My mother was in town for the weekend, so, like any other good Richmonder, we took her to Millie’s. Year after year, list after list, you see this place at or near the top – mentioned as much for the food as the lines to get in. It had been nearly ten years since I had been and, at least back then, if it was Sunday brunch I was either hung over or still buzzed. Not the best way to judge food. Perfect time for a fresh look.
We arrived in the area just as they were opening at 9 and started looking for a parking spot. All these high rent lofts built in the old tobacco warehouses didn’t feel the need to provide adequate parking and as they have filled up so to have the streets around them. Fifteen minutes later we found a spot several blocks away. The window for immediate seating had closed at Millie’s and we had to wait for a table. The bright side to this is they have waiting down to a science at Millie’s and we quickly had drinks in hand.
I took this time to peruse the surroundings. A couple of interesting signs caught my attention. On the brunch menu on the wall it stated – No Substitutions. I am a constant offender of making changes to dishes but am also cognizant of the busyness of the restaurant. If it’s too busy I refrain. A small change may sound simple to you but while many chefs strive to be artiste’s, when they are one ’sauce on the side’ away from disaster they are more like machines. Small changes can completely destroy their concentration and flow. Don’t do it. If your allergic, don’t order it – it’s just as likely to be put on and then brushed off the plate by the equally hurried server.
Another sign of note was to inform that incomplete parties will not be seated. More places need to do this as well as enforcing it. You may see the restaurant as half empty and can’t understand why they want you to wait at the bar. The staff sees the restaurant as half full and know how many tables are coming in. A large party that trickles in will order one or two drinks at a time. What could have taken the server one order and one trip to the bar has now just consumed an exponentially huge amount of time. Will you remember this when it comes time to tip or will you only remember that you had to wait a long time for your drinks because the waiter had to take care of his other tables before they felt forgotten? Even an incomplete smaller party can disrupt the flow. When everyone finally arrives you may be ready to start but the server has just been seated a new table and, while he may have been standing around for the last ten minutes, now has to decide who gets priority on his time – the table that’s been sitting for half and hour waiting for a late arrival or the people who were on time? At this point don’t forget to listen for the chef to start screaming why the waiters are all ordering at once rather than spacing things out… Off my soapbox, time to be seated.
Into a booth with drinks in hand. Coffee refilled and the drinking water is cold (I know this because Finn dumped his in my lap). In a flash orders are taken and a short time later the food is on the table – Millie’s would never be able to cope with their volume if they weren’t fast and efficient. What can I say about the food? A little more creative than your usual brunch spot, but not by much. Eggs Benedict on a bagel with grav lox instead of the ubiquitous Smithfield Ham, eggs scrambled with lobster and mushrooms, and finally the Devil’s Mess (eggs with spicy sausage, veg and curry topped with cheese and avocado). All good combinations expertly done. My only concerns would be that it was all a tad over spiced and that the puff pastry on my lobster and eggs was cold – also the tug of war between the staff on the volume of the stereo was really annoying.
Does it deserve the hype? Everyone goes, there’s always a wait, it must be good, right? Both Karsen’s and Bacchus are equally, if not more, creative. Can-Can is nearly as busy yet manages (usually) a higher service level. Even off-spring LuLu’s looks a bit more creative and may be a more relaxing choice (haven’t been yet for brunch so am really just guessing). I think it’s the inertia of the crowd that puts Millie’s at the top year after year. Sure the spice levels will cut through that fuzz left over on your tongue from last nights drinks but it can also cover up any errors on ingredients or preparation. Let’s see how much of that $4 gas we can waste looking for parking. The servers are friendly and efficient but overworked and coffees and drinks don’t get refilled. Are you waiting for brunch or waiting to be seen?
Bottom line is I think Millie’s is good but not worth the wait or the aggravation of getting a table. I think going once a decade with out of town guests is about the right frequency.
We had actually planned on going to Cirrus originally. Strangely they don’t open till 11, is it just me or is that a little late to start? I checked their brunch menu that morning and nearly fell asleep reading it. Their dinner menu is very intriguing but the brunch menu could have been copied from Brunches-R-Us…..