This week, I met up with my friend Christian Bruce for an afternoon bite at Mayo’s Bar and Grill at 3820 Brainerd Road. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Mayo’s, which is one of Brainerd’s only remaining old-school establishments.
Our Tuesday afternoon visit was my first to Mayo’s (I’m ashamed to say), although I’ve been curious for years. Local musicians—Roger Alan Wade, specifically—have heralded the tiny bar as one of the bedrock locations of the Chattanooga music scene. Several of his most popular songs—such as “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb, You Better Be Tough”—were conceived at Mayo’s, according to Rick Mayo, who was both our bartender and chef for our midafternoon visit.
Our goal was to hang out at a great local dive we’d never been to, eat some artery-clogging grub and have a few beers. We didn’t expect to love Mayo’s as much as we did. The staff was friendly, the food was SO good, and we could’ve listened to Rick tell stories all day. My kind of place.
Mayo’s has exactly what you expect: a small bar, dart room, small stage and wafting cigarette smoke. I’m not a cigarette smoker, but I enjoy the nostalgia of being in a smoking environment. If you can’t tolerate cigarette smoke, you won’t enjoy Mayo’s at all. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Only a few people were at the bar when we visited. Both Christian and I took a seat near the front door and ordered a pint of beer. A pineapple upside-down cake was also on the bar. Was it somebody’s birthday, or is this a regular thing at Mayo’s? I forgot to ask. Rick was an exemplary host. He seemed genuinely interested in chatting with us, and he and Christian (who has at least a decade on me) recalled the slew of Brainerd bars/eateries that are no longer around. Mayo’s is one of the last of them all, and from the looks of the place, they haven’t changed it up much.
There are only a few places left in town that offer the type of service you’ll find at Mayo’s. The Pickle Barrel, Mike’s Hole in the Wall and Chattanooga Billiard Club (downtown) come to mind as local dives that are just what they are and nothing more, where the customers are the same almost every day and the food is outstanding.
Rick is not messing around. When I asked him what was good, he said, “All the stuff on the front of the menu and the back.” Fair enough. The most popular items at Mayo’s include the Mayo burger, cheeseburger-topped fries (which is exactly what you think it is) and something called the Cajun chicken Philly. Both Christian and I are hot wing enthusiasts, so when Rick started talking about his “honey blaze glaze” and “Napalm” sauces, we were intrigued.
Our nose hairs started singeing the moment Rick came out of the kitchen with the plate of wings. Fearing for our lives, we opted to have 12 wings covered in the still-hot “honey blaze glaze” sauce with a shot of “napalm” on the side. Most versions of “hot” wings are spicy without any focus on flavor; Mayo’s wings are a revelation of how good a simple hot wing can be. Christian said he couldn’t remember having better wings, and although The Feed Co. Table & Tavern’s Hoff wings are my favorite overall wing in town, Mayo’s is easily in the top two or three spots. Rick’s sauces are on sale near the dart room, too, if you want to take a bottle home.
A plate of 12 wings between two guys is not enough food, so we decided to go back for more. Christian ordered Rick’s suggested Cajun chicken Philly sandwich with sautéed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, diced and grilled Cajun-spiced chicken and melted Swiss cheese. I ordered the patty melt with onions and Swiss cheese on Texas toast. Rick disappeared for a bit to cook our food and brought back two baskets. We also got another beer. Why not? It’s Tuesday.
Christian was overwhelmed with emotion about his sandwich. “I don’t know if I’ve had better bar food,” he said. The Cajun chicken Philly is apparently one of the most popular items on the menu for a reason. My patty melt—classic bar food—was exceptionally good. Rick caramelized the onions where they were almost black around the edges. It’s all about the quality of the meat and the onions. Unlike several I’ve had at Waffle House, this version wasn’t as greasy. Rick knows how to cook.
Would we go back?
Roger Alan Wade is performing at Mayo’s on New Year’s Eve. Both of us were tempted to make Mayo’s our destination. Here’s what I think: Mayo’s has been around for 30 years because they don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are no fancy cocktails, the place smells like an ashtray, and it’s run by a beloved family. I can also imagine if you act like an [email protected]$%)#! in Mayo’s, you might find yourself in trouble. I loved it. You might not. It’s one of those places.
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