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First Look

A First Look at Susan Feniger's Mud Hen Tavern

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Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge Spicy black bean veggie burger at Mud Hen Tavern - RYAN TANAKA
  • Ryan Tanaka
  • Spicy black bean veggie burger at Mud Hen Tavern
The turnaround between when Susan Feniger closed Street, her street food–inspired restaurant on Highland Avenue, and opened Mud Hen Tavern in its place, was incredibly quick by restaurant standards. In just over a month, the restaurant was transformed from its stylish and colorful former self to a wooden-walled, rustic-feeling, neighborhood pub.

It's quite a change, and one that makes the restaurant feel totally different. The indoor space now is anchored by a bar that takes up the whole length of the back of the room. Most of the seating is outdoors, under an awning, and the flow from indoor to outdoor is fairly seamless.

On the menu, there are nods to Street favorites, like the Kaya toast -- toasted bread with coconut jam, a fried egg and dark soy. But most of the menu has been completely transformed.

Where once there were international snacks, now there are creative takes on American bar food. There are deviled eggs, but they're topped with a loose green chili salsa and bacon bits. Chicken and waffles show up as croquettes, kind of like a savory but sweet hush puppy, also served with bacon and a spicy maple sauce. If that sounds kind of unappealing to you -- it's chicken! It's a doughnut! -- you're unlikely to be seduced or convinced otherwise.

On weekdays from 4-7 p.m., the restaurant holds a happy hour, when you can get an assortment of snacks for $4, as well as drink specials. We tried lamb meatballs, which come over a yogurt sauce and could have used a touch more salt.

Street's celebrated veggie burger has been replaced with a spicy black bean veggie burger, one that comes with a lot of gooey toppings: barbecue ranch sauce, roasted poblanos and avocado. The best bites of the night came with the late-harvest corn, which was cut off the cob and tossed with crispy bits of pork belly, chiles and lemongrass.

This is food really geared toward casual pub eating -- there are fries, onion rings (which come with "BBQ cracked pepper ranch"), pizzas, cheeseburgers, fish and chips, mac and cheese, etc.

There's a new focus on cocktails, which are mainly straightforward classics with one or two twists. A French 75 becomes a Fresh 75, using gin, Pavan liqueur, peach puree and cava. Something called a daiquiri elixir gets a shot of green chartreuse. There's also a modest selection of craft beers.

Mud Hen Tavern is really nothing like its former self, except for the friendly presence of Feniger, who flits through the dining room exuding good energy. She was hoping with this switcharoo to make a spot more friendly to the neighborhood, and by the looks of the early crowds she may have come up with a winning formula. The jury is still out on the food, however, which on first look felt a little overwrought in places, a little under-seasoned in others. But for those who like barbecue ranch on their onion rings and their chicken and waffles in fried-dough form, it may be just the thing.


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