Marin Classics: Half Day Cafe
Owner: Tory Monahan, daughter of the original owners
Claim to fame: Legendary orange currant scones
“Half Day Cafe has been around so long that there used to be a smoking section,” says Tory Monahan who has personally been at Half Day Cafe since her parents opened it in 1986. But it wasn’t until the ‘90s that she realized running Half Day Cafe was truly her destiny. While managing the restaurant and working other jobs she decided she wanted to own it and took it over in 1999. Though for about 10 years the restaurant did serve dinner, “half day” breakfast and lunch has always been the focus, originally to complement the Pacific Café, which was next door.
Half Day Cafe offers familiar food, plus some California specialties like tofu and granola, but mostly classics like Benedicts, pancakes, sandwiches, burgers and salads, and takes them to the next level with unique recipes and super-fresh ingredients. Guests plead for specials like oatmeal pancakes or the lox scramble to go on the permanent menu, but Monahan knows keeping the menu compact is one of the keys to success. Menu items that are long gone like “desayuno” — a bowl of healthy black beans, brown rice, salsa and cilantro — can still be ordered upon request. The Kahlua French toast is an example of a popular special that found a permanent spot on the menu.
The bright sunshine-y vibe of Half Day is reflected in two of the most popular items, the orange currant scones and the orange butter that is served with pancakes and waffles—but that customers slather on just about everything. If you’re wondering about the Marion blackberry jam, it’s from Dickinson’s, the Belgian waffles come from a mix made by a woman in Sebastopol who personally delivers it to the restaurant.
What makes it special?
If you ask kids who come in what makes it special, they might say Gumby and Pokey. When the restaurant was being built, somebody working on it put the figurines on a high beam on the ceiling and they’ve been there ever since. In the know diners also know about the dinosaur lurking in a planter.
But if you asked Sean Penn, who used to be a regular, it would probably be his standard order, the turkey burger. The secret is in the combination of seasonings, onion and bread crumbs and herbs, and that it’s brushed with a homemade barbecue sauce then served with roasted red pepper relish and garlic-basil aioli. Other famous patrons who have dined at Half Day include George Lucas, Joe Montana, Huey Lewis and Carlos Santana.