There are several distinct phases that occur when you eat a chicken-fried steak. First is the anticipation. The order is placed, the tummy-tum is rumbling and 15 minutes of cooking time seems like an eternity. Second, there is elation. It’s sitting in front of you, you knock over a water glass to saw off that first bite and eat about half of the fritter as fast as possible. Then comes the “I’m-
My dining companion, Ike, had supper (you really have to call it supper here) with me at Murphy’s Mule Barn, and we even added an extra phase to the chicken-fried steak ritual.
We were told the chicken-fried steak dinner ($6.95) was pretty big, but nothing could have truly prepared us for its arrival. This bad boy was a couple of feet long. We danced and frolicked around the plate like a couple of cackling buffoons, taking pictures with our phones to show people later. We barely noticed the forbearance of the other diners (most of whom were sporting grain co-op hats and flannels), who shook their heads as if to say, “Those city kids are friggin’ weird!”
I ordered the "Mule steak" dinner ($9.95), an eight-ounce sirloin steak with soup or salad, bread, and choice of potato.
Ike’s salad and my soup came out first, and I ended up eating most of both. The salad was blanketed in some fine homemade ranch dressing, which manager Sue told me later had a secret ingredient: a nip of sour cream. The chicken noodle soup was thick and hearty, and filled with homemade egg noodles in a broth that was savory with celery.
I was surprised there was no sweet tea on the menu, but server Mary had enough sugar for a couple of gallons' worth. She was attentive, quick with the grub and she kept patting me and calling me “honey.” I felt warm and toasty inside.
It was hard not to notice the décor. This restaurant has been around since the late ’40s, Sue told me, and it's made an excellent backdrop for movies over the years. The ancient lunch counter, the charmingly mismatched coffee cups on each table, the walls covered with lassos and lanterns seemed like a different universe than the Albuquerque Ike and I were used to.
“It’s like being in Texas, except the people don’t suck,” Ike said.
And there were big, plastic ashtrays on the tables. I picked one up and examined it, at which point a dining patron from across the room hollered over, “Enjoy it while you can—it’ll be gone in a week!” Apparently the no-smoking ordinance has caught up with Murphy’s Mule Barn (which, being outside city limits, has been exempt from the ban so far).
In the frenzy over Ike’s supper (I swear I heard someone call the refrigerator an icebox, too) I damn near forgot about my steak. The baked potato was fluffy and infused with a lump of margarine and a glop of sour cream. I also had a side dish of really good, slow-cooked green beans in that salty broth. I took a few bites of steak to discover it was cooked exactly the way I wanted—a warm and bleeding medium-rare. I likes me a good steak every so often, but sirloin just doesn’t compare to a fatty, glistening ribeye, so I proceeded to help Ike annihilate his chicken fried steak. This thing was so big they had to put his mashed potatoes (you gotta call ’em taters), green beans and smooshy white dinner rolls on separate plates.
While gleefully mowing down section after section of steaming, breaded meat and peppered milk gravy, I glanced over to the table next to us to see someone with the same meal, only the gravy on his steak was adorned with a fat ribbon of green chile.
“That’s called a ‘sunrise,’" said Sue. “A lot of people get it for breakfast with eggs on the side.”
There is a dessert board in the corner, and this evening it advertised fruit and meringue pies and three different cakes, all handmade by Granny. Granny is Sue’s 88-year-old mother, and even though Ike and I were so full we were sweating, we ordered slices of the lemon and chocolate meringue ($3.25 each) and cherry ($2.75). The lemon pie rocked my world. The chocolate was rich and sweet. The cherry was moist, and the crust perfection, but nothing can compare to a piece of handcrafted lemon meringue pie. Granny is a goddess of pies, high atop a mountain.
Ike and I were in and out of sleep mode on the car ride home. I put one of the chicken fried steak pictures I took as the screen saver on my phone. And I don’t care how busy the place gets on the weekends (Mary, Sue and cashier Brinda all warned us), I will be back. Except this time, I won’t eat breakfast or lunch all day to make room.
The Alibi Recommends:
Sides of soup and salad with ranch
Chicken-fried steak (you may want to split it with someone)
Mary says, “We have really good fish!” She recommends the all-you-can-eat fish dinner on Friday nights from 5 p.m. to close.
Murphy’s Mule Barn, 9700 Second Street NW (at Alameda), 898-7660. Hours: Mon-Sat 6 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Price range: inexpensive. No smoking (sorry, it’s inevitable), no booze, credit cards accepted.