Review: Half & Half in Clayton
Located on the strip of Maryland Avenue that’s seen its fair share of opening and closing signs over the years, Mike Randolph’s casual new breakfast, brunch and lunch spot, Half & Half, whole-heartedly lived up to its name. The bright white board and open kitchen and dining room, contrasted with the bold blue accents of coffee mugs and antique Mason jars, lent an air of scrubby Dutch design and created a warm, sunny place to begin the day with its most important meal. The concept, a well-designed menu and dishes prepared with quality, local ingredients, demonstrated that Randolph, also chef-owner of Midtown’s The Good Pie, is an experienced restaurateur. The service and overall management, however, told a different story.
Priding itself on exceptional coffee service, Half & Half offered a variety of unique brewing methods. Choose between two types of beans (On our visits, both were Kaldi’s single-origin beans, but sometimes beans from a guest roaster outside Missouri are featured as well.). Next, decide if you’d like them cloth-filtered, cold brewed or prepared using an aeropress (a technique Randolph described as “a cross between a French press and an espresso”), and GM and award-winning barista Mike Marquard will meticulously brew your cup to order. Or you can just order the bottomless diner mug. But we wouldn’t. Though the coffee was good – really good, with the water kept just below boiling – getting a refill proved nearly impossible.
Instead, start with a mug of the doughnuts. The house-made churro-inspired, citrus-infused pastries were tubular shaped, delightfully airy and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. They were also the only dish we ordered that arrived hot.
House granola, a safe choice because it was served cold, came with a mound of fresh berries. The lightly sweetened mixture was crunchy with satisfying notes of toasted coconut. We were happy to see the granola appear again as a garnish on the Clara Cakes, light yet substantial pancakes served with mascarpone and raspberry compote. The sweetness of the cheese luxuriously complemented the buttered cakes and tart berries. A very sweet way to start the day.
We were also thrilled to see crispy pork belly on the brunch menu, served with country potatoes and two sunny-side-up eggs. The balsamic-braised, sous vide belly melted succulently, but the dish’s overall success was dashed by the state of those gorgeous country eggs. Tragically, the sunny-side yolks were not runny and had become a cold, gel-like substance during their prison sentence in the window. The most frustrating part was that the kitchen did its job. In the open theatrics of the restaurant, we hungrily watched for eight minutes before our waiter realized that bringing the food to his customers was part of his duties.
The chicken liver sandwich was slightly better. Served on a wonderfully crusty baguette, the delicate livers were lightly breaded and fried beautifully. To finish, the sandwich was dressed with a caper aïoli, bacon and a sunny-side-up egg. This time, the yolk was runny. But it was still cold as, once again, it spent 12 tantalizing minutes incarcerated on the line as though suspended in the frigid Gulag Archipelago of Clayton’s newest breakfast joint.
Hanger steak, a flavorful and rustic cut, was featured in Half & Half’s version of steak and eggs. Order it rare or mid-rare, as this cut can get chewy when overcooked. Prepared perfectly, the steak was gorgeously paired with tobacco onions – thinly sliced red onions, breaded and fried – a brilliantly creamy hollandaise and those country potatoes and sunny-side-up eggs (runny yolk, still cold).
Half & Half is blessed with an excellent location and the energy of being the new kid on the block. The recipes, quality of ingredients and effort put into producing many of its trademark dishes set it apart from – and actually far above – other local brunch destinations. But the waiters seemed imposed-upon to bring us water, more coffee, even our food. With all the tools necessary to bring breakfast into its rightful culinary place in this town, Half & Half’s success in doing so will rely on its ability to bring its service up to the level of its food, which, is quite high.
Half & Half
8135 Maryland Ave., Clayton, 314.725.0719, Entrée prices: $6 to $16, halfandhalfstl.com
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