Driving down a side street of U.S. 41 in Marietta, blink and you just might miss it; it’s little more than a brick shack. But walk into the Red Eyed Mule on a Saturday morning and you will see that plenty of locals are able to find the place just fine.
More commonly referred to by regulars simply as “the Mule,” what lies behind those unassuming brick walls may surprise you.
Run by the soon-to-be husband-and-wife team of Joe Woods and Sabra Wessell, this cash-only hole in the wall has been serving breakfast and lunch in Marietta since January 2010. Open only until to 2 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, this little dive serves up a stripped-down menu of breakfast sandwiches and a lunch menu that features only a few burgers, a chicken sandwich and a daily soup.
The small free-standing building, oddly placed in the middle of the parking lot of Marietta Feed & Seed, dates to the 1930s, when it housed the superintendent of a neighboring mill. Since then it has served as everything from a storage shed to a package store, sitting vacant until Woods and Wessell found it in 2009.
Some may lament the slow death of Southern hospitality as Atlanta becomes home to more out-of-towners, but it is surely alive and well at the Mule. Even when the counter is full and the kitchen staff scrambles to keep up, Woods and Wessell do not miss an opportunity to welcome you like a regular. As soon as we begin to look over the menu – a sure sign that we don’t come here often – Woods cheerfully jumps to attention. Too genuine to be overbearing, he asks had we been in before, explains the specials and gives us pointers. Between the converted-garage decor and the friendly service, the Mule certainly doesn’t lack for charm.
For those hailing from across town, however, it takes more than charm to justify the trip. Fortunately, the Mule isn’t too shabby in the kitchen, either.
Aside from the occasional special, such as chicken and waffles or corned beef and hash, breakfast sandwiches and biscuits make up the morning menu. Wessell’s family recipe provides the base for the airy and buttery biscuits made in-house each morning. They are a welcome reprieve from some of the dense, gummy versions popularized in Atlanta these days. Breakfast at the Mule doesn’t reinvent the wheel, instead offering well-made classics such as a fried chicken ($2.95) or bacon biscuit ($2.79). A split and griddled kielbasa link adds nice smoky tones to the smoked sausage and egg sandwich ($3.95) served on buttered and grilled Texas toast.
While breakfast certainly satisfies, the Mule does its best work at lunch. The burgers caught me off-guard. Of the five beef burgers on the menu, the baseline Jake burger ($3.95) offers the simplicity of a fresh Angus chuck patty served on that buttery Texas toast, and things build from there, with each choice adding another layer of toppings. While the more stripped-down choices like that or the Jake Burger Deluxe ($4.15) – a Jake burger plus lettuce, tomato and onion – are enjoyable enough in their own right, it isn’t until I’m introduced to Sloppy Jimmy that the Mule really sets itself apart.
Woods’ own concoction of coarse-ground chorizo and beef, this chili-like topping adds a memorable kick to the burgers and features prominently in the rest of the lineup. I’m sure to return for another helping of the aptly named Jake’s Sloppy Slaw burger ($5.25), a deliciously messy stack of lettuce, tomato, onion, homemade coleslaw and a heap of that irresistible Sloppy Jimmy. The melding of the sweet, tangy slaw, buttery toast and savory chili makes for a filling and glorious burger. The only slightly more monstrous Jake’s Big Daddy ($5.43) adds a fried egg instead of slaw. Unless napping on the job is an option for you, consider saving that one for lunch on an off day.
Of course, some things could use a little work. I could do without the undersize patty hiding inside the sausage biscuit ($2.79), and the country ham packs too much salt, even for my sodium-loving palate. But these grievances are minor on an otherwise consistent menu.
Breakfast at the Mule, while satisfying, lacks the wow factor that merits a trek across town, but it certainly deserves regular visits if you’re in the area. Burger fans across the metro area, however, should place the Red Eyed Mule high on their to-do lists.THE RED EYED MULE 1405 Church St. Extension, Marietta. 678-809-4546
Food: breakfast sandwiches and burgers
Service: makes everyone feel like a regular
Best dishes: Jake’s Sloppy Slaw burger, chicken biscuit
Vegetarian selections: black bean burger
Credit cards: cash only
Hours: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: The room is small and can feel cramped on a busy day.