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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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The Mill, independent and chic, looks to find its place amid Brandon's restaurant chains

Elevated cuisine might not be the first image that the Brandon dining scene conjures.

Likely, an Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Chili's or Outback Steakhouse comes to mind. But the owners of the St. Petersburg-based restaurant the Mill looked to change that when they opened a location Tuesday amid a small contingent of Brandon finer-dining eateries.

"The people of Brandon are having a food renaissance just like everyone else in the US," said managing partner Jason Griffin in an interview. "They want great food, they want great service. They just don't have a lot of options."

Griffin and Ted Dorsey, chef and co-owner, opened the Mill's downtown St. Petersburg location in July 2015. It's known for its steampunk-meets-farm decor and the presentation of its dishes.

Florida Trend deemed it the best new restaurant in its Golden Spoon awards in late 2015, and the Tampa Bay Times awarded it three out of four stars in the same year.

It was also the subject of controversy when a Times examination found that its definition of "locally" sourced food — like many other local restaurants in Tampa Bay — extended as far as Colorado.

Yet the Mill has continued to draw crowds and the owners expect nothing less with its new entry. Located at 109 W Bloomingdale Ave., the Brandon restaurant has a similar feel to its sister location in St. Petersburg. A 20-foot mural of gears and pulleys — made from recycled parts the location's previous tenant left behind — anchors the dining space.

Catering to Brandon's family-friendly atmosphere means a few changes. Dorsey emphasized that their menu is fairly similar to the St. Petersburg offerings, and many fan favorite dishes — such as the "southern belle salad" — will make it across the bay.

Some of the tweaks are smaller: at this location, there will be more of an emphasis on seafood for its two daily specials.

"It's one of those things that this market doesn't have a ton of," he said.

They also will eventually have a happy hour with discounted food in addition to discounted drinks. Dorsey and Griffin did not have a specific date for when this will begin.

A more noticeable change is the addition of a kid's menu. Dorsey said he is aiming for healthy yet kid-friendly foods, such as five-cheese grilled cheese, southern chicken tenders and vegetable options.

And the kitchen staff is happy to accommodate any picky eaters, Dorsey said.

"If the kid wants a peanut butter and jelly with steamed vegetables, I'll make them a peanut butter and jelly with steamed vegetables. That doesn't bother us," he said.

Another family-oriented aspect will be take-out meals, which Dorsey expects to launch in a few months.

"I have two young kids," he said. "I know how hard it is to get dinner made, get them to bed."

The meals — which will be priced around $30 and change every day — will feed a family of four and include an appetizer, entree and a "sweet, healthy" dessert. Customers will need to call ahead with at least 30 minutes notice.

But don't expect quite the same food as in-house diners. Dorsey and Griffin are currently developing menus that stay true to their style while traveling well.

"There's nothing more upsetting than ordering something from a restaurant that you had last week that was amazing and having it here at your house and (saying) 'This isn't as good,'" Griffin said.

The two are also testing different types of containers to keep the food as fresh as possible.

The Mill isn't the only area restaurant outside the national chains offering finer cuisine. Ciccio Cali, owned by Ciccio Restaurant Group, also has a location in Brandon, as does Boca. Della's After Dark also falls into the category, but Dorsey remains confident his creations can find a place in the market.

"With Brandon, we want to give people a spectacular restaurant right where they live," Dorsey said in an email. "We have always seen people from Brandon travel all the way over to St. Pete to enjoy our food and felt that we could save them the drive and become their neighborhood go-to."

Beyond the Brandon space, Griffin said they are looking to open a fast-casual restaurant with a focus on sustainability.

The Mill in Brandon is open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit themillrestaurants.com.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

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