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.)
Monty Miller, Owner