Words and Photos by Lauren N. Colie
Far beyond the walking range of the average VCU student, Millie’s Diner sits humbly in the shadow of Kelly Point, which is another name for Libby Hill Park. The climb to reach the top might be steep, but dinner prices at Millie’s are even steeper. The lighting is dim, the seats are hard and the service borders on unfriendly. I almost wrote the diner off entirely thinking surely our outing was going to be wasted on a grungy location that some critics seem to love.
After walking almost three frigid miles with my friend, all I wanted to do was slide into a warm booth and order hot tea. However, we missed Millie’s famed weekend brunch by about 5 minutes and were shooed back into the cold to wait for dinner. We walked across the street to Kelly Point. Shivering, we sat on a bench and scanned all of Richmond while we waited for Millie’s to gear up for the dinner crowd.
Returning to the door at exactly 5:31 p.m., we were the first guests ushered into the 44-person dining room. The menus presented by our server were still warm, as Millie’s designs and prints a new offering every few weeks. The staff wasn’t particularly bubbly, but the chefs working magic in the tiny open kitchen by the front door were charmingly busy.
Expecting excellent brunch fare, I had to do a double-take to make sure I’d actually read “wild salmon” on the menu. I hadn’t known Millie’s transformed into a classy evening hotspot – but the warm earthiness of beet soup as an appetizer (pinkbeet soup) thawed my fingers and my opinion of the diner. I forgave the cramped quarters, brightly-colored atmosphere and less-than-friendly staff immediately. I spent some quality time with hot tea and lemon while my friend fiddled with the vintage jukebox sitting on our table.
I ordered a chicken breast over Brussels sprouts for dinner. The skin of the chicken broke open crisply to juicy, tender meat underneath. The Brussels sprouts were cooked with morsels of meaty bacon, melding with juices from the chicken and a salty sauce. While the atmosphere and the food didn’t make much sense in my head, the taste and feeling were right.
At heart, I truly believe dessert should have chocolate in it, so we chose not to order from Millie’s menu. While the options of bread pudding and spice cake would probably have been excellent examples of how to do those dishes successfully, the dessert menu lacked the chocolate decadence I was craving. As we left, a hearty “have a good night” spilled out from the kitchen and I caught a glimpse of a white apron.
Millie’s has some flaws that might better be described as “quirks.” These minor offenses are eclipsed by the sheer quality of the food. The distance might be far, the prices might be a little high, but if the point of a good dining experience is a unique atmosphere and a delicious meal, Millie’s stuck the landing. I’d recommend the diner as a date destination or somewhere to bring your parents – especially if you want to check out the view from Kelly Point, right across the street. I’ll be returning soon to see if brunch at Millie’s lives up to the acclaim.
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