Barbecue artistry on display at top-notch Ray Ray’s Meat + Three

This inspired operation is one of the region’s best new restaurants

G.A. Benton
Whole hog with greens, mac & cheese and german potato salad at Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville.

When you open the first “meat-and-three” eatery in the area — where choosing one meat and three sides from a cafeteria-style setup is the name of the game — you can easily lay claim to being the best meat-and-three operation in the region. 

But when you open a meat-and-three joint with a smoke-scented slant and you're already the longtime barbecue champ of Central Ohio? Now you have a special restaurant regardless of the competition. Now you have terrific Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville. 

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A dine-in-oriented spinoff of a barbecue business whose stellar reputation previously emanated from three food trucks and a takeout stand, this new Ray Ray’s branch is loosely patterned after buffet-line-style, meat-and-three restaurants often said to have originally become popular in Nashville. While inspired by old-school Southern establishments, Ray Ray’s is rife with modern accents, too. 

Rustic and polished elements cohere appealingly even outside the standalone building. Its no-nonsense exterior juxtaposes basic black and neon-lit block letters with rusted metal and stacks of wood. The patio around back dresses up picnic tables and a parking-lot setting with captivating street art-style murals.

More:Ray Ray’s Meat + Three introduces Ohio to Southern staple

Inside you’ll find copious white paint, light-colored wooden booths and tables, and mood-setting music that could be Al Green songs on one day and tunes by Portugal. The Man during another visit. The tastefully spare, roomy, moderate-sized space overall evokes a contemporary art gallery — which is fitting, given the artistry occurring in its big open kitchen.

You’d expect expertise in barbecued meat at any Ray Ray’s, and you’ll get that. But the “and three” part of the equation is mighty impressive here, too, and the house sides arrive in generous portions. 

The Denny sandwich at Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville.

While alternatives to meat-and-three entrees are available — and the generally excellent specials merit serious attention — the best deals, quickest service and most balanced meals I received at this counter-ordering/bus-your-own-table place accompanied its namesake combos. 

The huge, fixed price meat-and-threes ($15) I sampled were also among the finer values in the area. Some favorite accompanying sides were: the sweet-and-sour, warm German potato salad; killer collard greens; scrupulously minced, zippy coleslaw; soothing mac-and-cheese; and nuanced-and-distinct “cheddar cornbread puddin.”

You can’t go wrong with any of the barbecue, either, but the most consistent options (in moisture-and-fat content) are the routinely changing yet reliably great chile-spiked, house-made sausage links (enormous, creatively flavored, texturally flawless) and the wonderfully lusty, hefty heap of company farm-raised “whole hawg” (served with excellent chow-chow) — a locally rare, hard-to-prepare blend of chopped pork cuts topped with crackly pork rind crystals and a bracing vinegar-and-chile-based sauce.

Veering off the meat-and-three path brought varied results. I received more standout sauces (tangy tomato-based, bright mustard-based) with the panoply of barbecue that is the imposing “meat sweats” sampler ($26). Presented in a pizza-style box, it included flavor-bomb jerk chicken thighs, turkey breast, brisket, sausage and pork belly. Though a joyous meat jamboree, it doesn’t include any delectable sides ($3 each) and mine was missing its advertised cauliflower burnt ends.

Order of ribs with sauce on the side and a Jimmy Ray's beer at Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville.

The $16-per-pound spare ribs (three were $8) are a must. So is the spectacularly stacked-and-smashed pork belly Cubano, which for my $13 is the absolute best Cuban sandwich in Central Ohio. 

A decked-out brisket sandwich called The Denny came on a wonderful roll and tasted great. But it cost $18 and was slathered with beer-cheese sauce that, though good, lacked much menu-promised ‘nduja (spicy sausage) flavor. Also, because the beef was quite fatty, it was somewhat hard to handle.

After enjoying two inexpensive, disparate items — the Jimmy Ray ($5), a snakebite-esque, local-brewery cocktail of Nocterra gose mixed with Dankhouse IPA; and the parfait-like s’more brownie trifle ($6), a s’more-with-more special assembled with brownies, graham-cracker crumbles, smoky scorched marshmallow, ganache and (peanut butter-y) “salted tahini butter” — I momentarily wondered if this elite, game-changing barbecue eatery should be called “Ray Ray’s Meat + Five.”    

Sausage + beans + cornbread + cole slaw along with order of ribs, Cubano sandwich and the whole hog meat & Three  at Ray Ray's Meat + Three in Granville.

Ray Ray's Meat + Three

1256 Columbus Rd., Granville