Half Penny

Review by Connor Mitchell
One benefit of the recession for restaurateurs is a lot of good chefs are looking for work. The Half Penny Bar and Grill at 3743 Commercial St. S.E., has snatched up three of them.
David Sims comes to the restaurant from Eastern Oregon. Tracey Sargent is a veteran of Willamette Valley bistros. And Brett Cameron is the former head chef at the upscale Creekside Restaurant.
Monty Miller, owner/manager of the Half Penny, said each has different strengths.
“They are so completely different and they work well together,” Miller said.
“David has that country-style, home-style cooking flair,” Miller said.
“Tracey is a graduate of the Western Culinary Institute and he has a very creative flair.
“I can cater meatballs and wings or I can cater poached salmon with osso bucco,” Miller said.
A table in the back near the pool tables isn’t the first place I choose for dining, but when bluesman Curtis Salgado has the front section packed in anticipation of a Wednesday night performance, a table in the back will do.
My wife and I normally share a bottle of good wine. But when we saw the restaurant offered 14 Hands cabernet sauvignon by the glass, we opted for that.
I have not found a bad vintage of the Washington state wine, and, suffice to say, that still holds true. The wine had the fruit-forward feature 14 Hands wine is noted for, with hints of spices and velvety tannins.
With the place packed with blues lovers, my wife and I assumed we were in for a long wait for our food. The opposite was true.
Within minutes after ordering – I ordered the fish and chips, my wife the Cajun chicken fettuccini – our salads arrived.
All too often, lettuce in restaurant salads lacks the buoyancy that comes with freshness, and vegetables lack the flavor that so announces the start of a dining experience. That wasn’t the case at the Half Penny.
The romaine lettuce was crisp and the tomato was juicy, with the flavorful qualities often lacking in restaurant salads.
One point I should make is the service at the Half Penny is excellent. Miller, a veteran bartender from several Salem-area establishments, obviously schools his wait staff on the importance of good service, and they obviously heed his teachings.
A short wait, filled with stimulating music, was all it took before our entrees arrived.
Ordering fish and chips in any restaurant short of a high-quality seafood restaurant can be hit or miss. But the deep fried cod, which was served that night in place of halibut, was flavorful, flaky, moist, lightly breaded and not too greasy.
The French fries, on the other hand, had that greasy taste I desire in my fries, and were obviously fresh cut with some skin left on for texture.
Like ordering fish and chips, ordering Cajun chicken fettuccini also can be risky. Again that wasn’t a problem at the Half Penny. The generous portion of pasta came with a silky mildly “Cajun” cream sauce complemented by tender slices of, spicy chicken breast.  Also in the dish were red bell pepper and green and red onion.
Dining with live blues in the background isn’t my normal choice of a fine dining experience. But Curtis Salgado’s world class blues vocals, good wine, Half Penny’s excellent food and good, friendly service, made the mid-week dining experience highly rewarding.
(For full disclosure, my son-in-law bartender Mike Ellison is part of that wait staff.)

 Brett Cameron
Monty Miller, Owner
 

17 comments:

Chuck Bradley said...

I can’t tell you what a welcome addition Half Penny is to our neighborhood. The first time I had lunch there I thought “What a pleasant change in attitude and atmosphere". The place has a wholesome vibe. The second time I walked in, a couple of weeks later, both Monte and Amie greeted me by name! If you have experienced this anywhere else, please let me know where. It is a rare weekend when I don’t stop by for their 2+2+2 for $3 Breakfast. It is the best Breakfast value in Salem. Period. I expected tiny Tacos (2 for 75 cents!) and Chicken Wings (25 cents ea.) on their Monday night special. Au contraire! Consequently I over ordered and couldn’t possibly finish what was put before me. The food is excellent. The folks are great! If you haven’t been to Half Penny, you’re missin’ out.

Ken said...

I really love the Half Penny. I wish it was in our part of town, but I still take time to drive out south whenever I can. Monty is aware of the Oregon economy, and has great food and drink values. The staff makes you wonder if they're all related to Monty, since they want the customer to be the focus. The Half Penny really has the feeling of a neighborhood bar where it's safe for a family or a single to stop by for a drink or a bite to eat. There's an outdoor area that will be appreciated as Salem warms up a little. All in all, I couldn't recommend a bar or restaurant more highly than the Half Penny.

Anonymous said...

After reading this, a couple friends and I stopped here for happy hour after work Friday. PBR pounders are $1.50 and with purchase of a beverage, you get access to the free nacho bar (as much cheese as I want?!). We enjoyed ourselves a lot. A little too much perhaps. The food we did order from the menu was tasty and well-priced. A great end to a work week.

As this is my 'hood, I'm thrilled to become a more frequent customer... especially for amazing food deals paired with Trivia on Monday nights! Though we were the youngest in the crowd on a Friday night, we felt right at home and the service was super friendly. Not your average dive.

