While many downtown workers mourned the closing of mainstay Peter’s Grill last summer, the corner of 8th Street and Marquette Avenue didn’t go without a diner-style breakfast for very long. Hen House Eatery, the brainchild of a trio of former Keys Cafe employees, began welcoming hungry masses last week with a freshly painted interior, a revamped bar, and a menu emphasizing locally sourced ingredients. A solid line-up of dishes satisfies and offers a few surprises for those craving breakfast any time of day.
As with most diners, bigger is better, and the kitchen doesn’t scrimp on portions. A massive cinnamon roll ($3) is large enough to pass around the table, and with its sticky-sweet icing and buttery interior, a few bites are just enough for even the strongest sweet tooth. The plate-sized cinnamon roll pancakes ($7) take the sugar overload to the next level with a thick spiral of cinnamon and sugar throughout the thick cake. When a 6-year-old sugar fiend deems a pancake “too rich,” you know it must be intense.
The egg-based dishes bring breakfast back to the savory side, and while not revolutionary, they offer a tasty, dependable start to your day. A duo of over-easy eggs ($10) arrive perfectly cooked alongside well-seasoned turkey links, but the soggy hashbrowns disappoint. At least the homemade strawberry jam perks up the accompanying toast. A stuffed omelet ($6 for the base omelet with cheese, extras $1.50-2 each) defies the laws of physics — how a thin layer of egg can hold a healthy portion of cheddar, spinach, and tomato is mystifying — and amply fills the belly.
The components of the eggs Benedict ($11) all are cooked well, but together they feel like something is lacking. Perhaps a new take on the Hollandaise sauce seasoning would liven up the dish, or a slip of fresh spinach. A better choice is the sausage, egg, and cheddar breakfast sandwich ($8), which features a hearty, fragrant sausage patty on tangy sourdough.
If you’re not chicken-and-waffled out from the Boneyard Kitchen, tuck into the Hen House’s superior version ($11). A generously sized waffle forms the base for a crisp, fresh apple slaw and two thick, meaty chicken tenders. (Which raises the question: What’s up with the tenders on chicken and waffle dishes these days? Where’s the bone-in bird?) What makes the sum rise way above its parts is the honey drizzled over the entire dish, tying together the sweet waffle with the crunchy chicken and thinly sliced apple. Now this is a dish that makes a trip to the Hen House worthwhile.
Well, that and the breakfast cocktail menu, which goes beyond your typical mimosas to offer a range of bellinis, bloodies, screwdrivers, and even a Red Bull-based tipple to start your day on an extremely energetic foot. The strawberry bellini ($6) pairs the sweetness of the fruit with dry sparkling wine for a drink that, while not strong, makes breakfast a little more special than yesterday’s. The Red Eye Rooster ($9), the Hen House’s bloody Mary, arrives fully loaded with its own appetizer plate — a hard-boiled egg, meat stick, pickle, and celery stalk — and the Sriracha vodka provides a smoother alternative than horseradish to dish up the heat.
The Keys pedigree shines through in the service, which is friendly and attentive without being overbearing. It’s nice to hear a server tell a large group from the beginning that separate checks won’t be a problem — and even offer to split the bill later on if dividing up the check gets too complicated. Consider yourself warned that the menu is being pruned, and you won’t find few dishes that appear on the website, such as the intriguing tiramisu pancakes, when you open up the menu at the restaurant. What you will find is a bakery case of monster-sized treats on your way out the door, and if you’re lucky, there might be a plate of samples to snack on as you leave.
Replacing a local legend is a tall order, and the Hen House Eatery has a long way to go to achieve legend status. But for now it’s covering its bases well enough, and only time will tell if the downtown crowd will embrace it like its predecessor. (A happy hour that starts at 2pm could help quite a bit.) We’re willing to work our way through the breakfast cocktail menu and see how the Hen House evolves.
Hen House Eatery
Diner in downtown Minneapolis
114 S 8th St
Minneapolis, MN 55402
OWNERS: Barb Gardiner / Maribel Cuadros Perrault and Tara Koenig
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited
ENTREE PRICE: $6-13 for breakfast