Saturday, April 11, 2009

Olde Mill Inn

Some of my most cherished memories as a child involve going out to eat with my grandparents on my dad's side. Grandpa Al always had these little hole-in-the-wall favorite restaurants, both here in the Milwaukee area, but particularly in his home turf in Cecil, Bonduel, and Crivitz. I remember very fondly going to DeSchmidts', Ma Schaefer's, and a number of other supper clubs in Northern Wisconsin, sitting at the bar for a few minutes before our table was ready, sipping Kiddy Cocktails and eating stale pretzels. Those supper clubs were simple; a brief menu, with a number of relatively consistent dishes, and a good, warm atmosphere. It seemed like my Grandpa always knew the waitresses, like he and the owner were friends from childhood, and the cook knew exactly how he liked his prime rib cooked. No matter where we were, we were treated like honored guests, and I always left full and happy.

What a wonderful surprise it was to me that we went on our latest excursion to Richfield's Olde Mill Inn, located very conveniently on HWY 175, just North of Holy Hill Road. One simple dining experience brought all of those old memories flooding back, and I left thinking about the times I spent in the back seat of Grandpa Al's plush Cadillac, rollicking through the Northwoods, on the way back to the cabin to sip Créme de Menthe and sit around the fire.

The Olde Mill Inn is exactly the sort of place Grandpa Al would have brought the family for a Saturday Night Dinner. Parking in the back lot immediately made me think of The Pines, the definitive supper club in our little Northwoods hamlet of Crooked Lake. With the gravel crunching under our feet, we walked up to the side entrance, and I, being the conspicuous Milwaukeean, insisted on finishing my cigarette outside. Not a minute went by, and Joel, the manager, came out to greet us. "Come on in!" he said heartily, "it's nicer in here!" Inside, we were greeted with the pretty prerequisite supper-club layout, with a long, serpentine bar area, and a partitioned, non-smoking dining room. Andy called ahead with a reservation, but when we arrived, there was plenty of room in the dining room. I would still highly recommend calling ahead on Fridays and Saturdays (when reservations are accepted).

The Olde Mill Inn's menu is not sprawling, and that immediately set my mind at ease. The owners obvious did not fall into the menu-bigger-than-the-kitchen trap that so many establishments fall prey to. We chose some relatively innocuous appetizers to start off with: fried cheese curds, fried mushrooms, and fried broccoli and cheese bites. Yup, lots of fried foods.

No surprises here, as Andy put it, "Ahh, good old Anchor Foods." Which is not a bad thing! Frankly, I'd rather have a prepared, consistent product when it comes to deep-fried goodness than getting someone's greaseball-du-jour because they don't know how to bread things properly. I do have to add, however, that while there wasn't an enormous quantity of the Broccoli-bites, they were fantastic, cheesy and rich, despite their absolutely frightening broccoli-branch cut-out shape. I instantly had flashbacks to grade school on Mock Chicken Leg day. Shudder.

And now, for the entrée rundown:

Andy: "Stinger" Burger (two 1/3 pound burger patties with pepper jack cheese, home-made salsa, and the optional jalapeño peppers)

Lauren: Chicken Philly Cheese Sandwich w/ hunormous portobello cap

Myself: Southern Fried Chicken Dinner (Half a chicken with soup or salad, choice of potatoes, and chef's choice of veggies)

All of our entrées came with beautifully crispy crinkle-cut fries, seasoned with a flavor I couldn't quite place. It really didn't matter, though, they were absolutely delicious, steaming hot, and crunchy. My only regret is not asking for a side of mayo to dip them in.

My entrée also came with the option of soup or salad, and since I'm a big believer in the power of soup, I ordered the special for the day, a cheese soup with sausage and potatoes.

All of our food tonight was spectacular, but I'm fairly sure this was one of the sleeper hits of the dinner. What arrived at the table was a downright huge bowl of the richest, creamiest, cheesiest soup I've ever eaten. With a strong note of bouquet garni, big chunks of melt-in-your-mouth bulk sausage, and bits of tender potato, it won over everyone at the table.

Andy's burger was literally "mouth watering." The patties were cooked perfectly, and the mix of pepper jack cheese, salsa, and jalapeños made me take a step back and think, "Whoa...burger?" The veggies in the salsa had a wonderful snap to them, and the overall flavor was bright, crisp, and fresh.

Lauren's chicken Philly was also a pleasant surprise. Huge chunks of mildly seasoned, honest-to-blog grilled chicken breast co-existed with bright and fresh peppers and one monstrous 'bello cap. Lauren admitted the huge mushroom did make the sandwich a bit awkward to eat, and I'd have to agree: the only think missing from the plate was a steak knife.

My chicken was divine. In fairness, the standard to which all chicken is held is without a doubt Kroll's in Green Bay. Olde Mill Inn didn't beat them outright, but it is certainly a close second.

My half a chicken was served with a blend of veggies featuring beautiful string beans, seasoned with a bit of lemon-pepper. The chicken itself was blazing hot when it arrived, and was adorned with the most wonderful breading I've seen outside of Green Bay. "Fried Hard" was certainly the case: thin, well-seasoned, and CRUNCHY. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, not overdone, but not borderline-pink, either. My only want was for a bit of salt to the chicken, which in hindsight I could have probably easily accomplished by picking up the salt shaker and using it for its intended purpose.

During the course of the evening, our pleasant server continuously checked up on us, chatted with us, and laughed at my self-deprecating humor, but never got pesty. As we were finishing up, Joel, the manager and owner's son, introduced himself and talked with us a bit. I was immediately taken back to those dinners with Grandpa Al.

Old fashioned supper clubs aren't gone, but they certainly are a dying breed. The Olde Mill Inn has a few tricks up its sleeve, and certainly isn't Grandpa Al's old haunt. I truly hope they experience continued success, and can only give the highest of praise: a casual, familiar atmosphere, fantastic food, exceptional prices, and fun people. We'll be back.

Report Card:
Atmosphere: B+
Simple, but effective. Not sophisticated but not a dive, Olde Mill Inn is the sort of family-run restaurant familiar to those of us with Northwoods roots. Please note that smoking is permitted in the bar, and the dining room, while non-smoking, is not smoke-free.

Prices: A+
I know, it's a cop-out grade, but I was truly amazed. My huge chicken dinner, with fries and almost an entire pot of soup was $10.95. Most steaks hover around the $15-$18 mark. Sandwiches don't go over $10.

Service: A
Pleasant, personable, and concerned, but not clingy. From the moment we walked in to the moment we left, we felt welcomed.

The Food: B+
You won't find anything exotic on the Olde Mill's menu, but that's okay. Nothing pretends to be anything but good, home-style supper-club fare. To steal the old writer's adage, "Cook what you know." Presentation is nice but minimal, portions are huge, and flavors are big without being ballsy. I like it.

The Details:

The Olde Mill Inn
(262) 628-5080
1953 Highway 175
Richfield, WI 53076

Olde Mill Inn on Urbanspoon

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