Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Mill, St. Petersburg, FL

Downtown St. Pete’s The Mill is off to a running start. The conceptualization of managing partners Ted Dorsey, former executive chef of Castile in St. Pete Beach’s Hotel Zamora and Jason Griffin, who is also well-tenured in the restaurant industry, their combined pedigree was evident in my almost seamless dining experience only three weeks after The Mill opened in late July.

Located on the ground floor of the Progress Plaza Building, the restaurant’s interior has a pleasing farmhouse-rustic-meets-industrial-chic vibe that’s turning up with greater frequency in the Tampa Bay area. Distressed wooden tables, denim seat covers, burlap sack-draped light fixtures and a mill wheel wall design set the tone for the escalated American classic cuisine being dispensed here.

The menu is more extensive than one might expect. My first thought was that such a new venue couldn’t possibly do THIS many things well; yet they do. Arranged in progressively-sized sections of First Plates, Second Plates and Third Plates ranging in price from $9 - $36, all appetites are accommodated and the wide array of offerings includes the likes of southern fried frog legs, braised rabbit and meatloaf Wellington.

Diners may build their own charcuterie platter from a selection of elements that reaches far beyond all the usual suspects, with options like house-made duck prosciutto, octopus bacon (oh, yes they DID) and a remarkable ocean-scented toro pastrami. Priced at 3 for $18, 5 for $25 and 7 for $32, all are served with crostini, mostarda, local honeycomb, Florida orange marmalade, baby zucchini pickles, malted rye mustard and bitter chocolate. My party’s stunning protein-laden plank of goodness elicited raves and included all of the aforementioned items as well as lengua rillette (beef tongue), foie gras tourchon, tallegio and bleu cheese.

A $19 Second Plate of porter glazed quail and wild game sausage with white bean salt pork cassoulette, port cherry relish and candied apple crisps was homey comfort food at its finest and substantial enough to satisfy my resident Y-chrome (he had to save room for dessert, after all).

My $25 fish and grits consisted of an ethereally breaded plank of sweet, farm raised rainbow trout perched atop a pool of nutty, blue corn Anson Mills grits and topped with a somewhat unnecessary drizzle of smoky pork Bolognese. Disclaimer: I’m a native Tennessean and can be a little resistant to having my traditional fish ‘n’ grits overly “messed with”.

A $22 Aspen Ridge flat iron steak (Pittsburgh style) was also sampled. Served with creamy baked redskin potatoes and a flavorful, al dente Swiss chard, the beef boasted a beautiful char and a juicy, warm red center.

Identifying desserts in Tampa Bay that make one say, “whoa…that’s different!” is a tough homework assignment. As much as I enjoyed everything I tasted at The Mill, the sweet finishes truly thrilled. Deep-dish walnut pie with bitter orange Chantilly and Fireball ginger reduction can best be described as pecan pie’s sexy younger sister. This decadent concoction consists of a mound of toasted walnuts (bound by just enough sticky goo to hold them together) piled into a tall, dense and flaky fortress. Both the crust and filling are both so remarkable that it’s tough to discern which the star of this dessert is. 

Cheesecake at The Mill is also outstanding. Their “all grown up” version integrates local honeycomb, bee pollen brittle and flecks of black pepper that impart a surprisingly subtle contrast and adult flavor to this classic, creamy confection. 

Last, but not least, the ultimate palate cleanser was delivered. Citrus junkies will first revel in nose-groping the Strawberry Lemonade Tart (macerated strawberries, lemon curd, candied Meyer lemon and moscato reduction) and then exult as the heady tang of this tart-meets-sweet ultimate lemon dessert hits the tongue.

Also, if you enjoy after-dinner coffee drinks, the Coco Mill with Kawha coffee, Oak & Palm coconut rum, Gran Duque d’Alba crème foam and shaved chocolate is a must order.

The Mill is another fantastic addition to the downtown St. Pete dining scene, open Tuesday through Sunday serving lunch, brunch and dinner.

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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