Mildred's lives up to name


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 10:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 10:15 a.m.

When Mildred's Big City Foods moved from Micanopy to Gainesville some seven years ago, I complained that the restaurant had a classic personality disorder.

I said it needed to decide what it wanted to be the upscale sandwich place it presented at lunch or the French bistro it impersonated at dinner and I complained that prices were high, especially at lunch.

"This may be the big city (compared to Micanopy)," I wrote of an $8 lamb sandwich, "but it's not Manhattan."

Well, I stand corrected.

Mildred's has continued its schizophrenia, offering hot and cold sandwiches, salads and a couple of entrees at lunch and then making itself over as a fine-dining establishment in the evening, and it has done very well for itself, no thanks to me.

Gone now are the $8 cold sandwiches and the plastic chairs and tables that I complained about in 1999. Despite inflation, Mildred's highest price at lunch remains $8, and most items are $6 to $7, a good value in today's dollars.

The plastic chairs and tables have been replaced, thankfully, with wood. The chairs are much more comfortable, and there are linen napkins at dinnertime, not the funky paper of old. The wine list has grown to become one of the best in town.

The food has improved as well. Executive Chef Bert Gill has forged deals with local producers to get superb local fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. He clearly is talented and creative, and his food is all about freshness.

At lunch, try the amazing Seared Tuna Club ($7), which I think would be more appropriately called a "TBLT" because it's really just a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich crowned with a pink slice of fresh tuna on crusty bread.

Salads are superb ($7 and $8). There is Blue Cheese, Spiced Pecans and Bacon with dried plums on mixed greens, or the Aegean, a sort of Greek salad made with smoked chicken, artichoke hearts and roasted bell peppers.

The Grilled Vegetable Salad wasn't my favorite, but if you like eggplant, it might be yours.

The dinner menu changes daily, or at least the cooking methods do. There is a steak or two, a lamb shank, duck and three or four fish dishes, but the way they are prepared changes from day to day.

One staple is a very tender and usually plump, Braised Lamb Shank. On one visit, it was offered with Moroccan spices and Israeli couscous ($19). Another time, it was served with blue cheese mashed potatoes.

A Pork Loin Chop is a frequent dinner item, too. The one I tried was grilled and served with grits flavored with cheddar and bacon ($18).

Among appetizers, it's hard to go wrong. Blue Crab Cakes ($9), grilled Georgia Quail ($8) and Cedar Key Clams $7), are good bets. For dessert try any of the outrageous cakes ($6).

All in all, Mildred's has gotten better, a lot better. Is there more room for improvement? Sure, always.

The new tables are still too small for comfortable fine dining, and the white butcher paper that covers the evening tablecloths still irks me when entrees are going for $18 to $34.

Chef Gill has branched out to take on the Sovereign downtown and likely will be spending less time in Mildred's kitchen, but lots of chefs do that successfully.

Quibbles, you say? Nitpicks? Yes, that's all they are, certainly not serious enough to keep me away or to require Mildred's to seek treatment for its personality disorder.

David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 15 years. He can be reached at dave@carlsonfamily.net.

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