When a server delivers a plate of food and is met with gasps from diners, you might think a complex could be developed. But at The Green Beetle, our shocked exclamations were surely not the first uttered at the sheer mass of the lasagna.
I ate until I was full. My friend ate a few bites. With knife, fork and even fingers, together we wrestled the leftovers in a barely large-enough to-go box, and I took it with me. When I got home, I headed straight for the trusty kitchen scales.
The leftovers weighed 21/2 pounds.
Lord have mercy.
The lasagna is an extreme example -- and perhaps this was an unusually large portion -- but the servings at The Green Beetle range from oversized to supersized all around.
And yes, it tastes good.
The menu is the same for lunch or dinner. At first glance, the prices for the plate lunches seem a little high at around $10. But this was not accounting for either portion size or the quality of food.
An order of Cajun meat loaf is three slices, each about an inch thick, topped with a sweet and tangy glaze with just the tiniest bit of spice. It's moist and meaty, better than your average meat loaf but not as good as a few others you'll find in soul food restaurants around town.
The mashed potatoes you'll want to order on the side will make you smile. More and more, mashed potatoes are being served with the skins on in restaurants, which provides both texture and flavor. At the Beetle, they're dense but not heavy, and they're spiked with a touch of horseradish. It's a good combination.
Even better, though, are the collard greens. These were as good as collards get. They were tender but in big pieces that still held their shape, seasoned enough but not so much that the flavor of the greens was lost. These were not smoky greens (which isn't to my taste), but they were plenty hearty.
The Cajun fried catfish was served piping hot. As with the Cajun meat loaf, we couldn't pick out Cajun spices, though a comeback sauce served with the fish did have a little heat. Still, the fish was excellent. Fillets were thick in the middle for meaty bites, tapering to thin, crisp edges for crunchy bits along the bottom. They were clean, white and mild.
Frank Liberto opened The Green Beetle in 1939, and it's had a succession of owners over the years. But now it's back in the family. Josh Huckaby, Liberto's grandson, reopened it in July (so if you read online crowd-sourced reviews, ignore any before then).
He's given the place a much-needed facelift in addition to a new menu. The front of the restaurant is mostly open to Main Street on temperate days, which a co-worker noted gave the place a New Orleans feel as the trolley rolled by. It's clean and comfortable, with satellite radio piped over the speakers and live music on weekends.
The Green Beetle burger remains on the menu, and it, too, is massive. It's a nice burger, cooked to order, and though the "normal" size is huge at a half-pound, you can get it doubled if you think you can manage it. You probably can't, but order the Big Frank if you want to try it.
And now to that lasagna. Being able to feed your family from one order isn't impressive unless your family likes it.
Well, this is a mighty good lasagna. Forget the heft for the moment. The meat gravy is made in-house and it's got a nice balance of sweetness, tang and spiciness (it's not hot, though). Pieces of tomato that didn't quite cook down are tucked in here and there -- a nice surprise -- and there are big hunks of Italian sausage mixed in with ground meat and layers of ricotto. Huckaby has two of the cheeses, romano and asiago, shipped to him.
"I can get them here, but they're not what I want," he said.
The huge serving is held upright with a skewer, but the lasagna is surprisingly well-constructed, staying together with little shifting as you work your way in. For 12 layers, as stated on the menu, this is impressive.
Huckaby knows he serves a lot of food, and he's got two explanations.
"What can I say? I'm Italian," is one.
The other is the businessman speaking.
"When I first opened, people told me I was giving too much food out. But the way I see it is that if you eat my food tonight, and then you open that box tomorrow, well, you're thinking of me again. And then you'll be back."
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
The Green Beetle
Address: 325 S. Main
Telephone: (901) 527-7337.
Hours: Daily from 11 a.m., usually closing around 11 p.m. or midnight during the week and later on weekends.
Reviewer's choices: Lasagna ($10.95); Cajun meatloaf (with two sides, $9.95); Cajun fried catfish (with two sides, $8.95); Beetle burger (with fries, $8.95). Be sure to check the Facebook page for daily specials.
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars