Mother’s Tavern in San Luis Obispo may look the same, but the downtown eatery has a new menu, new vibe and new name — Mo/Tav.
Established in 1994, the restaurant was taken over early last year by Ash Management (a local company that also owns five other downtown properties), and Chef Shaun King and the team began developing the Mo/Tav concept.
“San Luis has never had a burger brasserie, so I said, ‘Let’s be the ultimate burger place,’” King recalled. Though Mo/Tav recently added several other menu items — such as fish-and-chips, a warm spinach salad, and crunchy wings with spicy chili sauce and blue cheese — burgers indeed reign supreme.
There are 18 burgers on the Mo/Tav menu, plus a build-your-own option. However, these aren’t your typical burgers, either in taste or ingredients.
“We get the Angus beef from Hearst Ranch, so it’s sustainably raised, grass-fed, hormone-free and not previously frozen,” said King. Some of his inventive beef burger creations include the hearty “Mo/Tav” with pancetta and arugula, the spicy “Red Devil” with jalapeños, “The Aloha” with grilled pineapple and teriyaki, and the melt-in-your-mouth “Black & Blue” with caramelized onions and Danish blue cheese.
Chicken choices range from “Poly Dolly” with avocado and sprouts on whole wheat to “The Ronbo” with bacon bits and a hard fried egg. There are also a couple of veggie patties, including the “Heartgood” wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, and a ground turkey “Thanksgiving” burger complete with stuffing, dried cranberries and gravy.
King noted that “we also use free range Rocky Jr. chicken and free-range turkey,” the latter of which can be a difficult protein to source. King usually gets Mo/Tav’s turkey from South Carolina, but whenever possible, for other items he turns to local purveyors such as Edna’s Bakery, Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream and Bautista Farms.
“I think ‘organic’ has become a bit of a buzz word,” King observed. “I’d rather be more local, driving their businesses and developing local relationships.”
King’s background gives him good insight into the concepts of community and sustainable food. A longtime local resident, his parents owned a candy store on Higuera that King briefly turned into an eclectic sushi restaurant, showcasing his years of intensive private training under a Japanese master.
He was lured from San Luis Obispo by the chance to work with renowned chef Rick Moonen at RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Though King certainly knew fish from his years of sushi schooling, Moonen instilled a new passion for sustainable seafood, as well as “teaching me everything I know about American Classic cuisine.”
King then landed a position at the new Vegas location of New York-based Sushi Samba, but within a few months, “only a week after my daughter was born,” that job fell through. He and his wife decided to head back to San Luis Obispo to be close to family and to be “in a better environment for our daughter.”
In addition to Moonen’s mentorship about sustainability and the importance of “really knowing your vendors,” the invaluable Vegas experience also taught King how to cater to a wide variety of clientele.
That’s an approach that’s serving him well at Mo/Tav, which depending on the time of day and the day of the week, can be everything from family eatery, to where to watch the big game, to a rousing late-night hot spot with dancing and DJs.
“You have to go the extra mile and identify with everybody that comes in that door,” said King. “It’s all about service and developing a clientele, and all of that helps support the downtown.”