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Madelyn and Winn Carlton, with parents Josh (the Mill's co-owner) and Alison, are in good company with the families the restaurant attracts. Photo by Beth Furgurson
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Photo by Beth Furgurson
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Photo by Beth Furgurson
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Photo by Beth Furgurson
Apart from a few chains, ranging from mediocre to scary, finding a place to feed the family can be a challenge in Richmond. Sure, many restaurants have children's menus or can create something on the fly to accommodate the kids, but too often you still have some drunk in the corner slurring loudly about the presence of children ruining his dining experience as he sloshes red wine all over the tablecloth.
In my family, the kids are adventurous eaters. However, knowing that they're well behaved but not perfect, we tend to eat early, before the real dinner rush starts. Still, many kids have limited tastes and, like the unruly drunk at the end of the bar, everyone has bad nights. What, then, is the average RVA family to do?
Well, if you live in or near Richmond's North Side, you go to the Mill on MacArthur.
I'm not talking about a restaurant that's overrun with rug rats swinging from the ceiling fans and serves nothing but fried and sugar-filled fare. No, the Mill offers an array of food highlighting locally sourced fruit and vegetables, including ample vegetarian and gluten-free options, not to mention a full bar with a clientele of 30-something North Siders and their broods. It has everything a socially conscious family needs, including themed specials on different nights.
Take Meatless Monday. All vegetarian items are $1 off, and all of the specials are meat-free. The menu has lots of options, but there is nearly always a veggie burger on Mondays. The black bean burger is quite good — tasty with just the right moisture levels. But if you're lucky enough to go on a night they have the walnut burger, you're in for a treat. It's not as nutty as you would think, and it smells wonderful, almost like a real burger, and delivers a smooth, even taste. The house-made potato chips make a nice accompaniment.
The regular menu is a bit long, with a variety of sandwiches, salads and entrées, as well as pizzas thrown into the mix. Long menus sometimes result in a bit of overreach. If I had to describe the food at the Mill in a sentence or two, I would say it's like eating at a talented friend's house. Some great, locally sourced ingredients are combined in inventive ways, but there are also some not-so-great, pre-fab foods added in, with a haphazard approach to plating.
A case in point is the pizza. It has great toppings, fresh vegetables like roasted eggplant or broccoletti, slices of real mozzarella and a decent sauce (a little sweet for my taste, but not bad), all atop an exceptionally mediocre crust. This halfway approach continues through many dishes. A fresh house salad with some wonderful house-roasted red peppers is served with an oily-tasting dressing. And a slice of chocolate pie tastes suspiciously like the recipe from an instant-pudding package.
There are a number of bright spots. The wilted spinach salad is outstanding; served with a great bacon dressing, it's tasty without being greasy. The burgers and sliders are exceptional, especially the sliders, made with grass-fed Virginia Black Angus topped with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese. Juicy and a little sweet from the onion, they're perfectly dressed to let you enjoy the grass-fed goodness. The sandwich offerings are good as well, particularly the vegetarian options like the hummus wrap, served with sweet pea shoots. The fresh soups are also excellent, including the smoked tomato bisque, available daily.
Even with the flaws, our kids enjoyed everything put in front of them. We usually ordered off the main menu, but the children's menu, with pasta, burgers and other suitable offerings, was a hit as well. Add a drink, healthy sides such as baby carrots or applesauce, and a fresh baked cookie for only $6, and you've got an option that beats a Happy Meal any day.
I did enjoy the Mill. There are some good dishes and great, locally sourced ingredients with a healthy emphasis, all served in a fun neighborhood atmosphere. If the restaurant could just push the house-made approach across the menu — and ditch that pizza crust — it might become a destination for families from all over the region.
4023 MacArthur Ave., 716-1196
Prices: Sandwiches $7 to $9, pizza and entrées $9 to $18.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Note: On Tuesdays, the family-style pasta special, including several salad, pasta and sauce options, feeds two or three people for $18 to $27, depending on whether you add a topping (chicken, seitan, sautéed vegetables, mussels and grilled shrimp are offered). A bottle of red or white wine can also be added for $12.