Last spring, local entrepreneur Brendan Sciarra completed the 18-month transformation of an abandoned Harley-Davidson dealership in Wildwood into MudHen, a humongous brewery, restaurant and indoor/outdoor hangout. Already, it’s given the city—sandwiched between its more tony neighbors, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest—a much-needed boost.
MudHen Brewing Co. is a family-friendly hive of eating, drinking, music and games, with more than 300 seats. Outdoor picnic tables line a lawn dotted with firepits and cornhole boards. Inside, there’s a large dining room, mezzanine and three bars, including a cozy upstairs hideaway that feels like a ’60s rec room.
At the main bar, windows afford a view into the 127-barrel brewery, where brewmaster Tony Cunha, a graduate of Lower Cape May Regional High, makes up to a dozen approachable beers. They include the summery Holly Beach Wheat, spicy Henpecked Hefe, and Deep Tracks Stout, whose smooth minerality put me in mind of Delaware Bay oysters. (I ordered a dozen on the half shell; they were bright, briny and cleanly shucked.)
MudHen was the nickname of Wildwood’s first (1880s) passenger train, its tracks prone to swamping at high tide. The brewery and restaurant stand within a block of Sciarra’s other two establishments, Dogtooth Bar & Grill and the terrific Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza & Kitchen, as well as the two Kona Surf Shops his father, Mike, opened in 1976.
To create MudHen’s menu, Sciarra hired Philadelphia chef and TV personality Brian Duffy. The result is “something for everyone.” Usually, this is disastrous, but I found many delicious things to eat: falling-apart ribs with baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread; crisp, greaseless onion rings; salt-and-peppered soft pretzel sticks; a perfectly cooked, 14-ounce ribeye bathed in rosemary-garlic butter and smothered with lump crabmeat.
Add to that list a huge hunk of moist salmon lacquered in sweet-spicy Korean glaze over soba noodles. Street corn, inspired by Mexican esquites, brought an irresistibly charred Jersey ear blasted with queso fresco, cilantro and Tajin, the hot-and-sour spice blend omnipresent south of the border.
Hen Chips are baskets of thick-cut potatoes, freshly fried and well seasoned. Get them with dipping sauces like malt-vinegar aioli, or eat them like nachos, under generous helpings of beer cheese, roasted vegetables and shredded lettuce.
There’s a fantastic thick-cut pork chop wearing a cranberry-tomato-balsamic glaze, and a bowl of plump mussels steamed in the brewery’s 1883 IPA with roasted tomatoes and charred lemon. Smoked wings crackle with sweet-and-fiery honey-Sriracha sauce.
For customers craving sandwiches, the Reuben features thick, tender slices of peppery pastrami on planks of marble rye. It’s piled high enough to send you home with leftovers.
The cheese steak—oh, the cheese steak! Thin-sliced ribeye is shellacked with melted American cheese and provolone, topped with caramelized onions and dark sautéed mushrooms, and served on a long, sesame-seed roll. It could teach the famous spots in South Philly a thing or two.
There were a couple of duds, like the bland fish tacos and the Market chopped salad. Combining mozzarella, arugula, roasted red peppers, avocado, watermelon, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette, it felt like an odd mashup of Jersey Italian and 1990s California.
I’d advise skipping dessert. The Key lime pie, berry crumble and chocolate-peanut butter cake all tasted a bit stale, like they’d been sitting in the fridge too long.
Overall, though, MudHen delivers on its something-for-everyone mission—both in food and vibe. For Wildwood, it provides something more: reason to be optimistic about the future.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $5-$16; entrées, $8-$36; desserts, $7
Ambience:Sprawling brewery and eatery, festive and bustling
Service:Remarkably efficient, given the size
Wine list:House-brewed draft beer, cocktails, wine