Diners flocked early and often to the new restaurant, including several instances of diners who ate both lunch and dinner on their first visit. The kitchen was busy, the staff was still learning and the space was a little bit crowded, so murmurs began to circulate that the service wasn't keeping up with the crowds. Interestingly, I heard this complaint from a few local foodies, but I didn't see many negative comments here on Bites, on the Wild Hare's Facebook page or on Yelp. It's almost like Yogi Berra's old saw, "Nobody ever goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
In truth, while the Hare has stayed busy, there is almost never a wait to eat, except maybe 10 to 15 minutes on Friday night during prime time. Proactively, owners Brian and Elizabeth Bills worked hard to stay ahead of the crowds by making some staff changes and adding a bar area and some extra patio seating. The new bar is built where the sorta awkward shotgun shack of a dining room annex ran the length of the restaurant previously.
Removing that wall really opened up the space, and not only does the bar add about 10 more seats, it also provides a space to relax and enjoy an adult beverage in case there is a wait for a table. The Wild Hare is still committed to beer in cans and offers an extensive selection of canned brews, as well as a full bar.
If you're an experienced drinker who's lived in town for more than a few years, you've probably been served by the Wild Hare's evening bartender, Earl Beasley. In fact there's a whole Internet group dedicated to his past customers from The Iguana, Cabana, South Street, etc. The restaurant stops seating at 10 p.m., but Earl tends the bar later than that, until the last patron is sated.
The kitchen is now run by Chef Jason Norton, who worked with Brian at Blue Moon previously. Chef Jason hasn't made a lot of changes to the menu yet, but he does offer daily specials of soups, sandwiches and pizzas. I had a slurp of a Champagne-mushroom-and-Brie soup on my latest visit, and it was outstanding. The other major change at the Wild Hare is that they are trying out a new Saturday breakfast served from 7 to 10 a.m. The menu is simple and features a fancy French toast made with brioche, an egg casserole, biscuits and gravy, and several varieties of steel-cut oats. Side dishes include Benton's Bacon and the expected grits, hash browns and sausage.
If their breakfast business continues to grow, the Wild Hare intends to add extra staffing to offer eggs to order. Every patron receives a comment card to suggest what would make this breakfast even better, so don't be afraid to speak up. Don't ask for a Sunday brunch, though. The Bills remain committed to giving themselves and their staff that day off to spend time with their families. I can't say I blame them.
What hasn't changed is the Wild Hare's commitment to being kid-friendly. Families are usually offered crayons and books before they even get a chance to ask, since Elizabeth understands that happy kids mean happy diners, both the families themselves and at customers at neighboring tables.
So if you're one of those folks who's skipped the Wild Hare because you figured it was too crowded to get into, give them another shot. The food is excellent and affordable and parking is plentiful. If you do encounter a wait, then just spend a little time with Earl. There are a lot worse ways to pass a few minutes.