The Stubborn Mule (https://www.thestubbornmuleorlando.com/) is a “New American” restaurant and bar in Thornton Park, the picturesque neighborhood full of cobblestone streets and minimal parking near downtown Orlando. I had never been before, but my wife and I were meeting an old friend of hers and his fiancée, and I was tasked with finding a restaurant with the following specifications:
- Lots of pescatarian options
- Outdoor seating
- Very close to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
- They take reservations so the other couple could leave at a specified time
My first two selections were booked solid for the evening we needed, so I remembered The Stubborn Mule was right near downtown Orlando, next to The Abbey, the club where I saw legendary rapper KRS-One and hilarious stand-up comic Kyle Kinane (not on the same night, although that would have been the best concert ever). Walking by The Stubborn Mule on the way to those shows, it looked like a nice place, with a spacious outdoor patio, and the online menu looked like it had plenty of good options.
I reserved an outdoor table on the website, we parked in a convenient garage across the street from the restaurant, and we met the other couple there and ended up having a great time. Or at least we did; we hope they did too. It was the first time we had hung out with friends in almost a year, and one of the only times since this pandemic had started. It was so nice to catch up and/or meet them, and also nice to just feel some semblance of normalcy again.
That said, they are not distributing paper menus. You have to scan a QR code at the table to pull up the menu on your phone, which never seems to work for me. I just went to the website on my phone to read the menu, but it was kind of small and hard to focus, so I didn’t pay as much attention to detail as I usually do. This will become relevant later.
My wife wasn’t super-hungry, so she ordered the soft pretzel rolls ($9), which came with havarti fondue and honey mustard. She always loves soft pretzels, but she ate most of them the following day.
The pescatarian ordered the fresh catch sandwich ($16), with grilled corvina (a fish I don’t think I’ve ever tried before), a slice of beefsteak tomato, brussels sprouts slaw, sweet heat pickles, and lime tartar sauce on a brioche bun. She chose rosemary-parmesan fries as her side.
My wife’s old friend ordered the Stubborn Mule burger ($15), with an eight-ounce angus beef patty, mixed greens, a slice of beefsteak tomato, havarti fondue, maple-pepper bacon, cider onion jam mayo, and a “crispy potato nest” (whatever that is) on brioche. He chose regular fries as his side.
I had a hard time deciding between a few different things. I was also distracted by the conversation, and not super-hungry at the time either. I impulsively chose the Double Double Animal Style burger ($19) due to being a huge fan of the burger of the same name from In-N-Out Burger, the West Coast fast food chain with a cult following, and wondered if this would be a serious gourmet recreation of the same. It was both more and less.
This monster burger came with TWO eight-ounce angus beef patties. I had asked for them medium rare, but they came out more like medium well. We were sitting right under a loud music speaker, so it’s possible our server misheard me, or I didn’t enunciate enough. I wasn’t going to complain over that, and it was perfectly okay. I just wish the patties had been juicier, but I appreciated a lot that they were thicc, like my beloved and dearly departed Fuddruckers, rather than smashed flat, like so many trendy burger joints do. It came topped with bibb lettuce (an underrated lettuce), a tomato slice, sharp cheddar cheese that was nicely melted, caramelized onions (always a selling point for me), and was supposed to be served on a “Dijon toasted” pretzel bun. There was quite a bit of yellow mustard on this burger, but no trace of Dijon. As much as I love pretzel buns for certain sandwiches, like sausages, roast beef, turkey, or ham and cheese, I always think they’re a little too dense for burgers. A lightly toasted brioche or potato bun might have been better, even for this heavy Double Double.
The menu also promised sweet heat pickles on this burger, but there were none to be found. I didn’t read the tiny menu on my phone closely enough, so when it arrived, I realized it didn’t have the creamy, tangy “spread” that goes on In-N-Out’s version of a Double Double Animal Style. But that was my expectation that wasn’t based on reality, so what are you gonna do? For my side, I chose poorly. These sweet potato fries were okay, but the fries the other couple got looked so much better. Oh well, you live and you learn. At least I got two meals out of everything!
The Stubborn Mule is a very cool place, and you can’t beat its location if you are headed to a show at The Abbey, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, or any kind of event in downtown Orlando. I would totally return, and next time I’ll get those amazing-looking fries, as well as one of their offerings that is a little more interesting than a burger.