The Millhouse is a plain gray barn of a building, looking like many other buildings perched on the side of airport-bound roads in any city.
But inside, it’s boisterous, bustling and busy. And the multi-page menu, normally a sign that the place cannot make up its mind as to what it specializes in, is actually a treat. If you cannot find something you like to eat here, you may deserve fast food down the road at the shopping center.
The Millhouse interior is dark wood ambiance mixed with industrial-exposure ductwork. The waiting area, inside and out, is full of very patient people who know that what’s coming is worth the wait. The menu twists, turns and meanders through several cuisines and ethnic styles, with dishes you know, and some you thought you knew.
For starters, every table gets a small loaf of fresh hot bread and three dips. Two are oil-based: one with roasted garlic and one with herbs, and the third is a flavored butter. You will fight with your dining companions over this, and likely ask for seconds and thirds. Extra portions may render you unable to finish your entrée, but it will be worth it. Mix either of the oils with the butter; dip the bread in that and you will understand why people line up outside.
The menu includes soups, salads, fish, chicken, pastas, seafood, steaks and house-made desserts. The aged USDA prime steaks, ribs and chops are what the Millhouse is known for, but there are surprises on every page: the restaurant caters to vegetarians and vegans (vegetable lo mein, Norwegian salmon salad), burger lovers (Philly burger, grilled meatloaf), Asian and Italian food fans (Kung Pao chicken, Thai glazed chicken, pork osso bucco, chicken Marsala), anyone with a pasta preference (ravioli, lasagna and three endless choice pastas that include soup or salad and bread). The fish and seafood selections range from shrimp and grits, crab cakes, mussels in white wine and seared yellowfin tuna to fried calamari, cioppino, bacon-wrapped sea scallops and whiskey bourbon broiled salmon. And if you’re not done after this, desserts such as crème brûlée cheesecake, chocolate overload and panna cotta will get you to the point of no return and not caring about it.
Service is efficient and polite, even on a raucous Saturday night with a major event in town. There isn’t a dress code: motorcycle leathers are as welcome as military fatigues or date night’s little black dress. It’s not inexpensive: appetizer and light meals are $5 to $11, non-beef entrees $9 to $17 and beef platters $16 to $30. But portions are abundant, sharing is fine (except for the endless choice pastas) and there are plenty of sides and add-ins to customize your meal. If the wait for a table is too long for you, comfortable seating in the bar area is usually available quicker, and it’s a little quieter there.
Whether heading out of state on break, or heading in to enjoy some tropical time off, the Millhouse is a big destination, but only a small detour off the interstate.
The Millhouse, 1341 Airport Road (Exit 363B off Interstate 95, then about two miles west), Jacksonville, FL. Phone (904) 741-8722. Hours: Monday through Thursday and Saturday, 4 to 10:30 p.m., Friday 4 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday 4 to 10 p.m. There are three additional locations in Brunswick, Kingsland and Statesboro, GA.