I’m a sucker for well-plated food and have gleefully admired many a spread, but Better Half’s Waffle Iron Hash Browns ($12) takes the plate. The earthy wriggles of crispy hash browns and coffee-and-cream gravy adorned with clouds of egg whites and snowy asadero, a dawn of sunny yolk, motts of scallions, red onions pickled purple, and the plum perfection of amaranth microgreens all atop a hazy gray plate itself atop a blushing picnic table still takes my breath away. While the dish wasn’t perfect (the hasheth was a little too browneth), this plate would surely float on water.
Generally, it’s not a good idea to try to be all things to all people. Perhaps in a small town with few choices, a jack-or-jane of all trades might be smart, but in Austin? That could be suicidal. Yet somehow Better Half—part bar, part coffee shop, part hi-end restaurant, part beer garden, part psychological respite—makes it happen.
My first visit was a happy-hour gossip-fest with an old work friend. After figuring out the scene (what is this place?), we took a seat at a bright booth and tried the mixology as well as the more interesting menu choices. The Winter Sangria on tap (tempranillo, cognac, curacao, lemon, and orange; $8) was the color of beets but fruity and fresh. Speaking of beets, we tried the Cauliflower Tots with Beet Ketchup ($7), savory deep-fried cubes of cauliflower dipped into thick beet ketchup (beetup?) as cool as Barton Springs. My friend, an east Texas girl somewhat reluctant to try new things, loved them.
I loves me some biscuits, so we ordered a plate of their squares with jalapeno-honey butter ($3 a piece), house preserves ($4), and queso (that’s right: queso! $5). There are better biscuits in town (see, for example, Olamaie and fixe), but these, topped with flaked salt, rose to the occasion. You can order regular ‘ole queso, but we fancied the Pastrami Loaded Queso (pastrami, smashed avocado, cream, asadero crumbles, pickled onion, and beet powder; $11), a gorgeous unlike-any-queso-we’d-seen queso carpet-bombed with flavor.
On a spur-of-the-moment return visit, this time with the bride, we sampled the brunch menu. It was then I devoured the Waffle Iron Hash Browns while the bride happily munched a gorgeous Granola Bowl (nuts & seeds, pomegranate molasses, yogurt, seasonal fruit & berries, and Thai basil and mint; $9).
Better Half’s elevated take on hum-drum traditionals is the best I’ve experienced, where inventive ingredient choices are both beautiful, tasty, and approachable. The space—indoors and outdoors, fancy but friendly, modern but cozy—perfectly captures the current zeitgeist of Austin.
This review is based on pre-COVID chowdowns.
web&where: interwebs; 406 walsh street; (512) 645-0786
what’s the deal? expertly elevated traditionals with a big side of Austin; counter service
overall: *** (food***; drink***; atmosphere***; service***; instagrammability*****)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]