Makes me wonder

Jungle food: jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon.

Jungle food: jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon.

Photo/Allison Young

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One of the first places I experienced a “real cup of coffee” was the venerable Java Jungle in the heart of downtown Reno. An old spinet piano sat against one wall, and if you were a player, the owner wouldn’t let you leave without playing a tune or two. The piano has been gone for years, but the current owner has continued to support live entertainment while expanding to open a wine bar—Jungle Vino—a few years ago. Now the two halves have been remodeled into a two-sided venue known simply as The Jungle. Having heard about the new menu, friends and I went in to give it a try on a busy weeknight.

The bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers ($8) aren’t your dad’s deep-fried bar bite. Three fresh chiles are split lengthwise, filled with soft cheese and belted at the waist with about a quarter slice of bacon. Broiled rather than fried, the cheese had a nice touch of browning and the bacon was crispy without being burned. The six halves were served on a long plate atop a schmear of ranch dressing and dijon mustard. I really enjoyed the flavor combination and didn’t miss the taste of oily breading one bit.

I usually enjoy the flavors of Caribbean-style “jerk spice,” but the rub and technique used for our order of jerked chicken wings resulted in a pasty mess of unappetizing disappointment ($8). A garnish of spring mix greens that wilted and stuck to the eight small wings did nothing to enhance their appeal. Similarly unappealing was an order of sliced-up meatballs swimming in a bland purée of tomato, topped with an inch of half-melted mozzarella that formed a nearly-impenetrable cheese lid. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a side of meatballs not served in spherical form, and I’ve definitely never had to cut the cheese in order to free the meat. Ahem.

Easily the best thing we tasted, the West Ender vegetarian sandwich featured slices of locally baked sandwich bread, perfectly grilled and stuffed with bell pepper, cucumber, onion, avocado, tomato, spring mix greens and a fantastic housemade hummus spread ($7.50). The deluxe grilled cheese was tasty yet barely crispy by comparison, though the cheddar cheese was completely melted into the veggies and ham (choice of veg and meats, $8). Odder yet was a turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich served on a small sesame-seeded hoagie roll with considerably less filling than the other sandwiches, but for a dollar more ($9). The best thing about this little sandwich was a hint of heat provided by a Tapatío aioli.

Last up, a pair of pizzas so inconsistently cooked I found it hard to believe they came from the same kitchen. The sausage flavor of the meatballs sliced onto the first pie was dominant enough that you’d think it was a sausage pizza. I can’t tell you much about the sauce because there wasn’t enough to really taste it—perhaps it was the same flavorless stuff from the appetizer. The crust was just cooked through, with barely any crisping and no color to speak of ($11).

Having read that description, perhaps you can understand my bewilderment at the margherita pizza we received, featuring a nice, crispy crust with browned, twisted edges dusted in dried herbs. Although it too lacked flavor, the presentation was much better, and I actually enjoyed the crust. A bit more of the olive oil spread and fresh basil might have made this pie really good.

Ultimately the most disappointing aspect of our visit was waiting nearly an hour for food to arrive. We did receive apologies from the staff, but they’re going to have to improve on consistency and flavor if they hope to compete with similar fare being served within walking distance. Thankfully, their cup of joe is still among the best in town, giving me hope that this was just an off night.