Early birds

Owner Jackie Handlin puts the icing on hen cookies at the Wet Hen Cafe.

Owner Jackie Handlin puts the icing on hen cookies at the Wet Hen Cafe.

Photo By amy beck

Wet Hen Café is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The expression “mad as a wet hen” might be dying off in common parlance. However, it could make a regional resurgence thanks to the opening of Wet Hen Café in South Reno in the shopping alcove on the Northwest corner of Longley and McCarran. Not that anyone needs to be mad about it. It turns out to be a solid local budget diner for early birds wanting sustenance before heading to the salt mine or larger groups wanting a casual and flavorful brunch.

In fact, nobody was mad in any sense of the word when my husband and I arrived with our babies, awaiting our semi-regular review participant, Monica. The compact and clean interior has simple but stylish wooden chairs adjacent to diner-style Formica-topped tables and a comfortable smattering of cute art on the walls. The twins got plenty of gooey greetings from the polite and casual staff.

When Monica arrived, she and my husband talked a little shop before the latter embraced the menu’s stated theme of “rustic good food with a French twist” and ordered the daily special—a broccoli-and-sautéed mushroom “quiche” with a magnificent bowl of fresh fruit ($5.25). It tasted great but seemed to my possibly naïve sensibilities more like pie than quiche in that the ingredients were packed together whole with the eggs instead of blended and then baked. (Thinking-ahead types can get a whole quiche for $14.95 with 24 hours notice to the kitchen.) Hash browns aren’t mentioned on the menu as a side option, but the staff improvised for my fellow. They weren’t as inspired as the quiche, but the whole deal was still good.

Monica took the Pig, Pancakes and Eggs ($6.95) and spoke for many bacon devotees when complimenting the crunchiness of the bacon that contrasted with the just-quite-cooked ooziness of her scrambled eggs. Her fluffy pancakes rounded out this standard package, enabling our guest to demonstrate her exacting and fascinating one-on/two-off syrup application technique. It takes all types.

My husband puzzled over my reaction to the espresso mocha (12 oz. $3.25/16 oz. $3.75), which I first reviled as too sweet, but I’m probably trigger-happy with that complaint. The real problem was it just didn’t go with my choice from the lunch menu. This is sad because Le Fromage (grilled cheddar, havarti and Swiss with tomatoes for $6.95) was an inspired combination of simple ingredients. The freshness of the tomato was a crucial plus.

I was feeling wealthy with my $15 Groupon credit and added in a small spinach salad ($3.95). It was very good. Fresh and crunchy spinach with a nice dressing and dried cranberries made it a good complement to my sandwich. But even without my Groupon deduction it would have been a great deal at about $35 for everybody, including the espresso drinks.

The Wet Hen won’t blow your doors off for originality but is certainly more creative than a greasy spoon breakfast chain—and a vastly superior value to boot. Based on my first experience, I can recommend this new, nifty local joint that readers would be … mad as a wet hen to not try. Or should that be mad as a hatter?