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A near-Platonic meat loaf emerges from the to-go window of Dot’s Place; the beefy slices crumble as you cut into them, melding with the tomatoey topping to form a sort of glorious, Southern-style Bolognese sauce. On Thursdays, meat loaf mavens go to Tony’s Southern Comfort for well-textured slices of this once-a-week ground-beef specialty, brightened with onion and celery and topped with a smooth, light-brown gravy; Tony Herring himself is in the kitchen, and his wife, Saretta, is on hand to take your order.
Get cozy in one of the cubbyholes that fill the sprawling old cottages that house Celebration, because you’ll want to burrow in for a slow plow through the meat loaf. The free-form mound of freshly ground beef boasts bits of onion and bell pepper plus a generous cover of tart tomato sauce with a lacework of grated cheddar on top. At South Dallas Café, droves of loyal diners lick their lips while watching the server’s large spoon slide into the small mountain of fresh, crumbling meat loaf and heft portions onto plates. You’ll do the same, thanks to ample meat, little filler, and a wealth of tomatoes in the sweet red sauce on top. Snag a counter stool or a comfy green vinyl booth at Mama’s Daughters’ Diner and tuck into a serving of the kitchen’s fortifying meat loaf. The fresh, nubby-textured specialty has little extraneous filler, while the thick tomato sauce is studded with green pepper and onion.
Ravenous soldiers from Fort Bliss have made the near-half-pound slices of lean, spicy, hand-molded meat loaf one of the most requested items on the menu at Elmer’s, a diner so authentic it could have been in American Graffiti.
The sweet staff at Mama Lou’s, a cramped but happy little house in the Como neighborhood, could give lessons in comfort food. Chapter one should be the restaurant’s admirable tomato-sauced meat loaf, a miniature mountain that’s crumbly good and not bulked up with filler.
Pearl’s Soul Food Café, which has perhaps the largest steam table in town, serves the darkest, densest meat loaf you’ll ever eat. That’s because it’s bound with a steak sauce–like blend that lends an exotic, almost caramelly flavor. Like your mom’s, the mild-tasting meat loaf at Triple A is as unimposing as the rear dining room’s brick and faux-wood walls. But generous amounts of fresh celery, onion, and bell pepper perk up meat and tomato sauce alike.
If you’ve been disheartened by what is regularly served under the name of meat loaf, don’t worry. You’ll find the real deal at Angela’s Café, a little spot in a charming shopping center near the Texas Tech campus. The sauce is swirled into the loaf, and bits of green pepper and tomato are spread throughout.
Small Town Gems — Mudd’s Good Eatin’
The “good eatin’” part of the name pretty much says it all. Located just outside Denton in the North Texas burg of BARTONVILLE, Mudd’s has a big, sunny room where the “decor” mixes old wagon wheels and vintage advertisements with shiny, new corrugated metal and aluminum buckets for light fixtures. Tables are set family-style with a mix-and-match assortment of platters and bowls. As for the good eatin’, highest marks go to the insanely tender, two-inch-plus-thick pork chops, crusted with black pepper and topped with brown-sugar-coated bacon strips, and to the giant, juicy fried chicken breasts in a crisp, golden shell. You’ll want seconds of the fluffy, creamy mashers and the cloudlike biscuits. Just leave room for the lush, tart blackberry cobbler with sheets of flaky crust. JN