Wet Hen Cafe in southeast Reno nicely navigates between chicken charm and poultry pandemonium.
The restaurant takes its name, in part, from the owners’ love of raising chickens.
And so they’ve feathered the place with ceramic fowl and glazed egg ornaments and Gourmet Rooster condiments and stuffed-animal birds and a framed image of Phyllis, a white, floppy-crested, exotic chicken who is something of a mascot.
This approach could be cloying, but blond wood, leather club chairs in a corner, nature photographs, self-serve Blind Dog coffee (locally roasted), and an obliging cheeriness in the air balance all the chicken tchotchkes, making Wet Hen Cafe authentically comfy instead.
Which is just the right feel for a menu of breakfast dishes, soups made in house, salads, sandwiches and homemade baked goods from the pastry case.
Wet Hen Cafe’s owners, the Handlin family, tout the fact their chickens supply (government-certified) eggs for the restaurant. At one breakfast, two over-easy specimens are clean and fresh — you can always tell farm eggs.
Another morning, a fluffy, gently eggy omelet is chockablock with ham and cheese. I appreciate the generous provisioning, but it’s actually too generous: Oil released by so much melting cheese pools beneath the omelet.
It turns out to be tasty work sopping up the oil with a golden, flaky, just-cakey biscuit half, but visually, the oil is jarring; the omelet should have been checked and replated in the kitchen.
Lunches can be busy at Wet Hen Cafe, and during cool weather, the table for two immediately to the right of the entrance can be challenging. On the other hand, it’s no mean feat to fashion a space so inviting from a strip mall storefront.
You could do far worse than begin the afternoon with a cup of chicken soup stuffed with shredded meat and carrots. Or, perhaps, a bisque with perfectly delicate zucchini flavor.
Of note: the kitchen leaves much of the salting to diners, doubtless in deference to folks with true health problems and to garden variety ingredient alarmists.
Like many casual-cozy spots, Wet Hen Cafe names some of its sandwiches after famous painters (in this case, French or School of Paris). Elsewhere, the practice often seems pointless, but at Wet Hen, with its country French accents, I don’t mind.
The Renoir layers Black Forrest ham and Havarti on a pillowy, fresh tasting whole wheat French roll. I like the Picasso even better, a lining of earthy brie playing against salty-smoky strips of bacon.
I also appreciate the table delivery of dishes and the effort that goes into attractive plating. You might order at the counter at Wet Hen Cafe, but it’s far from a snack shack.
Three no trump
Vegetarians (or those so inclined when they visit) aren’t forgotten at the restaurant.
Swipes of brown mustard cut the richness of a Le Fromage grilled cheese sandwich mingling cheddar, Havarti and Swiss. All three are good melting cheeses, with Swiss a little nuttier, Havarti a little milder and cheddar a bit firmer.
Another time, a special features roasty grilled zucchini, mushrooms and onions piled on a hoagie roll. My companion keeps the jabs of mustard but forgoes the mayo — for her, it might dull the good grilled flavor.
Across the dining room, four women finish lunch, have their table cleared and settle in for an afternoon of cards. They look like they’ve done this before, and who can blame them? Wet Hen Cafe encourages the nesting instinct.