When Susan Feniger's STREET shut down last September, the number one question on everyone's mind seemed to be, "But what about the toast?" We're talking, of course, about Feniger's Kaya toast, a heavenly Singaporean export made with toasted bread slathered in coconut jam, topped with a soft fried egg and soy sauce. In her new space, Mud Hen Tavern, the toast is still there and as sigh-inducing as ever—but little else has stayed the same. Meant to elicit a neighborhood hang-out feel, this gastropub is all casual whimsy, from the friendly bar area leading into a patio with twinkling lights, to a menu featuring pub grub sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek dishes (Green Eggs & Ham deviled eggs, anyone?).
Yet between the casual and the whimsical, the menu often proves perplexing and, in some cases, mushy. A plate of chicken and waffle croquettes—how clever!— arrived in a pool of tangy maple sauce, and while the deep-fried balls were beautifully coated, the contents proved to be a pastelike, bland mystery. Better to order a more traditional starter, as we discovered with the tuna ceviche, a refreshing mix of avocado, tangerine, chipotle and toasted corn. We used everything we could—spoons, bread, leftover croquettes—to scoop up the last morsels of this delightful dish.
What Mud Hen does well—and what STREET succeeded in doing, at least for a while—is catering to a diverse audience. There are a range of vegetarian options (roasted eggplant paninis, a vegetarian tostada, meat-free pizzas), although not all are created equal. We found the spicy black bean burger to be mostly bun and lacking compelling flavor, while a mix of shaved kale and Brussels sprouts was a welcome side dish—and something both vegetarians and meat-eaters at our table thoroughly enjoyed.
Still, we were confused. What exactly was Feniger trying to capture, comfort or novelty? As we ate through the menu, it became apparent that what is best about Mud Hen is what makes it a tavern: the whiskey glazed shortribs, tender and flanked by a stick-to-your-bones shepherd's pie; the late harvest corn mixed in with chunks of fatty pork belly; the beer list, a well-curated selection of ales and IPAs that would satisfy any regular pub-goer. As long as you're searching for a neighborly atmosphere and comfort food, there is just enough here to satisfy. But don't forget about the toast.
What to Eat: We'll say it again: The Kaya toast ($6). The tuna ceviche ($10). The late harvest corn ($8). The maple whiskey glazed shortribs ($18).
What to Drink: If you like a cocktail with heat, try the chile-powder dusted Chili P, Yo ($14); if you crave a lighter, more refreshing libation, the Cynar Swizzle with Cynar, vodka, mint and lime ($12) will do the trick. But really, the beer list is what to focus on. We sampled the Avery IPA ($7) and couldn't have been happier.
Where to Sit: For small plates and drinks, stick to the communal high top table by the bar. For dinner, the main dining room is a casual affair, and you will often see Feniger flitting from one table to another, asking about your meal.
Conversation Piece: When you finish the Kaya toast and think, "I have to make this at home"—because you will—ask your server for the Kaya Kit. At $15, the jar of coconut jam just might be the best thing to come out of Mud Hen Tavern.