In case you haven't stopped by lately, things have changed at the Dallas Farmers Market. The open-air stalls reflect the market's new focus by providing locally sourced produce, while The Market acts as an indoor food hall and shopping venue for purveyors who deal in all things fashionable, from bone broth to macarons. And then there's Mudhen Meat and Greens, the market's crown jewel of a restaurant.
Mudhen comes from the same restaurateurs as Meddlesome Moth, LARK on the Park and Rodeo Goat. Executive chef Suki Otsuki (formerly of LARK) is behind a menu that incorporates lots of seasonal produce, "clean" meats (the cows are petted to death) and ocean-raised fish. At times, the crunchy granola conscientiousness borders on grating, but it still merits recognition in a town known for its artery-plugging love of steakhouses.
Or so one would think. After Mudhen opened its doors in January, it received a lukewarm review by The Dallas Morning News' Leslie Brenner, who concluded that "if its chef and owners can embrace the idea that healthful food does not have to look and taste like health food, perhaps Mudhen can grow into a graceful mud swan." This leads one to ponder what health food should look and taste like. Should hummus mimic foie gras? Or because this is The Brunch Chronicles, should beet salad transform via some sort of miraculous act of molecular gastronomy into fried chicken and waffles?
The argument that shall henceforth be made is no, it should not. While there is a time (Sunday afternoon) and a place (virtually all restaurants) for sides of bacon and French toast drowning in maple syrup, there is also a need for something good to eat that will not result in weekends lost to calorie-induced malaise.
Here's that something. Start with an order of the collard spring rolls ($8). Steamed collard leaves substitute for seaweed in these rolls that pack a punch of flavor and texture. Carrots, cabbage and avocado are tucked among kelp noodles, which have a pleasing snap — similar to the sweet potato noodles common to Korean cooking. The rolls are sprinkled with a piquant vinaigrette and served with a savory, nutty tahini-miso dipping sauce that should by all rights come with a straw.
The spring rolls are really the only starter option; the rest of the menu is primarily dedicated to salads, sandwiches and scrambles, all of which hover around the $12-$14 price-point. An order of avocado toast ($12) proved to be more than a Pinterest-generated breakfast trope. Buttery avocado was generously slathered atop a piece of toasted multi-grain "hippie" bread (normally served on walnut-scallion bread, but the kitchen ran out) before it was mounded high with a tangy beet and fennel slaw. Served with a soft-boiled egg and side of arugula dressed with lots of lemon, this dish delights in its simplicity.
Lox fans should take note of the smoked char platter ($14). Arctic char is accompanied by capers, red onions, cream cheese flecked with fresh dill and slices of marbled rye. Being the fatty, cold water fish that it is, char makes an excellent candidate for smoking and a nice change of pace from salmon. And while the char has much the same pinkish-orange hue as its more commonly smoked friend, it has a milder flavor.
Mudhen isn't militant about its approach to healthy food. You can have some smoked fish or a burger (grass-fed, of course) for brunch, or you can have the gristmill pancakes or wheatberry oatmeal. There's plenty of beer to choose from, but there's also kombucha and fresh juice.
Mudhen isn't drastically different from other restaurants that aim to serve healthy — or healthier — food. But these restaurants collectively set themselves apart from the mass of kitchens whose primary tools are sugar, salt and fat. Call it what you want, but Mudhen makes brunch what it should always be: delicious.
Mudhen, 900 S Harwood St. Brunch served 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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