When a place becomes so well known for one thing, it’s hard to recognize the other qualities that make it a winner. Such is the case with the historic Clifton Mill. Known for its wintertime light display of Disneyland proportions, the Mill is my family’s perennial yuletide stop. It’s amazing and delightful. It is Christmas.
Light show aside, this place has long been a love of mine. Tucked securely and serenely in a little hamlet with a scenic waterway fueling its presence, in the past to grind grain, in the now to lull wistful customers with its beauty, Clifton Mill is where I end up on days when I just need to get away but have neither the time or the funds to vacation on a grand scale. I walk in the very nearby parks, often just the thing I need to compose myself, and then over to the Mill. I’ve been visiting this place most of my adult life, just a stop to get a pickle or hot chocolate depending on the season. The country ease is sacred.
Which brings me to what I don’t do at Christmas; I do not eat in the restaurant. It’s always jammed packed with other light show aficionados and when I say “jammed”, I mean jammed to the point you can not get in the doors without a 30 minute wait. While Millrace at the historic Clifton Mill is thoroughly enjoyable as seasonal cheer… it is not wrought with “ease” during the high holiday season.
I’ve only eaten at the restaurant, twice. I can’t think why -my mistake. My first trip was with a friend who had to have the Chocolate Chip Pancakes. Platters of vanilla scented, light as air flapjacks studded with semi sweet jewels, melting real butter and syrup. Ah! The thought is intoxicating. The scent alone was amazing. Here’s the great part -they let you pick the flavor of batter: buckwheat, cornmeal or buttermilk along with an assortment of toppings and extras. Who does that? No place but Millrace.
Recently, I visited the restaurant with my dad. We had the place all to ourselves, sitting at the windows by the gorge in the cool of the day, watching the strength of nature pass us by in the turbulent waters racing through the deep crevice. We thoroughly relaxed in the rustic, charming dining room. That’s the gift that is the Millrace. At least up to now, not many people knew how great the food was and to me, it outshines the lights. You can go there, while it’s still something of a secret, and just unwind over a leisurely country breakfast… in solitude.
Breakfast with dad consisted of the divine French Toast. This was all mine. I get possessive when it’s really good food, like textured, grainy homemade style bread; you can see the ingredients still whole in the loaf. Add to it a light cinnamon custard and top that with maple syrup served with spicy sausage -just the right combination of salty sweet to drive any food addict over the edge. It’s so good, so luscious, that it’s embedded in my memory forever. It is simply a treat and a revelation.
Dad had the full-on breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and oatmeal. The portions hark back to days when stout men worked in the fields before sun up for a few hours, and then and only then would they have their first morning meal. He devoured the whole thing… then asked if we could purchase the bread to take home for sandwiches. It’s that good.
The only slight bump in an otherwise lovely, winding country culinary road was the egg preparation. Rarely will you find a restaurant that will fix eggs the way my dad and subsequently, my entire family, like them -no matter what you say to the waitress. We like our eggs fried hard, with dark brown crispy edges. Millrace, as do other establishments, shied away from taking eggs to that point. I understand, knowing how cooks are trained, but the customer is always right and always knows how they like their eggs. The crispy edges are where the hot sauce rests and without them… it just drifts off.
Millrace serves a limited but good lunch menu full of good old fashioned sandwiches and burgers. It’s very hearty fare. I would recommend any of the homemade soups with the freshly baked corn bread made from the mill’s stone ground mix available in the gift shop. And yes, get a country store pickle just to say you did.
Desserts are equal to the other items on the taste-tempting menu featuring pies of a wide assortment. The Chocolate Pecan Pie is your best bet. I’ve made my own version of this pie during my very early culinary experience. Love it! The whole combination of a chocolate chess – the gooey filling – topped with crunchy pecans in a light crispy crust is out of this world for a chocoholic! This is Southern Style heaven. It is not often seen on restaurant menus, and to the cook who chose this triumph of pie making I send my fondest regards.
Now on to the good news! Traditionally open only for breakfast and lunch, Millrace will offer dinner beginning April 29 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m. I can’t wait to see the evening menu.
Millrace at the historic Clifton Mill is located at 75 Water St., Clifton. Hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price point: $4.25-$8.99. For more information, call (937) 767-5501 or visit online at www.cliftonmill.com
Reach DCP dining critic Elizabeth Fields Hogue Kenerly at firstname.lastname@example.org