Better Half targets early December opening

Chef Zach Meloy shares what it will look like, serve, and more
Braised beef shoulder, carrot glazed carrot, vidalia pudding, green chile, cabrales

Better Half, the long-awaited brick and mortar restaurant by PushStart Kitchen supper club founders Zach and Cristina Meloy, is on track to open in early December after securing funding through KickStarter. Originally called Lost & Found, this Latin-Southern restaurant will serve dinner Monday through Saturday at 1220 Foster Street in Home Park. Below, chef Zach shares his plans for the restaurant and provides a glimpse into his menu.

How will Better Half be similar to PushStart Kitchen?
It’ll be more similar than you’d think. One of the strengths of PushStart is the level of connectivity with the guests. Our whole goal now is to shift the PushStart feeling to the restaurant. We’re going to give up the community table, but we’ll have a bar that’s really sitting in the kitchen, where the cooks will be the servers. A high level of interaction is really important to us. I like being able to tell a story about who we are and what we’re doing through our cooking.

It’ll be the same style of food. The menu will change every day. It will be a more traditional, a la carte menu, rather than prix fixe. People are specific about their dietary needs and restrictions, so we want to have a little something for everyone.

What’s on the menu?
There will be four first courses, five entrees, and four desserts. One dish will always be on the menu— vegetarian handkerchief pasta with wild mushroom confit, tomato marmalade, and porcini mushroom sauce. It was the very first dish I cooked for my now wife on our very first date. It’s her favorite special occasion dish.

The rest of the menu will cycle in and out. We really cook in the moment. I thrive on change. I wrote a sample menu for when we were going to open in September or October, but it’s already out of season. I’m going to wait and see what’s available when we do open.

We’ve never repeated a dish in two-and-a-half years of dinners. I feel like now if I were to repeat dishes, I’d be cheating.

Sample dishes:
First course
Lemon ricotta agnolotti with shaved country ham, black bean, manchego and red eye emulsion

Pan-roasted halibut, corn bread puree, heirloom squash, shallot butter

Braised pork shoulder, Meyer lemon cabbage, tobacco onion, burned tomato molasses

Pineapple upside down cake, condensed milk ice cream, ancho-pecan sandy

What will the atmosphere be like?
It will only seat forty-two people, including ten seats in front of the open kitchen.
We like contrast a lot. Intimacy is a big deal to us. Aesthetically, it will have a lot of raw wood. Darwin from Urban Reclaimed, a modern lumberjack type, did our tables and bar top with chestnut trees from the neighborhood. It will be kind of cozy. It won’t be too different from our home.

We’re using muted grays and blues. An original brick wall divides the front dining area and back hall area. There’s a distressed plaster look on the back wall like European cathedrals. We’ll have woven metal chairs with an organic look to them and hammered copper lamps. The east wall will be a mural that I’m going to paint myself, incorporating the birds from our logo. It’ll be modern food in an old building.

What’s the significance of the birds in your logo?
We used bird whistles as a centerpiece in the restaurant we owned in Costa Rica. When we got married, everyone who came got one of those birds and blew them when we left the reception. We had them at PushStart, too, and we decided to incorporate it here.

What’s on tap for the beverage program?
Since the space is so small, we don’t have room for a big inventory. It will be beer and wine only. We’ll take the same approach as we do with the menu: ever rotating. We’ll have four or five reds by the glass or bottle, four or five whites, one bubbly, one pink, and five or six interesting craft beers.

What does the name mean?
Our restaurant in Costa Rica was called Media y Naranja. Directly translated, it means “half of an orange;” but in conversation, it means your better half. I’m opening this restaurant with my better half and our work is our better half because we define ourselves through our work.

How did your experience in Costa Rica change the way you view food and hospitality?
We were living in a tourist town and always feeding internationals on vacation. Everyone else would come to this fertile country and open an international restaurant where they had to import their ingredients. We strived to use everything from Costa Rica. I was forced to be creative with what we had there, and now that’s what I try to do here.

I was down there for the better part of five years. I spent time in Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Argentina. I fell in love with Latin food. That’s where the roots of my food are, but using Southern ingredients.

Anything else we should know?
For me, this is like the young girl planning her wedding—I’m so excited I’m beside myself. Saturday the 16th is our last PushStart dinner and after that, we will be putting everything we have into this restaurant.