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The Mule totes first-love flavors to the mountaintop
By Dave Cathey
| Published: October 4, 2012
The Plaza District recently welcomed a kitschy little restaurant and bar called The Mule, which offers cold beer and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in an ultra cool, ultra casual environment.
Owners Cody Rowan, John Harris, and Joey Morris started confabbing about restaurant partnership as students at Oklahoma State University and employees of Eskimo Joe's.
Names like Hunger Town emerged. Ideas for the menu ran the gamut. The idea that stuck centered around grilled cheese sandwiches and beer — staples of the college diet.
While the grilled cheese sandwich is embraced by most of us as soon as we grow a pair of incisors, beer is embraced as we come of age. They are an unlikely pair of first loves that never leave our hearts.
All three went into the restaurant industry. Cody went off to Denver while John and Joey stuck around Oklahoma City and learned their trade at The Wedge Pizzeria in Deep Deuce.
All along, the dream stayed alive and more than a year ago, the trio put the wheels in motion to what they hoped would be an April 2012 launch. Then it moved to July before finally celebrating its birthday in late September.
Tucked on the bottom floor of a refurbished apartment complex on the corner of NW 16 Street and Blackwelder, The Mule is an urban environment that celebrates Oklahoma's rural roots and pioneer ingenuity.
“We wanted a clean, rustic-industrial atmosphere,” Rowan said.
Walls on one end are built with wood from a barn and another is covered in pallet planks.
“We went Dumpster-diving for those,” Rowan said.
The space is clean, simple and inviting. The floor has room for more tables, but the partners smartly resisted the temptation to clutter the space.
The name, Morris explains, comes from a saying heard by a grandparent.
“Don't worry about the mule, just fill the cart,” Morris said.
The menu is a mix of familiar pub foods but not those terribly common in this market. On the appetizer roster, you won't find nachos, chicken wings or mozzarella sticks. You will find Okie poutine, fried cheese curds, and stuffed and baked jalapenos and mushrooms. You can also get a dipping portion of house-tomato soup with a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches.
The salads include a Caesar and house salad but also a beet salad and the Orchard, which includes apple and pear slices with almond slivers and balsamic vinaigrette.
The Mule offers 13 variations on the grilled cheese, some with meat and others without. I've tried the Cortez and Macaroni Pony. Each was good enough to order again, but bore a level of quality that made me confident the remaining 11 had similar promise.
The Cortez includes braised short ribs, queso fresco, grilled jalapeno, caramelized onion, pepperoncini, and a spicy aioli on sourdough bread. The result was lush, rich flavor housed on bread with just enough crunch to satisfy the texture my palate insists upon. The beer-battered onion rings were a revelation, sprinkled with crunchy salt. While the plate didn't include a mound of the onion rings, the quality more than made up for the lack of quantity.
The Macaroni Pony includes pulled pork in a chipotle barbecue sauce with three-cheese macaroni on a cornbread bun. This is very likely to be The Mule's No. 1 seller. It hits all the comfort-food checkpoints with the subtlety of a Roman candle in a closet.
Co-owner Joey Morris gleaned plenty of the cool that makes The Wedge in his time running the second of the white-hot pizzeria concepts. Morris and friends fill the quiet spot with the latest Indie-Alternative music and the staff is inclined to sway music-festival style as they fulfill your cold beer and hot sandwich needs. This isn't a squat-and-gobble eatery, The Mule is a hangout.
“We want people to come in and feel welcome to order something to eat or drink and hang out for a while,” Rowan said. “If you want to come in and have a beer while you read a book, that's great.”
The Mule's beer list is headlined by local brewers COOP Ale Works and Mustang, with plenty of price points covered. Signature cocktails begin with, what else, the Moscow Mule plus variations on that theme like the Gin Mule, Kentucky Mule and Burro. I tried a couple Gin Mule's on a recent Friday night, and while they lacked the balance of those Kyle Fleischfresser used to concoct at Ludivine, ginger beer enthusiasts will line up for these.
Rowan said brunch is planned in the near future.
“Give us a month or two,” Rowan said. “We'll roll out brunch once we get some of the kinks worked out.”
The Mule enriches the up-and-coming Plaza District as well as the local restaurant scene, filling a niche aimed at casual diners with discerning palates in an inviting atmosphere.
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If you go
Where: 1630 N Blackwelder.
When: 11 a.m. to “late” Tuesday through Sunday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.