There are a wealth of new local eateries cropping up in the metro and even more coming. If they’re not on your radar, they should be. From the comfy atmosphere at The Barrel on Western Avenue to the laid-back vibe at the Plaza District’s coffee shop, you might find a new regular hangout.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman
1630 N. Blackwelder
What works: sandwiches with great flavors, excellent spot to hang out
What needs work: Parking can be a pain, but that’s what happens when a place is popular.
Tips: The Monte Cristo is a dessert worth the calories.
I, too, am having trouble coming up with reasons to review The Mule. Everybody I know already loves it. They love the decor. They love the bar. They love the concept and the execution of a grilled cheese-focused restaurant.
So what am I doing adding to the overwhelming chorus? Well, I was getting my teeth cleaned, and my dental hygienist asked if there were any new restaurants with which I was smitten. When I said, “Well, I can’t get enough of The Mule,” she said, “Now what is that?” Really? OK.
So there are people who don’t know about the Plaza District’s culinary hot spot. Here’s what you need to know: The Mule is not big. It’s not Nic’s Grill small, but it’s not big. If your birthday party is four people, that’s fine. If it’s 40, maybe the restaurant will cater for you or something, but don’t crowd out everybody else.
The food consists of sandwiches with a few salads, soups, appetizers and desserts thrown in for good measure.
I like a nice Caesar salad, but I love the Caesar ($7) at The Mule. The lettuce is arugula, tossed with a light but tangy dressing. On top: shaved Parmesan. And — the inspired pièce de résistance — the croutons are a cut-up grilled cheese sandwich.
On the appetizers, the fried cheese curds ($7) are, in my opinion, better than the Stuffed and Baked ($7). While the Stuffed and Baked (mushrooms, stuffed with cheese, with jalapeños blanketed in more cheese) tastes good, it’s a little hard to eat.
Whereas the cheese curds are almost too easy to eat. I fear for the person who tries to take them away. The end will not be pretty.
But the stars of the show are the sandwiches. My favorite is the Croque Madame ($9). Served openfaced, it’s a big slice of sourdough kind of soaked in Dijon mustard and then piled high with ham, Gruyére cheese, the house gravy and a fried egg on top. If you think the mustard is going to be too much for you, ask for it to be left off. Me? I love it just the way it is. (The way it is going into my belly.)
Not only is the Macaroni Pony ($10) elegantly named, it’s also damn delicious. The cheese in this sandwich comes from macaroni and cheese, which is topped with a spicy pulled pork and a pickle, all inside some jalapeño cornbread. There’s a lot going on, but the flavors work in harmony to create a big, bold sandwich. No wonder it’s a top seller.
Vegetarians might want to try the Portacatoosa ($8.50), an earthy sandwich filled with chopped, roasted portobello mushrooms and sun-dried tomato pesto with fontina and goat cheese melted all around it. On top of the sourdough bread? A balsamic vinegar reduction.
You can get a plain old grilled cheese and tomato soup as an appetizer ($6), but I’m all about the Big Ass Grilled Cheese ($8.50) on sourdough. What cheeses lay within? Chef’s choice. Yeah, it’s a gamble, but unlike Kenny Rogers’ plastic surgery, this one always turns out right.
Hey, you ever order a turkey sandwich without being disappointed? Yeah, it’s a rarity. Luckily, The Mule has the turkey ($8.50), which is filled with shaved turkey breast, Gruyére and sharp cheddar and topped with lettuce, tomato and avocado. Seriously, it’s like somebody wants you to actually eat this sandwich, not just endure it.
On the side? I thought the fries were OK, but the onion rings (small $3.50, large $6) and the soup ($4) are great additions to some great sandwiches.
But you probably already know this. And if you don’t already know, you should fix that ASAP.