a little extra edge. Juiciness and snap were both around average.
Peppered Bacon ($2): By far the best thing I tried out of the two visits—even despite being served less than warm—this effectively fused sweetness and spice in a thick, smoky, crispy package. Like the sausage, there are choices: peppered or chocolate covered.
Smoked Duck Hash ($4): Once again, M3 offers several hash options (smoked duck, pulled pork, root vegetable, chicken), but the only smoked one is the one I targeted. Lightly smoky, well blended, not overmashed and bearing a good duck-to-potato ratio, this made a good complement to eggs or a dish unto itself.
I like the look of the place.
I like the blackboards for wall specials and even the blackboard tables that allow you to make chalk art right beside your plate.
I like the menu, at least as far as what it promises.
I get the impression that Southern cuisine is less a part of the ownership's lifeblood and more of a strategic addition to the portfolio that aso includes Local 149 (South Boston) and The Biltmore (Newton).
I like the service, which was friendly and helpful both times.
I like that on my second brunch visit there was an outside dispenser for self service complimentary hot apple cider.
The Bottom Line
I'm sure I'll be back at some point to try to try more bacon, some of their pickle selections, maybe a slice of their homemade cake and definitely their beer can chicken, but for now I have mixed feelings about M3. I really wanted to love M3's Southern dishes and its sounds-great-on-paper burger, but am just okay with the former and underwhelmed by the latter. For now I recommend the breakfasty options over the more serious meats and sandwiches.
Other Opinion/ Info
Urbandaddy preview of M3
Yelp reviews of M3
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