Since joining Southern Neighbor, I’ve been hopping around to places in our readership area that I haven’t been before for our restaurant and bar reviews. I figured the further away from home (being Chapel Hill) I was, the more my journalistic integrity could really shine in the high-stakes game of restaurant reviews.
This month, I decided to try something different: a review of a restaurant right in my backyard, Milltown.
But before I tell you my thoughts on Milltown, I need to preface with this: I love Carrboro. I love every inch of that town — from that one spot in the municipal parking lot behind Open Eye that is always muddy to the benches outside the market area.
That being said, one of Milltown’s greatest achievements is being able to transport you away from Carrboro. Once you step into its beer garden, you’re no longer in a North Carolina town, you’re in a bier garden in Belgium, far away from the buzz of Main Street. And until mid-October you can be in Germany with a half liter of Oktoberfest in hand.
I had the good luck of coming to Milltown for the first time on the first day of their annual Oktoberfest celebrations, which included festive brews and food and will culminate with a performance from the Little German Band on Oct. 14.
In true Oktoberfest fashion, I started my Milltown adventure with half a liter — because to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure how large half a liter would be — of Paulaner Oktoberfest while my partner tried the deeply aromatic Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, which tasted equal parts of stout and cold brew. It should have been no surprise to me that Milltown has no dearth of beer selections, but the true magnitude of their selection surprised me. Beyond their superb drafts, Milltown offers rare bottles, bubbels, tripels, Belgian strong ales, IPAs, saisons, Belgian whites, porters, stouts, gluten-free options and so much more. I didn’t try their wine selection, so I can’t speak to that, but as beer goes there’s certainly a brew for everyone.
After our first round of beer, we moved onto some house favorite and special German menu appetizers (which all paired very well with our beer, I may add). First were the gnocchi tots — delectably crisp and brown on the outside and oh-so-gooey on the inside — paired with a parmesan cream. This menu item in particular certainly took liberties with the idea of “bar food.” The playful creativity at which it was crafted was unparalleled except in their taste. There were more classic bar offerings. The chicken wings, for example, were a house favorite for a reason even beyond that they were paired with house-made blue cheese dressing.
From the German menu, we tried a small plate of meatballs (actually, Konigsberger Klopse) made with pork and beef from Firsthand Foods, a local meat purveyor that connects restaurants with area farmers. If we didn’t have a main course on the way, I would have asked for more of those Klopse.
I tried to not plan what I was going to eat before coming to Milltown, allowing the staff and the mood to guide my decisions, but I did decide to try one thing beforehand: their poutine. Milltown has four different types of frites other than their poutine, but the second I heard they carried the Canadian treasure, I knew I needed to try it. You would think that a dish consisting of gravy, cheese curds and fries would be prohibitively heavy, but the curds (straight from Wisconsin) and house-made mushroom gravy made the frites as light as clouds.
As we waited for the main course (and maybe wondered why we had already eaten so much food), we tried more of Milltown’s beer menu. First up was Haw River Farmhouse Ales’ Citramelon White IPA, a blend of crimson melon and coriander that leaves a wonderful floral aftertaste. Next was Virtue Cider’s Lapinette Cidre Brut. Naturally gluten-free and aged in French oak barrels, it was just sweet enough for our Thursday night outing.
The sun started to set over the buzz of Carrboro, though we couldn’t see it from our little bier garden, as we waited for the main dish — also part of the special German menu, we ordered the sausage plate. The plate, along with two kinds of mustard and house-made onion jam and sauerkraut, came with three sausages — one stuffed with cheese, one spicy Italian and one classic bratwurst — all cooked in beer and served with a warm Guglhupf pretzel roll. A seemingly simple meal, the sausage plate provided unending combinations of sausage, roll and toppings. And though I’ve never been to Germany, I feel sure that the plate would do Deutschland proud.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough, we finished off the night with dessert. Also from the special German menu, the German-style donuts were sugar-dusted to snowy perfection and layered on top of a black plum compote. If you’ve never had a German donut before — and no judgment passed if you haven’t, I had my first at Milltown — they’re much fluffier and lighter and altogether easier to eat than their American counterpart. And, I suppose this might just be my preference, I think plum compote is a little better than a sugary glaze.
Leaving Milltown, I felt like I had a different dining and drinking experience than I’ve ever had in Chapelboro. Though Milltown has an amazing beverage program and creative menu, going there is a lot more than having a good bite to eat and beer to drink — Milltown is an experience, one you can’t have anywhere else in the area. And, you know, if experiences aren’t really your thing, the food and drink is pretty damn good to boot.
Address: 307 E. Main Street, Carrboro
Hours: 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.Thursday and Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday