Does Seattle really need another fancy doughnut shop? After sampling as many doughnuts as I could with the help of a friend at Capitol Hill’s tiny Half and Half Doughnut Co., I can confidently say we do. With a Hawaiian-inspired doughnut special to brighten up the winter grays, quality coffee, very friendly service and a jewel-box atmosphere, the shop currently feels like a hidden gem. Right now, it’s that rare Capitol Hill spot that’s good and pleasantly unmobbed, even on a weekend at peak brunch time, and I’m afraid it won’t be for long.
Half and Half scratch-bakes its puffy sugar bombs on-site from locally sourced, GMO-free ingredients, and some of them really are bombs (that’s what the shop’s petite round doughnuts are called). I’ll eat any old doughnut, but most of the ones we tried exceeded our expectations; though Half and Half has the same owners as Top Pot, its doughnuts have more in common with General Porpoise or Portland’s Blue Star, with none of the (delicious) gimmicks of Donut Factory or (again, Oregon’s) Voodoo.
Of the filled doughnuts ($3.85), the Marocchino was my favorite, flavored with vanilla, espresso and caramel, with a creamy filling that had a texture closer to pudding than the gloppy mess that sometimes makes filled doughnuts synthetically unpleasant and gross. Tiramisu is not my favorite thing, but with a similar set of flavors, this doughnut made me feel like I understood what all the fuss was about.
The seasonal passion-fruit old fashioned ($3.25) is also worth ordering, with a surprisingly tart, not-too-sweet fruity glaze. We also delighted in a peanut butter-chocolate bomb ($2.25). Vanilla and chocolate glazed old fashioneds ($3.25) and a staggering, inventive array of fritters (pineapple, maple pecan and — Sundays only — pineapple candied bacon, $3.95) are also available. Laid out in the case, it’s a charming doughnut array that reminded me, winningly, of the sheriff station’s spread in “Twin Peaks.”
But even if the sweets deliver, a doughnut shop is basically worthless to me without coffee, and Half and Half’s is excellent, with locally roasted beans and all shots hand-pulled. (That may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you’ve ever been a barista at a corporate coffee chain tasked with pressing a button on an “espresso” machine, you know it is.) The espresso at Half and Half is strong and satisfying, and pairs suitably with the doughnuts. Or biscuits with butter and jam ($4.50)! Or cinnamon sugar twists ($3.25)!
The menu is endlessly sugar-inflected, but for something more substantial (or if you’d prefer to dinner-and-dessert your doughnuts with some protein), there are alternatives. Half and Half makes a very good breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, tomato pesto and optional bacon on a soft roll ($5.95-$6.95) or you can order sous vide eggs ($3.75) with a number of mix-ins.
Though I love Linda’s cowgirl breakfast tacos and nothing pairs better with the first meal of the day like a digesting browse through Elliott Bay Book Co., I generally avoid Capitol Hill on weekends at any time it could be considered reasonably appropriate to order brunch. But I might make an exception for a return trip to Half and Half, which is tucked away on an uncharacteristically quiet block of East Pike Street; neighbors include a shuttered former bar and one of the city’s longstanding yoga studios.
Inside, the shop’s aesthetic is clean but cozy, with friendly staff behind the case and limited seating by the window. Everything inside, from the geometric pattern on the floor to the lovingly sketched doughnuts on the corner blackboard, feels chosen with care. (The shop’s outdoor seating will be an inviting prospect once spring is here; for now, the cafe tables on the sidewalk were rain-splattered and looked lonely.)
Increasingly in Seattle, new spots share a uniform, Instagram-ready aesthetic — it’s cute but impersonal. Half and Half isn’t like that. After we finished our doughnuts, my friend and I headed out to browse at Elliott Bay in the bustle of the neighborhood’s weekend post-brunch crush of humans. We had pulled off the impossible: a delightful late-morning snack without a line.
Half and Half Doughnut Co.: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; 516 E. Pike St., (Capitol Hill) Seattle; halfandhalfdoughnuts.com