Finding a place to sit at Half & Half on weekend mornings requires patience. On a recent Saturday visit, guests were respectfully deferred a minimum of 30 minutes—and not one eyelash flinched when given the wait time. To tide themselves over, patrons migrate to the back corner of the restaurant, near the coffee bar. Here reside a three-group La Marzocco GB5, dual Mazzer espresso grinders and scales built into the counter for pour-over brews. Right behind the espresso machine is a FETCO pumping out drip coffee. A small ticket register chirps out order tickets for lattes, iced coffees, and macchiatos. The coffee counter is a small oasis in a bustling breakfast space.
When chef and restaurateur Mike Randolph moved to St. Louis, his wife Liz's hometown, he already had plans to open a breakfast restaurant named Half & Half. But his breakfast dreams took a back seat when he found the perfect place to open a Neapolitan pizza joint, called The Good Pie, first. After a few years getting his feet on the ground, a former pizzeria space in suburban Clayton became available. Half & Half now had a home.
Randolph's original plans for Half & Half's menu were to treat breakfast with a high-end twist. It's nothing unusual for him, considering his experience at one-Michelin-starred restaurant Moto in Chicago. Tasting menus would be available, a delicacy usually saved for evenings. Caviar was on the inaugural menu. Third Wave by-the-cup coffee service replaced the standard batch-brewed fare. According to Randolph, the plan was to spend time curating each plate of food and each cup of coffee. When the first month's sales projections were shattered, the restaurant switched gears to cook food with shorter pick-up times while maintaining quality.
“We let the market dictate where our future lay and it's certainly more of a high-volume restaurant than what we anticipated,” Randolph says, adding that he feels his job as chef and owner is “to have really good, really well-executed simple food and then surround that with things that you're just not accustomed to getting in a breakfast restaurant,” like great coffee, beer, and cocktails.
Half & Half's coffee menu is anchored by local roaster Blueprint Coffee on FETCO as well as pour-over and one of the restaurant's espresso selections. Each month, the restaurant highlights a guest roaster—like Portland, Oregon's Heart Roasters, Wisconsin's Ruby Coffee Roasters, Denver's Sweet Bloom, San Francisco's Four Barrel, and Durham's Counter Culture.
“The onus is on us to be educated enough to talk about the nuances of all these different coffees and tell [customers], yeah, this is why we're doing it, this is why it costs this much, this is where it comes from,” Randolph says. “I think another part of it is the setup of the restaurant,” he continues. “This is a beautiful La Marzocco espresso machine scale-built into the counter, I mean it looks like a Third Wave coffee shop. And I think when people see that, right off the bat they think, ‘Okay, this is a place to get a decent cup of coffee.'”
The food, although not as abstract as Randolph envisioned, still can add a subtle wrinkle to a straightforward dish. The doughnuts have a bright pop of orange zest. The Hollandaise sauce is held in a whipped cream charger until needed. Chicken livers are soaked in buttermilk, then battered and fried for a nap-inducing dish of food. The details don't go unnoticed.
Randolph calls juggling a high-end food and coffee experience “daunting.” To Randolph, if he's going to put such care and effort into the food, he's going to spend just as much time making sure the coffee tastes equally good. At his newest restaurant, the Latin-influenced Público, coffee is made via pour-over. At The Good Pie (soon to close and reopen as Randolfi's), a single-group La Marzocco espresso machine churns out beverages. Randolph feels there's always a responsibility on the restaurant to serve good coffee.
“Coffee is an important part of the meal,” he says. “For so long in fine dining, you would have a transcendent meal and then they would bring you out, frankly, a crappy cup of coffee after this three hours where they meticulously pore over every detail and that always drove me crazy. You're going to get a great cup of coffee because that's the lasting impression that you're going to have of my restaurant.”@theevanjones) is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.