Half & Half could be in San Francisco or London if its tables were closer together. The white walls, the cabinetry behind the bar, which clearly had a previous life, the busy-ness, all feel crisp and morning-esque.
Open only for breakfast and lunch, adding brunch specials on the weekend, chef-owner Mike Randolph's restaurant is clearly for larks, not owls. And the morning menu rises way above the mundane. For one thing, Half (may we call you by your first name?) is serious about coffee. The manager was formerly at Kaldi's and several bean options and methods of brewing are on the menu. We watched water just below the boiling point poured over the grounds in a Chemex, moistening them and waiting to let them bloom before continuing to add more just-right water. Do not be intimidated; the standard bottomless cup is excellent.
We're partial to chorizo, whether in its Mexican or Spanish incarnations. Here, it's the Mexican, crumbled, fried, sprinkled with chopped onion and cilantro, becoming a base for a couple of fried eggs, the cornbread riding shotgun. Spicy and yet sort of comfort-food-like, it was excellent.
We're also suckers for chicken livers, and finding them on a breakfast menu made it a sunny morning indeed. Our optimism was repaid with five large livers, breaded and deep-fried but not overcooked, topped by thin, un-greasy, onion rings that were superb. We couldn't quite identify the seasoning in the breading, but it, while reasonably subtle, helped things along. A caper aioli offered a tangy note to go with both onions and livers, and the mellowness of the rest of the dish. Two eggs came alongside, and they, like the earlier ones, were perfectly cooked to order. The potatoes served with most of the savory entrees are chunks,briefly fried, then dusted with a bit of rosemary.
On the sweet side, Clara cakes are large, extremely fluffy and tender (cake flour, chef?), served with a raspberry compote, mascarpone cheese and a generous sprinkle of granola. Sweet-tart-creamy-crunch: A fine plate of pancakes. A side order of bacon brought thick-sliced meat, wonderfully smoky.
Oatmeal is one of the breakfast kitchen's great blank canvases. Half bakes its oatmeal in individual bowls, drizzles on maple syrup and adds berries, pecans and a little lightly whipped cream. Fruit, especially if it's a little tart, is the perfect partner for maple syrup, and the creamy oatmeal chimed in here to remind us of a first-rate cookie, minus the noisy crunch that might disturb the hungover diner.
The only discordant note we found was in the section marked "Starters." Doughnuts, citrus and sugar was the description, the serving resembling New Orleans beignets, powdered sugar crowning the amber dough. An eggy batter, the better to puff up, had been piped into the fryer in half-doughnut shapes that resembled a capital. The powdered sugar did taste of orange and things were hot and beautifully drained. But they weren't cooked through. This batter will never yield the kind of interior a cake or yeast doughnut has -- think French cruller. But still, insufficiently cooked.
The brunch menu, which on a recent weekend had four options (German pancake, prosciutto Benedict, salmon and grits, and a heirloom tomato and prosciutto salad with an egg) may not quite merit the menu's adjective of "compelling." But it certainly expands the options; on other weekends we've seen biscuits and gravy, as well as country ham.
We sat at the counter both visits and were well-taken care of. There's a liquor license and a limited bar. Very busy most weekends; come early or be prepared to wait.
8135 Maryland Ave., Clayton
Breakfast and Lunch Tues-Sun, Brunch Sat.-Sun
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair