Alibi V.25 No.27 • July 7-13, 2016 

Restaurant Review

The Murphy’s Mule Barn Method of Manning Up

Chicken and Waffles
Ashley’s Chicken and Waffles

I made fresh limeade last week. I hurt my arm squeezing the limes. I kept saying, “These limes just aren't ripe enough. Not ripe at all.” But I knew the truth. I was weak. Soft—like all of America.

We don't have any rites of passage here—unless you count getting a driver's license—no way of turning a boy into a man. In the Amazon, the boys of the Satere-Mawe tribe stick their hands into gloves lined with bullet ants weaved into the fabric. The bullet ants' bites are excruciating, and the pain lasts for 24 hours. The initiates suffer hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. Something strange and new comes out of the other end of an experience like that: a goddamn man. Meanwhile, I still buy toys and watch cartoons. MVD doesn't compare.

Which hopefully explains the high pitch of my voice as I entered Murphy's Mule Barn, gently rubbing my forearm and complaining about the heat. The patrons—regulars in cowboy hats and boots—eyed me warily. They could unconsciously smell the weakness in me that I was blissfully unaware of.

The dining room was sparsely decorated with pictures of mules and statues of mules. Classic diner-style booths and tables lazed beneath slowly turning ceiling fans. I took a booth and looked out the window at a grounded marquee near the entrance to the parking lot. “Come in as a stranger,” it said, “leave as our friend.”

I looked at the menu before my server showed up. It was all standard fare, country cooking—comfort food that has always had a place near my heart, and not in that bad cholesterol kind of way (well, maybe that way, too). Mashed potatoes, two-egg breakfast, burgers, gravy-soaked chicken-fried steak the size of a baby. I was salivating when my server arrived to take my order. But just as she was asking if I was ready, my eyes lit upon the legendary dish that has been the butt of half the world's food jokes: liver and onions.

“Oh. Shit. Um,” I said. A sudden urge overwhelmed me. I struggled against it, knowing all the while I was just shadowboxing, pretending to fight so I could grasp the remaining shreds of my dignity as I felt myself fold beneath the pressure of impulse. “What do you think about the liver and onions? Should I do it?”

She stopped cold, looked at me from the corner of her eye. “You like liver?”

The dining room was sparsely decorated with pictures of mules and statues of mules. Classic diner-style booths and tables lazed beneath slowly turning ceiling fans. I took a booth and looked out the window at a grounded marquee near the entrance to the parking lot. “Come in as a stranger,” it said, “leave as our friend.”

“I don't know. Never had it.”

She pursed her lips for a second. “If you don't like it, you can send it back.”

“Oh no, no, no, no,” I said. “I can't be doing that sort of thing.”

Her eyes were now gleaming with curiosity. Or mischief. “I'll buy it for you.”

It was a challenge, and although I might not have been a real man, I also didn't want anyone knowing about it. The challenge was accepted. I ordered the grilled liver ($8.95) and rattled off a few other dishes that I'd hardly considered. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice shrieked in terror of the unknown. I calmly sipped soda from a straw and regarded the laminated number posted on a wire frame that sat on my table.

She came back and laid plates on the table. “Remember that line in The Silence of the Lambs?” she asked and laughed. “'I ate his liver ...'” As she walked away, I could feel her attention wandering in my general direction. I stared at the liver and onions, but I played it cool and pushed the plate aside to focus on the other dishes I'd randomly ordered. The first that caught me was the order of biscuits and gravy ($4.50). Some amount of muscle memory was definitely involved, since I was basically raised on biscuits and gravy between the ages of 2 and 23.

And here's something you probably didn't know about ol' Joshie: I fucking love sausage gravy. I've requested that I be buried in a sealed vat of the stuff, which my lawyer assures me is illegal due to certain health codes that will be violated in the process (but between you and me, I know a guy in Las Cruces). So you can trust the integrity of my taste when I tell you that this gravy was shit-your-pants-and-drool amazing. I would eat it with a shovel.

Next to it was another classic: Ashley’s chicken and waffles ($9.25). The juicy chicken came in strips, battered crispy and flaky, and the waffle was a gargantuan monster, fluffy and thick enough to be considered a cake. With one strip and a quarter of the waffle gone, and with more than half of the biscuits and gravy to wade through, I realized there were still pounds of food to go, and I started to receive signals from my belly telling me to turn back.

The grilled liver still sat patiently next to a mound of (delicious) mashed potatoes and brown gravy. I pulled it closer, and methodically cut a square of the tender meat, placed it gingerly in my mouth in case things went wrong and it needed to be expunged immediately. I'm no hero, dear reader, and “martyr” was never on my résumé. But the anxiety and worry proved unfounded. The liver was the best part of the meal (opiate-like gravy, notwithstanding). My server came back, dragging along the advice that most people eat it with A.1. steak sauce, but I passed on the suggestion and went full bore.

At some point, the blood from my brain, which had been diverted to my stomach (where all the hard work was going on) finally sent a few pumps back to the noggin. In a dense and comforting fog, I received the frantic signal to stop before I popped like an over-inflated balloon.

I somehow managed to make it to the cash register, where my heaping stack of to-go boxes seemed incongruous with the tiny, tiny bill. I was becoming increasingly alarmed at the pressure in my middle, though, and wouldn't consider the crazy deal until later. For now, I was trying desperately to scan the contents of my mind for any information on people who have eaten themselves to death. I found nothing but wisps and phantoms.

I left, limping slightly and holding the wall for support. In the parking lot, I finally came up with a good complaint about the place. “No wheelbarrows!” I barked to no one in particular before falling to my knees. I was seeing stars. My stomach was bursting with seared liver.

I felt something rustling under my shirt collar and tugged it open. There, blooming like wild flowers was a bramble bush of rich, curly chest hair. It was then, dear reader, that I became a man.

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Murphy’s Mule Barn

9700 Second Street NW
505-898-7660
Sun-Fri, 6am-8pm, Sat 7am-8pm
Vibe: Down-home country lovin’
Alibi recommends: Biscuits and gravy, grilled liver and onions, chicken-fried steak