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Like most middle-class baby boomers, I grew up on meatloaf. I’ve continued to devour it regularly, have never gotten tired of it. Now, my meatloaf ardor comes with a couple of conditions: (1) Meatloaf is always better when made at home. (2) Meatloaf is always better with gravy, not a sauce, a glaze, a demi, or what have you.

I’m breaking with those two maxims this week: (1) Eating meatloaf in restaurants, (2) neither of which serves the dish with gravy, per their menus. I’ve chosen two markedly different establishments to square off: Glory Days Grill is a sports bar with eight Tampa Bay area locations; Birch & Vine is a fine-dining restaurant on the bottom floor of a boutique hotel on upscale Beach Drive in St. Pete.

Basic vs. fancy. Moderately priced vs. pricey. Let’s hope these contrasts make for a good battle.


Even though Glory Days is just five miles north of my home in St. Pete, I’ve never been. And that’s partly because I assumed it was named after a 1984 hit by Bruce Springsteen. Unlike nearly all of my baby-boomer brethren, I’ve never heeded The Boss’s call — and “Glory Days” is probably his song that irritates me most.

After entering the restaurant on Monday at 6:30, I was pleased to not confront any iconography or tribute or (especially) aural evidence of the tune. So, a good start. Bonnie and I sat in a cushy booth. A few feet away, at a table near the bar, two senior gents played chess (see above photo) — a Rockwellian image that I found utterly charming, and made the large space feel damn near homey.

Glory Days was a lot nicer than we expected. Even though the walls were coated in big-screen TVs with vivid color, the place somehow maintained a certain intimacy. Our server acted like she was glad to be there.

I ordered Mr. Richard’s Meatloaf ($15), with mashed potatoes and baked beans (The only green side dish was steamed broccoli. Nah.)


While I knew not to expect a pool of luscious brown gravy, this meatloaf entree looked pretty naked. A thin glaze of Glory Days Grilling Sauce™ — trademarked, so it must be special — covered the meat. So thin that I asked my server for some extra.

I also didn’t expect grill marks on the two slabs of loaf, but that didn’t prejudice me one way or the other.

Texture and Taste

Made with ground beef and pork, this meatloaf was a little too firm for my liking. It had a chewy crust — I knife-cut a few bites — and vaguely smokey flavor that I attributed to grilling. In all, this meatloaf was pretty tasty, and I appreciated the crunchy bits of green pepper and onion.

I was not, however, a fan of the Glory Days Grilling Sauce™. It was BBQ-esque and too sweet.

The basic mashed potatoes worked well with the loaf. But after a while they became a little bland, as you’d expect, so — in lieu of gravy — I asked the server for some butter. She gladly obliged and brought it out quickly. The potatoes had remained just warm enough for some agreeable yellow meltage.

Kudos to the baked beans. Their not-so-secret ingredient: bacon. I’m off bacon these days but was okay with a one-night cheat.


On Wednesday at 6 p.m., with a light drizzle coming down, there was no parking to be found on Beach Drive. The valet line was backed up, so we opted for a nearby garage and grabbed our umbrellas. We arrived at Birch & Vine nicely dry.

The tables on the covered patio were full, but the main dining room indoors had seating aplenty. The host showed us to one of those arc-shaped booths that hold six, allowing me and Bonnie to sit next to each other. Cozy.

My Meatloaf ($28) came with buttermilk mashed potatoes, wild mushrooms and asparagus, and a “Bacon-Fig Demi” sauce. We ordered a cup of cheddar broccoli soup ($7) and I got a 3 Daughters Beach Blonde Ale ($7) — from the tap, thank you.

As per usual with fine-dining restaurants, the dish was elegantly arrayed on a bigger-than-necessary plate. Still, all the accoutrements couldn’t overcome the dark, drab appearance of two loaf pucks. On a hopeful note, the brown sauce looked suspiciously like gravy.

Texture and Taste

I had to use some force to fork-cut a bite of the meatloaf. Made with ribeye and pork, it was coarsely textured and took some extra effort to chew. Bonnie and I examined the loaf closely and could detect no other ingredients — not breading, not peppers, not onions. We agreed that, as far as we could determine, this meatloaf was essentially two well-done burgers, without any of the juiciness. So — not meatloaf at all, as least as we know it.

The sauce really helped. Know why? It was pretty much like gravy — albeit sweeter and richer.

As for as the rest, the potato was pureed and there was too little of it. I’m not a mushroom eater, although I took a couple of bites, which reminded me that I’m still not a mushroom eater. The asparagus was too chewy.

Kudos to the flavorful soup, which Bonnie and I scooped up in about five minutes.

So Could Either One of These Restaurants Make Meatloaf That’s Better Than Homemade?

A resounding no. And nowhere near as good as.

But I’ll pick a winner anyway:

Glory Days.

Pairing Glory Days’ loaf with Birch & Vine’s gravy-like sauce would’ve made for a solid combo.


After we finished our meal at Birch & Vine, the server asked what we thought. That opened the door for our critique about how the meatloaf failed — or better yet, how it was not really meatloaf, at least by commonly held standards.

The front-of-house manager, Michael, joined the good-natured discussion, all of it couched in constructive criticism. (Our suspicion that the meatloaf contained nothing but meat was confirmed.) To their credit, both staffers were genuinely appreciative of our comments — and said they’d pass it along to the kitchen.










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