I guess the first thing you need to know about Mills Brewpub & Eatery is that it isn't a brewpub, at least not in the widely accepted definition of the term. When I visit a brewpub, I expect to find beer brewing on the premises. Mills Brewpub is not in the brewing business.
It is also surprising that in a time when it's common to find even small restaurants offering up to 40 taps of draft beer a place that calls itself a brewpub and doesn't brew beer also has only six beers on tap. At least in theory. When I visited recently not all the draft selections listed on the beer menu were available. That's excusable; the restaurant is still new and it can be difficult to gauge demand early on.
MBP&E makes up for its draft deficit (if not for the lack of its own brew) with an extensive list of bottled craft and imported beers. There should be enough variety to satisfy any budding cicerone.
I was amused by one of the bottled selections, the Banana Bread Beer. Personally, the thought of a beer that tastes of banana bread puts me off, but I wonder if its inclusion isn't simply a wink and a nod to the previous tenant.
That, of course, was Bananas Diner, which opened in 2010 in a space that had seen numerous Asian restaurants fail. The owners, FMI Restaurant Group, has had a tumultuous year. Besides closing Bananas in May, the group also last year shuttered two restaurants in the Sanctuary condominiums in downtown Orlando, Prickly Pear and Nick's Italian Kitchen. The latter lives again, or at least some of its menu does, with the recent announcement that the Mills 50 Funky Monkey will now be known as Funky Monkey Wine Company's Nick's Italian Kitchen. (Personally, I think a restaurant's name should never be more of a mouthful than its food.)
FMI was probably wise to shutter Bananas — it had lost its appeal — and eventually Mills Brewpub will be a better fit for the district.
The menu is certainly pubby enough. There are burgers and sandwiches for American tastes, and the likes of fish and chips, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie for a British flair.
The foie gras mousse appetizer seemed a little out of place, a bit too highfalutin amid the potato skins, mozzarella sticks and Belgian fries. But that's OK because it was a nice meal starter, a smooth pate served with an impressive array of accoutrements, including chopped egg, pickled cipollini onions, chopped onions, grain mustard, and gigante beans. The delightfully fatty foie gras was delicious slathered on the toasted french bread.
The beef chili was a hearty bowl of meatiness topped with shredded cheddar cheese, accompanied by a heel of a baguette for tearing and dipping.
I chose the beef pub burger for my entree. The ground beef had duck fat blended into the thick patty, which was cooked to the requested medium-rare. It sat atop crispy lettuce and a thick slice of tomato and was topped with a slice of cheddar and bacon crumbles. It was a very good burger. The Belgium fries that accompanied could have benefitted from a sprinkling of sea salt.
My companion chose the lamb entree, which was a sort of Irish stew with shredded meat mixed with carrots and onions and a few more of the gigante beans. The gravy was rich and thick and the meat had a nice gaminess.
The servers seem to still be finding their way through the new menu, but there were no major slip ups. The interior design has changed substantially, thank God. Gone are the red vinyl booths and matching ceiling tiles and in their place are simple wooden tables and chairs. The floor is wood plank, and the walls have blackboards and faux cracked plaster (never understood the allure of that design element). I love the simple little caged work lights that hang over the tables. There are a few inevitable televisions hanging about, but to the credit of my fellow diners they went unwatched.
And that's how it should be, especially in an atmosphere like this in a neighborhood like this. It should be more about conviviality, enjoying your company, the food, and a cold brew. Wherever it comes from.
Mills Brewpub & Eatery is at 924 N. Mills Ave. Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Prices are reasonable and in line with the fare — my burger was $9; the lamb entree was $14. The phone number is 407-480-2200.