-guitar4me

Chuck Bradley said...

This is not food related, but Half Penny has some great entertainment. I especially like the Blues Jams on Tuesday night (8PM). Usually feature very talented local folks e.g. Garry Meziere and Ty Curtis. Both of these guys wail! The patrons are enthusiastic, but well behaved. It’s a good time.

Jia said...

I went last night for their $6 steak night. They even have an electronic trivia game that you can play on the end of the bar. The people that go there seem really nice.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous wings .. oh Monday night might become a ritual!!
Attentive, bustling staff that makes you feel very welcome and catered too.
New outdoor patio is a very nice addition .. can't wait for some sun to lounge in. I did spot speakers hanging out on the patio .. outdoor music will be nice, if so.

good job Monty, for turning the place into something fun and exciting in South Salem.

sheepdog-mom

Chuck Bradley said...

SWMBO and I took our Sunday morning stroll down to Half Penny this morning to take advantage of their 2+2+2 4 $3 weekend(s) breakfast special. (Served from 10 AM 'til 2 PM) You get 2 Eggs (your way), 2 strips of Bacon and 2 fluffy Pancakes for $3! They were slammed this morning but Monty and Amie were at the top of their game and never missed a beat. This is a wonderful, family friendly, B&G. Try 'em once, and you'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone comment on the smoke level?

Anonymous said...

Smoke level? I'm not sure what you mean. Smoking is no longer allowed in Oregon restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Smoking is still allowed in the strictly "bar area", but I've experienced many bad times whe the smoke bleeds out into the eating area - case-in-point is Porters Place in Keizer. Even though they had a separate area for the bar and smoking it still bled out all over the dining area making my asthma go nuts. I had to excuse myself from my appointment there and leave. Whenever a place says "Bar and Grill" in their name I'm always wary. So I'm wondering how much the smoke from the bar area affects the dining area.

Anonymous said...

Smoking in bars is illegal as well...has been for a couple of years, and Half Penny is following the law. There's a deck area in which it's OK to smoke, which is permitted in Oregon, but not inside.

Anonymous said...

The 'smoking' patio area is outside adjacent to the back of the building where pool tables are. We've never smelled any smoke inside but some may waft in if you sit back there ... just stay in the main dining/bar area and you should be fine.
Enjoy!

sheepdog-mom

Anonymous said...

I agree... many bars still have a smokey smell inside just from what wafts in from the smoking patio. The lounge at Los Arcos comes to mind. Half Penny has always been pleasant for me, a non-smoker, no wafting smoke issues. Enjoy!

-guitar4me

ChuckBradley said...

I’ve fallen into the habit of stopping by Half Penney, mid-way in my Sunday morning walks, for a bite of breakfast.

As I’ve mentioned before, their 2+2+2 4 $3 weekend special is a delicious bargain that’s just too good to pass up!

But this morning I was enticed by their Prime Rib Scramble. Now, that’s a breakfast! They take chunks of tasty Prime Rib, sliced fresh Meadow Mushrooms, bits of Bell Pepper (Green and Red), Tomato and a little Onion then scramble it all up with two (maybe three) Eggs. While it’s still piping hot they pile grated Cheddar Cheese on top and serve with crispy shredded Hash Browns and your choice of Toast. Oh Yeah!

The fact that they were hutched this morning and all the wait staff was running did not diminish Monty’s always positive outlook or Amie’s big smile and sunny hello. Monty’s charming mother was even helping out the servers. (I dig enterprises where family members work shoulder to shoulder.)

Since people will find value, good food, and great service in a clean and friendly environment, Half Penny can no longer reside on my list of “Secret Places” where it was when it first appeared on these pages. But I applaud their well deserved success and it remains one of my favorite spots in Salem.

dinnersforwinners said...

Chuck, we also have fallen into weekend Half Penny breakfasts (and cocktails). their chicken-fried steak and gravy is so delicious and everything is cooked with a little bit of love, you can tell. they had a prime rib breakfast special last saturday that was fantastic! we love the prices and the waitstaff. Great neighborhood spot!

-guitar4me

Jia said...

I went here for wing night again last night, and had a very delicious time. I wish I could go every Monday night. Their wings are crispy and perfect. The teriyaki and hot ones are my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Hubby & I have been to Half Penny several times for lunch and we tend to share our favorite wrap, the Chicken Diablo with a salad. Heed it's warning .. it truly is spicy but that's why we love it!! But last week, hubby jumped ship and ordered the Reuben with fries ... tender cornbeef, swiss, sauerkraut, 1000 island on marbled rye; lightly grilled. Best Rueben we've ever had and the fries were skinny and crispy; definitely homecut..perfect! We commented to the waitress how much we enjoyed the Rueben and she says they make the cornbeef themselves! Another excellent experience, good food and fair prices.

sheep-dog mom