The Many Faces of Meatloaf

Loyalty to one type of meatloaf is the menu’s biggest problem.

Meatloaf is the chameleon of dishes. It adapts to any style or setting, ftting right in.

Meatloaf gets the job done, typically with laudable food costs.

These three takes on meatloaf provide just a small glimpse into the breadth of this American classic. Change ground beef to lamb or add bison or veal for a different flavor profile. Or bypass ground meat altogether—braise a subprimal cut like short rib and press it in a loaf pan. Serve it across dayparts. 

And that’s just the meat part of the dish. Switch out the starch or vegetable or change up the herbs and spices, and a new version surfaces. Exploring the possibilities of meatloaf is like a labyrinth. Each turn leads to another. 

TYPE: Braised short rib packed into a pan, sliced and seared

“Our version of meatloaf is a really surprising take on an American classic dish,” says Chef Jeff McInnis at Root & Bone in New York City. “The meat is a very high-quality cut that is braised in red wine until it is perfectly tender. The meat literally melts in your mouth and is such a surprising sensation.”

INSPIRATION: “Our mission is to take Southern and American classics and elevate the dishes with unique techniques and quality seasonal ingredients,” says Chef Janine Booth.
VARIATIONS: The meatloaf can be paired with any starch and seasonal vegetable.  For dinner, it shares the plate with creamy mashed potatoes, charred broccoli and roasted root vegetables, or cauliflower mash with red-eye gravy and baby peas. 
WHAT’S ON THE PLATE: An 8-ounce portion with two local eggs any way, smashed baby rainbow potatoes and tomato jam.
FOOD COST: 23.5 percent


Meatloaf balls called “Nugs”

“Many people tend to shy away from meatloaf, but our presentation makes the dish a bit more approachable,” says Executive Chef Tyson Peterson at Spoke & Steele in Indianapolis. The meatloaf balls are served as an appetizer that guests love to share.

VARIATION: Sold as three or five in a serving
INSPIRATION: The recipe came from Peterson’s mom. “I really like the challenge of elevating dishes that are recognizable to many people. Who doesn’t enjoy a good meatloaf, especially in meatball form?” he says.
WHAT’S ON THE PLATE: Five meatloaf balls totaling 10 ounces sit on a mound of smashed and fried potatoes, which can be made from leftover baked potatoes to control food costs. A tomato chili glaze and jalapenos garnish the dish.
MENU PRICE: Three for $10 or five for $15
FOOD COST: 24 percent

TYPE: Open-faced meatloaf sandwich

“It’s a comfort food go-to for chilly Chicago nights but also makes for a hearty Midwestern meal that tastes great with our local craft beer selections,” says Executive Chef Eric Mansavage of Farm Bar in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. “The 100 percent grass-fed beef lends great flavor to the final product.”

VARIATION: The sandwich is served as an entree on the dinner menu.
INSPIRATION: It’s a spin-off of his grandmother’s meatloaf, which Mansavage grew up eating.
WHAT’S ON THE PLATE: 8 ounces of meat, sliced bread, house giardiniera and rosemary gravy
FOOD COST: 24 percent 



More meatloaf variations

  • Ground beef, ground buffalo,
    nutmeg, cumin, cayenne, chili sauce, garlic, breadcrumbs, eggs and
    other seasonings

Jimmy’s An American Restaurant& Bar; Aspen, Colorado


  • Ground beef and pork with additions that change seasonally, such as wild mushrooms in the spring and roasted pimento peppers in the summer

Watershed on Peachtree; Atlanta



Chef Mike Johnson pairs meatloaf
melted on garlic cheese bread at Sugarfire Smoke House in St. Louis. 

A variation includes a half-cup of spaghetti tossed with marinara and sandwiched with the meatloaf between bread. It’s a customer favorite, he says.