This is sort of the third time I’ve written about this place. In it’s previous life as Push Start Kitchen, I raved about the food and the folks who brought it to us. Now I get the chance to do the same in it’s current incarnation as Better Half. Less than one month old, Better Half is on the way to being a hot spot in Atlanta’s dining scene. And I’m going to do my part to make it happen by shouting about it.
Zach and Cristina Meloy have produced a labor of love that is at once what Push Start was and was meant to be. It’s a cozy, familial and special place. Zach marries South American and Southern American flavors deliciously. I guess that is what makes his food so good; it’s unique, sometimes exotic, but always approachable.
On a recent rare visit to the A, I scored a table for dinner. At the time the place had only been open 10 days. Even so, it had a modest crowd and I was glad I made reservations well in advance. Zach was hustling in the open kitchen which is right behind the bar/chef’s table set up. He likes to see people eat and chit chat. He’s a touchy-feely type guy. Not in a creepy way, though. Well, the beard gets a bit disturbing at times.
Leidy (mom-in-law) was up front greeting everyone warmly. Unfortunately, Cristina had mommy duty that night and wasn’t around. The rest of the staff, though, treated us like family and gave the place a comfy, welcome home feel. It was the kind of vibe you expect to get around the family dinner table during the holidays with people talking and laughing and leaning over to their neighbor to suggest their favorite dish. “Oh, you gotta try the so-and-so.” “Hey, what is that you’re having?”
In fact, that’s what happened to me and my date. We got several recommendations from the folks at the table next us. That’s the kind of vibe Push Start was known for and thankfully it has carried over to Better Half.
Let me walk you through my meal.
First – pickled shrimp, black bean falafel, red onion jam, cilantro
I want to convince Zach to offer a plateful of the falafel and jam on the side. However, I think he has a Charlie Trotter thing going, where you won’t see the same dish twice on his menu. I haven’t so far, and he has fed me quite a few meals.
Second – seared tuna, ham hock, guajillo sauce, baby kale
A little surf and pork? Sounds odd but it was a great combination. I think that was a little polenta cake in the center. I forgot to ask, but I ate it.
Third – black cocoa sponge, ancho cajeta, vanilla milk
The story is Zach asks his mother-in-law to fix this cake each year for his birthday. I totally understand why. He is a HUGE dulce de leche fan, so the cajeta (the caramel colored swipe) was no surprise. The peppery hint of ancho chile paired well with the cocoa cake. Sweet and just a touch of spice. Next time a big ‘ole hunk will suffice. I’ll sacrifice style for substance in this case.
Other items on the menu included, roasted apple bread pudding (pictured below), 18-hour short rib, plantain crusted turkey and beet salad.
Bringing strangers together in an intimate setting, to share some good food and drink is what this place is about. You may end up with several new friends along the way. It happened to me. So let me encourage you to take a friend or two and spend some time with friends you don’t know yet. You might get a shot of moonshine if the stars align correctly. The featured flavor on my night out was chai tea – Yowza!
Tell Zach and Cristina that I sent you. And as Zach would say, “go get fed!”