Dining Review: Angelic updates of diner favorites

The Colossus at Three Angels Diner is a half-pound burger with bacon, melted smoked gouda, crispy fried onions and 'diner slaw.'

Photo by Ben Fant // Buy this photo

The Colossus at Three Angels Diner is a half-pound burger with bacon, melted smoked gouda, crispy fried onions and "diner slaw."

The Facebook pictures of Three Angels Diner left me expecting a very different place than the one tucked away on Broad near Collins. It looked larger, polished, sophisticated.

Whew. It was a relief to find instead a homey place -- well, more on the bar to come -- with mismatched chairs and tables covered with old papers.

The Colossus at Three Angels Diner is a half-pound burger with bacon, melted smoked gouda, crispy fried onions and 'diner slaw.'

Photo by Ben Fant

The Colossus at Three Angels Diner is a half-pound burger with bacon, melted smoked gouda, crispy fried onions and "diner slaw."

Vegetable selections vary daily. The produce is brought in from community gardens, and no frozen vegetables are used.

Photo by Ben Fant

Vegetable selections vary daily. The produce is brought in from community gardens, and no frozen vegetables are used.

The menu is easy to navigate: A few salads, a few more sandwiches, a few standard plate dinners, and there are daily specials.

First, let's give thanks for the sandwich that can make any day a holiday: The Thanksgiving Turkey.

It's a knife and fork job, full of real turkey breast (no deli meat like I've seen on other turkey and cranberry sandwiches) and honest-to-goodness stuffing, nestled between two big pieces of toast slathered with cranberry sauce. The menu says it's served open-face, but mine came closed. No big deal.

Playing a little loose with a menu description is pretty much inconsequential when all you end up with is an extra piece of bread. But calling a dish short ribs and serving brisket is another story.

The menu is straightforward: Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs.

We ordered, and were delivered a decadently rich and tender piece of brisket next to two grit cakes and crisp and fresh green beans. It was hands-down my favorite dish, thanks to all the elements mentioned above and the crazy-rich gravy that was dark enough to look like a pool of chocolate.

But it wasn't short ribs.

A brisket sandwich was one of the specials of the day, and I wondered if there had been a mistake or if a deliberate substitution was being made.

Neither, the server said. It's not actually short ribs, but a dish they call Shorty's Ribs -- which is actually brisket. But, she explained, she often calls them short ribs and she hoped she didn't mislead us.

It was a head-scratcher -- remember, the dish is actually named Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs -- but it won't keep me from ordering it again.

The diner burger is excellent, as a griddle-fried burger tends to be. There were crisp bits around the edge of the patty, the bun was toasted and fresh, and the housemade chips were fried crisp. A simple but nice deviled egg comes with the burger and with some of the other plates, too. There's nothing fancy about it -- just a yolk, a bit of mayonnaise, mustard, and a tangy bit of sweet pickle, mixed up and piped back in the white half. But it's comforting and familiar.

Vegetable selections vary daily. The brussels sprouts were cooked with a little red onion, just to tender and not a bit beyond. The garlic-mashed new potatoes were creamy, but not too soft, and light on the garlic.

The pozole was the singular disappointment. Expecting a thick bowl of spicy pork and hominy stew, I was puzzled to find instead a few pieces of pork and hominy lost in a bowl of broth. My first impression was that the stew was watered down to soup to stretch it through dinner, as even the broth tasted thin and flat. I spiced it up and ate it, with the meager bits of avocado, radish and lettuce (the latter not listed, but a traditional accompaniment) added for substance. I've searched recipes galore and haven't found one that I think would result in a such a soupy pozole.

An utter delight, though, was the tomato-fennel soup of the day. It tasted like an Italian garden, fresh and sprightly with tomato, redolent with the anise scent of fennel. Cups of soup are served in coffee mugs, and here's hoping they're all as well done as the tomato-fennel.

We passed on the banana pudding -- a popular choice -- for Lucian's lemon ice box pie and were pleased with our choice. A sturdy, tart custard on the bottom, sweetened with a modest layer of whipped cream on top. It's a homemade pie, and that's what it looks and tastes like. Enjoy.

Now, to the bar. The concept of home cooking doesn't mesh with alcohol for me, because I think of home cooking as big Sunday lunches. So the bar -- huge, abundantly stocked and surrounded by silver molded bar stools -- seemed a bit out of place. After eating the food, though, it's easy to see how the two go together. The food isn't "country" cooking. It's just simple food that's done well, and it's deserving of a pre-dinner cocktail or a glass of wine.

Also, Three Angels is open until 2 a.m., making it an excellent late-night spot for a burger and a beer.

-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

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Three Angels Diner

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 2617 Broad

Telephone: (901) 452-1111

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Reviewer's choices: Thanksgiving turkey sandwich ($8); slow braised beef short ribs ($8); diner burger ($6); tomato-fennel soup of the day (cup $3; bowl $4.50); Lucian's lemon icebox pie ($4).

Alcohol: Full bar

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Comments » 2

johnscruggs#213953 writes:

Oh 3 Angels, I want you to fix things and flourish. I'll come back for more, I promise. Feed us. Send me out the door full and happy.

The "short rib" issue is a complete curveball. Tasty but snackish in size. I completely agree with Jennifer Biggs' assessment of the pozole, which was a huge letdown during a visit last week. Flat, bland, watery and in desperate need of a skim. After fishing out the solids, I called it quits with a half bowl of shimmering, globule-capped broth. Salt and pepper didn't fix this one. My primary complaint with 3 Angels is portion sizes. I'll take quality over quantity any day of the week. Quality doesn't come cheap. And prices there are reasonable. But I can't imagine the starving artists on Broad ever leaving the diner with full stomachs or running back to pay for a repeat study in what felt like forced dieting. The grilled cheese would have barely overlapped a deck of cards. I almost laughed out loud when it hit the table. It was delicious but embarrassingly small and would have better served the needs of a four-year old, not a sextagenarian. I want to love this place. I really do. I want to go back. There are moments of brilliance. The lemon pie is a standout, however the slice was painfully acute, consistent with the seemingly Lilliputian portions that preceded it.

Mary writes:

I don't think the portions shown in the photos look small - I'm assuming the three-vegetable plate shown came with bread, in which case that would be a normal-size meal. The burger plate looked like way more than enough to me.

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