When a restaurant is tucked into a line of obscure shops behind a Pic 'N' Save store and next to a fish market, has a name like The Galloping Hen and a menu that offers items such as "Buckaroo" and "Little Chicks Breakfast," it must have something going for it to make it last nearly a dozen years.
And it has--a terrific breakfast.
Although The Galloping Hen serves lunch, the sandwiches and the middle-American specials--pork chops, meat loaf and the like--aren't worth driving past a Pic 'N' Save to find. The pork chops often arrive overcooked, and the chili--well, I wish it had as much flavor as it had meat.
But as a down-home breakfast spot, The Galloping Hen is at its best. With the proprietress pouring coffee and young waitresses dashing here and there, it has the feeling of someone's crowded breakfast room.
One of the house staples, as you might expect, is biscuits and gravy. The biscuits, made from scratch, are airy but moist, almost like a dumpling. The gravy, fairly spicy, gets most of its flavor from the tiny bits of bacon and sausage in it.
The biscuits are incorporated into the concoction called the Buckaroo. The kitchen grills the biscuit, tops it with a crisp homemade sausage patty and covers this with scrambled eggs and then with the gravy. Like nearly everything else, this comes with the Hen's potatoes on the side. These heavy hash browns are not quite crisp enough for me, but if you look around the room you can see that they're a popular item.
The Western omelet comes with a thin slice of ham on top. Inside, there is lots more ham, plus onions and crisp bell peppers. Most restaurants overcook their omelets, but this Western is perfect. Its quality bodes well for the lengthy omelet menu.
There are occasional specials, such as eggs Florentine which, at The Galloping Hen, are made with fresh spinach and onions set on English muffins and artichoke bottoms, then layered with a hollandaise sauce. The same sauce comes on the eggs Benedict, which are notable for a very thick, juicy piece of ham between the English muffin and the egg.
On weekends, when the place is open for breakfast only, you're likely to have to wait. But the wait is made easier by the coffee available to those waiting on the sidewalk. Another thing you'll find only on weekends is a blackboard of enticing-sounding sausages--Cajun, German, Portuguese, Italian and Polish. These can be uneven; the Polish sausage is wonderful, but I've found the spicy Italian to be dry on occasion.
Stick to the biscuits and gravy and the egg dishes--and you'll understand why The Galloping Hen has been galloping along for almost 12 years.
* WHERE AND WHEN
The Galloping Hen restaurant, 405 Borchard Drive, Ventura, 653-0410. Open Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-11:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch. Saturday and Sunday breakfast only 7 a.m.-2 p.m. No credit cards, no reservations, no alcohol, plenty of parking. Breakfast for two, food only, $10-$17. Lunch for two, food only, $10-$12. Recommended dishes: Buckaroo, $5.55, Western omelet, $4.85.