Always on the lookout for new places to try when we all meet up for trade shows, the guys in our company went out to Miller Union one evening after a long day at the annual CEDIA Expo in Atlanta this past September. One of my colleagues had read about Miller Union and their commitment to prepare and serve food raised by local farmers and fishermen. We decided that it would be a good place to try.
Miller Union (see map) is situated in Atlanta's west side area which, at one point, was a hard-scrabble warehouse/stockyards area that has since been gentrified with upscale urban housing, an arts district, shops and restaurants. Miller Union occupies what was the old Miller Union Stockyards, one of the central areas of Atlanta where people went to buy horses and mules for transportation and farm work before and just after the turn of the 20th century. It would be akin to modern day automobile "mega marts" where up to 8 different dealerships are placed within a large shopping complex. While the area is going more upscale, there are still a number of warehouses in the area as evident by the number of semi trucks that were moving through the area as we enjoyed our dinner.
The owners of Miller Union, Neal McCarthy and Steven Satterfield, are Atlanta restaurant industry veterans. McCarthy was the longtime general manager and sommilier at Sotto Sotto, while Satterfield (right) was the executive sous chef at Watershed, a contemporary Southern restaurant in suburban Decatur that's co-owned by Emily Saliers of the Atlanta based duo Indigo Girls. When McCarthy and Satterfield opened Miller Union in 2009, they joined a growing number of American contemporary "farm-to-table" restaurants that are popping up in the Atlanta area.
After parking with the valet out front (the area is full of dance clubs that get packed after 9 p.m., so the valet parking was a must) we walked into Miller Union with a large group of 12 just after 7 p.m. Our table wasn't ready yet so we whiled away the time at the bar. I was able to enjoy a couple of the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale's that I had first had when we had dinner at Panahar a couple nights previously.
The decor of Miller Union could be described as contemporary industrial rustic - all three elements were prevalent in the interior of the place. The place featured a couple three intimate dining areas and a small bar area (pictured below) that got pretty tight when a lot of people were waiting for a table.
After about a half-hour wait, we were seated outdoors at a table that was not designed for 12 people. Actually 8 people - 3 on each side and one at each end - was the practical number to seat at that table. It became very evident after a few moments that this would not do for such a large group. My colleague, Todd, spoke with the hostess and she told him that this was the only table they had to offer. Todd asked to speak to the manager and he had a short chat with Neal McCarthy. When Todd came back he said, "They're going to accommodate us."
A table for four opened up right behind us and four from our group went and sat at that table. When I asked Todd how he was able to get an extra table so quickly, he said, "I told the manager that we were probably going to drink a shit-load of expensive wine tonight and we wanted to be comfortable in doing so." That obviously got his attention.
The dinner menu at Miller Union that evening featured regular items such as a pan-seared duck breast, sauteed quail, lamb sausage and a griddle fried chicken breast. The special that evening was a broasted pork loin served on Southern vegetables. It all sounded very good.
And the pork loin is what I ordered, along with a soup of the day that was, I believe, a sweet potato soup, if I remember correctly. Everyone ordered something a little different, but a couple of my colleagues ordered the duck breast. Multiple bottles of a Cote Rotie red wine from the Rhone Valley wine region in France were placed on the table for us to enjoy.
After the soup, our main entries were brought out to us. The presentation was just wonderful and the food looked delectible. And it was. My pork loin (above left) was resting on a combination of sweet corn, asparagus, fresh okra and tomatoes - a very Southern touch for my meal. And the pork was tender and flavorful, and the loin size was just enough for a full meal, but not enough to make me feel too full at the end of the meal. But full enough that I passed on dessert when it was offered.
My colleague John got the lamb sausage served over a bed of mixed vegetable succotash (above right). He said it was very good. But the highlight at the table was the pan-seared duck breast served over a Southern succotash of sweet corn and shelled beans (right). My colleague Simon got that along with one of the other guys at our table. Simon is a big fan of duck (I'm not as much) and he was raving about how great the duck breast tasted and how it was prepared. One of the guys at the smaller table also got the duck and all three who got it raved about the taste after the meal was over.
One of the guys at our table got the pan-cooked New York strip along with a side of polenta and brussels sprouts. He was lamenting his choice because of how the guys who got the duck were going nuts over their meals. He said, "My steak is OK, but I should have gotten the duck."
After the meal, a handful of guys ordered dessert. As I said, I passed, but I did have a bite of the dark chocolate fudge brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was decadently rich and flavorful, but I'm certainly glad I didn't get one for myself. A couple of the others tried the apple-pecan cake topped with scoop of a caramel-honey ice cream. I did try the ice cream - which was out of this world - but I'm not big on either apples or pecans.
All in all, I'd have to say my meal at Miller Union was very good. Compared to other places we ate at during our stay in Atlanta, Miller Union was the most unique in terms of decor and menu. The service was top-notch and after we were able to get a second table for our group the experience was very comfortable. About the only complaint I would have for Miller Union were the number of semi's that continued to roll past the restaurant throughout our meal. With a stop sign just by the outdoor seating area, there was a lot of starting and stopping of semi's that caused us to have to stop in mid-sentence during conversation as it was too loud. But with the wood floors and the contemporary industrial decor in the main dining areas, it would have been constantly loud inside. The sound of the semi's rolling past while dining outside on a beautiful Georgia evening versus having to scream across the table inside was a nice trade-off.