January 2012

David Zivan

I have not been to my favorite restaurant in, oh, 20 years or so. Too long, I know. Just haven’t been in that part of Virginia. But I remember the eatery as vividly as anything else from the early 1990s.

The place was called Millie’s, and it had a number of things in its favor. First off, it seemed like not many people knew about it. At the time it was just a little place, a former working-class diner in a ramshackle neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. Millie’s wasn’t neo-retro; it was just retro. Nothing faux about it. My best friend took me there my first time. He was always finding stuff other people didn’t know about, one of the reasons we were friends. (Another was that he wrote fiction and I wrote poetry, friendship between poets being like honor among thieves—fragile, and plagued by envy of the other guy’s stuff.)

Also, the food was terrific. In the intervening years I have become a notorious gourmand, but at the time, the dishes served at Millie’s seemed wonderfully surprising. My first dinner there, for instance, included a lamb steak, a cut that I had not known was available and that arrived piping hot off their grill, served on the rare side and fragrant with garlic and rosemary.

But it’s the laughs I remember best, the feeling that we had found a place where we could be ourselves and tell obscure jokes about obscure writers. Though Millie’s has since expanded, and the neighborhood around it has gone a little swank, I will always picture it as that kind of joint.

You can probably see where I am going with this. I’ll admit that the magazine tends to focus on the newest eateries that have everyone talking. But life isn’t all freshly foraged ramps and softshell crab. Sometimes you want fried chicken, in the same place you have always had fried chicken. It’s the comfort of the food, to be sure, but it’s also the pleasures of friends and family. The places where you feel at home, even though you are out. That’s the idea behind this month’s “Our Favorite Places to Eat.” All of these restaurants, many of which have never been featured in our pages before, have a warmth that transcends the grub or the atmosphere. They are the establishments where we go for celebrations, or to catch up with friends, or just to relax. See you there.

David Zivan is the editor of Indianapolis Monthly.

This column originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.