Standing outside, you would never imagine how charming Millie's is inside. Located in a long strip mall on the south side of Clark Road, the lunch and breakfast spot's exterior could double as the outside of an optometrist's office. And all it faces is a sprawling concrete parking lot; across the street, a Sunoco.
So imagine my surprise when my father-in-law and I step inside, and rather than office chairs and old copies of Sports Illustrated, we're hit with décor that blends rustic, shi shi and Southern touches into a pleasing, cottage-like whole. Ornate wallpaper coats one room, while another is lined with white painted boards. Broken-in wood tables are circled by Windsor chairs, and old clicks tick back and forth along the walls. It's the day before Thanksgiving, and Millie's has already broken out the Christmas gear. A white plastic tree sits up front near the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer resplendent vistas of Clark. The restaurant's walls, already packed with antique-looking dishes, are bedazzled with Santa plates.
Millie's menu brags about how it was established in 1959, but that was out in Arizona. The restaurant didn't actuall come to Sarasota till 1988. At one point, there were as many as five Millie's around the country, but our waitress says she believes that number has fallen to two: one here and one in Chicago.
My father-in-law, Frank, is actually bringing his mother-in-law here in a little bit for a friend's 90th birthday — which makes so much sense it hurts. Just from poking your head into Millie's, you know this place gets absolutely bonkers come Mother's Day. Even today, with families coming into town and no one wanting to cook, customers are sitting around up front, waiting for tables.
There's nothing on the menu that would surprise you. It runs through the traditional breakfast classics — eggs, pancakes, waffles, etc. — and the usual lunch items: BLTs, tuna melts, "paninis," etc. (Millie's owners clearly did not read last week's screed about the proper spelling of the Italian sandwich known in its singular form as a "panino.")
I opt for the corned beef hash, because our waitress sizes me up and says I need something heartier than pumpkin pancakes (she's right!) and Frank selects the Russian blintzes, which he compares unfavorably to those his mother used to make. For one thing, he says, the crêpes are too thick, more like thin pancakes than flexible wafers, and the cheese inside is a bit runny. His mother used a product called "pot cheese," which I've never heard of, but thanks to the Internet, I discover is a variation on cottage cheese. Wikipedia says it's a midway point between cottage cheese and farmer cheese. Thanks, Internet! I'll have to try some lickety-split.
The corned beef hash is reliably delish. The hash itself is quite soft and moist, and while it's savory, it's not nearly as salty as others I've eaten. The hash is topped with a pair of quivering eggs, cooked perfectly. I stab at them and the yolk runs all over the hash. Whoopee. The grits are kind of bland, which I've unfortunately become accustomed to in Sarasota. Do you know of any place that makes great grits? Without shmancy cheeses and the like? Email me.
Given Millie's ambience, it should come as no surprise that the sweet tea is excellent. I made a half-assed pledge to give up artificial sweeteners a while back, and I've been ordering sweet tea a lot more lately. Sure, it adds calories to the meal, but it just tastes so good. Millie's tea might be a little sweet for your tastes, but from me, you'll get no complaints.
3900 Clark Road, Building N, Sarasota
923-4054 or milliesrestaurantsarasota.com
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.