Restaurant review: Hudson New American Public House, a Maple Leaf gastropub, attracts locals with a menu of style and substance sensibly priced for straitened times. Booze, beer, burgers, fries — you'll find all that, but also rabbit, pheasant or wild-boar short ribs. Two-and-a-half-star review by Providence Cicero.

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As if making a go of it for six years near Pioneer Square wasn’t tough enough, Collins Pub owner Seth Howard chose this moment to launch another neighborhood pub, this one in Maple Leaf.

“I’m dumb enough to grow in a recession,” he told my colleague Nancy Leson, early in the process of transforming the erstwhile Anita’s Bistro into Hudson New American Public House.

But Howard has smartly gauged the skittish state of strapped consumers who still feel entitled to a bit of fun now and then. Hudson is an unpretentious gathering place with a menu of style and substance sensibly priced for straitened times.

Collins’ chef, Erik Wood, is in charge of the kitchen here, too. Booze, burgers, fries — you’ll find all that, and then some. Rabbit, pheasant and wild-boar short ribs have lately appeared on the special board, where the priciest entree might be an $18 New York strip.

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Burgers come in beef and beet variations, and the veggie version is every bit as good as its counterpart. The meat patty, made with American Kobe, is topped with pickled red onion, zingy tomato jalapeño jam and, if you dare, bacon, cheese and/or a fried duck egg.

The minced-beet patty laced with kale looks startlingly like raw hamburger. The beet’s sweetness is offset with pungent toppings — peppery micro-greens, fresh spinach and pickles — and a subtle sage aioli spread (a mite stingily) on the soft Kaiser bun.

A salad accompanies the veggie burger; skinny fries come with the Kobe, though not the signature Hudson fries. Those are among the starters. Gussied up with herbs, bacon bits and orange zest, they weren’t as compelling as they sounded. Salt, more bacon and a tad less vitamin C might help.

Other starters could easily satisfy as light entrees. Two flattering sauces bookend four vividly seasoned, deftly grilled jumbo shrimp: one a lip-tingling red-chili sauce, the other cool green avocado crème fraîche. Toasted almonds, bits of orange and sweet, flaky crabmeat embellish a nosegay of peppery watercress splashed with sweet-tart blood-orange vinaigrette.

Entrees are as sensibly portioned as they are reasonably priced. For $11 you can fill up on Turkish stuffed peppers — three slender green Anaheim chilies plumped with garlicky Israeli couscous in a bright, chunky tomato, parsley and green-olive sauce. A bowl of pappardelle with clams in a piquant wine-enriched tomato ragu is just $13.

Hudson’s ideas are commendable, even when the execution is flawed. A dainty onion tart is notable for a buttery crust that shatters beautifully, but it is a bit over-baked, and a muscular garnish of mushroom confit overwhelms the delicate three-onion filling.

Tender carrot spaetzle, a clever companion for rabbit, tasted bland despite its bright-orange hue. Yet, the rabbit itself, roasted on the bone, was exquisitely moist and fragrant with lavender.

Pan-seared pheasant breast was perfect: crisp-skinned, juicy and finished with a splash of red-wine jus. The confitted leg with it, steeped with rosemary and peppercorns, had great flavor; but the meat was dry, the side of roasted new potatoes hard.

Still Hudson’s appeal survives these shortcomings. Among its charms: 16 beers on tap from small-batch locals to international heavyweights; and wines by the glass, as low as $4 for Cheap House Chardonnay or Cab from California. Don’t knock it till you try it, and try it you may, as servers are inclined to offer a taste to the undecided.

Wood floors and wainscoted brick walls define the handsome, uncluttered space. Depending on the hour or the day you’ll find cocktail-sipping young women at the bar; beer-drinking guys whose eyes are riveted to flat-screen TVs; gray-haired couples sharing small plates; or kids in high chairs. Dressed-up professionals grab a bite on the way home from work; others show up in what they’d wear to putter around the house, including Howard, a Maple Leaf resident himself, and definitely no dummy.

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