Serving Up Nostalgia

In December 2022/January 2023, Eat, Feature Stories by Matt LardieLeave a Comment

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Urban Food Group co-owner harkens back to his roots with new restaurant. **UPDATE March 23, 2023, per The Mill: “We’re looking forward to beautiful warm nights on our patio in April-ish.”**

For more than two decades, the bar part of now-defunct and lamented Edwards Mill Bar & Grill served as the neighborhood dive of choice. Regulars will be the first to tell you the real scene wasn’t in the much-neglected dining room—you skipped right past the tables and headed for the dimly lit bar. 

One of those regulars was Urban Food Group (Vivace, Coquette) co-owner Kevin Jennings. “I spent many nights there,” he recalls.

Now, Jennings and his team are back in that very bar as the owners prepare to open a new restaurant that pays homage to the space’s history while charting a new, refreshed course for the future.

The Mill (a nod to the former name) is slated to open late January, a culmination of a yearslong dream of Jennings to get his hands on the spot. “I tried to buy it multiple times and it never worked out,” he says. 

Luck favors the patient, and when the space came up for grabs, Jennings pounced. “We have long wanted to execute another concept that had its roots in Porter’s City Tavern,” he says. The Hillsborough Street restaurant, which closed in 2013, was known for a menu rooted in Americana steakhouse fare—think big shrimp po’boy sandwiches, double-thick pork chops, and hearty salads topped with sliced steak.

“It’s a dive bar-meets-a quality American steakhouse in some senses.”

—Kevin Jennings

“The Mill will be that concept, but dusted off and modernized,” says Jennings. The actual restaurant itself is also being dusted off and modernized. For all its nostalgia, the space just physically didn’t work anymore.

“It [needed] to be totally gutted,” he explains. “The dining room wasn’t active; the carpet was sticky… it was just sort of run down.”

Jennings turned to designer Amy Price of Atlanta’s Starling Studio to work her magic (Price also designed UFG’s Vivace and Bar Marcel in Charlotte), with the charge of not changing the footprint of the restaurant too much.

The result is a dining room filled with booths and banquettes in true steakhouse style, and a garage door that will open onto the revamped patio. The bar area itself—the beloved heart of the restaurant—has been painted black. “Our designer called it dark and sultry,” says Jennings. It’s as though the dive bar went out and bought a little black dress—same attitude, new look.

The food got a refresh too. A nod to Porter’s City Tavern, the new menu will be split between classic bar nibbles (wings, burgers and hyped-up nachos) and elevated classic fare like pastas, local fish, and thick juicy steaks cooked over the new wood-fired grill Jennings had installed. To boot, the opening menu will feature a filet with crab ravioli, grilled asparagus hollandaise sauce and a side of tobacco onions. “It’s a dive bar-meets-a quality American steakhouse in some senses,” Jennings explains. 

Whereas before most folks made a beeline for the bar, now diners will have the choice of a relaxed bar experience or the slightly more upscale dining room. A choose-your-own dinner adventure if you will.

“We hope that we’re doing something we want to do,” says Jennings, “but more than that, we hope this is something the neighborhood wants.” As far as how he’s going to feel when he sidles up to that bar again? “I’m gonna feel pretty great.” And so will we. 

Pam Varela

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