Updated: Jun 6
On March 24 I started working on a project called Take Out Only in response to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on restaurants in my area. In my work as a food photographer, I work with a lot of restaurants, both established and new. This is a huge hit for them. When most restaurants fail in the first year, something like this can put even a restaurant that has been in business for years out of business...fast. The impact of this virus has touched so many industries, my own included.
I wanted to bring attention to the places that I've worked with, and the ones that I have never even been to. To let people know what they're dealing with, how they're still
operating, what they're doing to stay safe, both for themselves and their customers. Using what I can out of my talent set, this is my way of saying thank you, we know you're struggling, how can I help.
When my boyfriend's older brother comes to visit from Massachusetts, if he has time for lunch, he always wants to go to Millwrights. Unfortunately for me, all the times that this has happened, I haven't been able to go. When he comes home, he always raves about what he had. Consistently. One particular brunch they went to involved some sort of french toast dish that made me more envious that I care to admit. I think there was bacon involved too.
So never having the chance to dine at Millwrights, but aware of it's stellar reputation and the man at its helm, Chef Tyler Anderson, I wanted to see if I could include them in my project. I contacted Tyler via Facebook and he was very open to my stopping by.
I'm a big Top Chef Fan. For years I've eagerly settled myself on my couch to watch the contestants make amazing-looking food under challenging conditions, such as ingredient restrictions and super-tight time limits. I can't taste anything they make, but the visual feast for the eye is what fills me. As a food photographer, this is my porn. Chef Anderson was a contestant on season 15 of Top Chef. I was psyched to see a Connecticut chef compete. I was team Tyler right away, but not just because he hails from the Nutmeg State. It wasn't his first episode menu of BBQ pork belly, crispy potatoes, sweet potato pureé, smoked pork gravy and charred scallion aïoli. Not at all. It was his description of it as "porky, salty, sweety and smoky. The 4 dwarves of pork." That got me. And of course the menu, too. I mean...come on. (Chef Anderson won the first challenge, by-the-way. Score.)
Milwright's is located on the bank of the Hop Brook in Simsbury. Its red board facade and post and beam construction are traditional New England. The Mill pond next to it runs into a rushing waterfall that flows under the covered walkway that leads to the rear outdoor dining area. The building was originally a working grist and sawmill back in the late 1600's. I'm curious how it was used after then and until it became Millwrights, but was unable to find any information online. Any leads will be greatly appreciated. Email me!
Like so many restaurants in the time of COVID, Millwrights shifted to take-out only. The dining room and bar, which I hear are quite cozy and rustic, are quiet for now. No weddings are being held at the edge of the waterfall. No graduation dinners, no surprise engagements, no family celebrations. Everything is on pause. I can see so many of those types of events taking place here. It's a magical setting.
So I was really happy when I saw Chef Anderson's post on Facebook about the opening of Outdoor at Millwright's. He posted a walk through video of the area and how they were going to operate to follow CDC safety regulations. Tables are placed 8-feet apart on the bridge that has a perfect view of the waterfall. More tables line the opposite side of the brook and are covered with tents so that no one has an excuse "not go out for your anniversary," to quote the Chef. Disposable menus and flatware are tucked into baskets lined with red-checkered napkins, which are changed after each party. Hand washing stations are placed at strategic locations. Bartender Jamie Oakes was busy stocking a full bar outside under a tent. Next to the bar was a expo area that was married perfectly with the outdoor kitchen truck. Servers moved around putting finishing touches on the tables, chefs worked in the kitchen. Everyone looked ready to go.
As the 4pm opening time drew nearer, Chef Flagg gathered the staff to go over the menu for the night. Sitting on a red picnic table or standing holding menus the staff went over each dish, first with Chef Flagg and then pastry chef Kristin Eddy. I've been a server before, but not at this level of dining. The biggest prep we got was to 86 the chicken-fried steak.
When opening time finally arrived, diners started strolling in, lead by the hostess. They were shown to their table, and none had a bad view. I was happy to see a photographer friend there with her husband! She's the quintessential foodie, so also not surprised she was there opening night of this magnificent establishment.
Chef Anderson took his place at the pass in the outdoor kitchen, spreading his arms wide along the stainless steel shelf, seeming to brace himself for action. Before he assumed the position, he offered me a taste of one of the dishes. The gnocchi with asparagus, carrots, minke cheese. It was creamy and smooth, the vegetables had just the right amount of crunch. It was spring in a bowl.
Raspberry Rhubarb Almond Tart l Chocolate Flourless Tart l Buttermilk Panna Cotta
This is my first visit to a restaurant that has reopened since the state went into lock down and restaurants had to close their doors. I admire how everyone who could, kept going. I feel for those that had tried and then had to close for good. I saw restaurants helping other restaurants and displaced staff, and Millwright's was one of them.
They were starting to get busy, so I knew it was time to get out of their way and let them do what they do.
To see Millwright's as the first restaurant I've visited reopen, albeit not in their usual mode, brings hope. Things are slowly--hopefully--moving back to what we knew. The innovations and pivots made by Chef Anderson and others to keep cooking the food they love, to keep staff employed and eager diners fed, speaks to the need to do what we are passionate about. That its important work to feed the soul, as well as the belly.
Millwright's is located at 77 West Street, Simsbury, CT 06070 l 860.651.5500 Hours: Take Out: Tuesday through Saturday 4-8PM l Outdoor Dining by reservation only Tuesday - Saturday 4- 8P& Sunday Brunch 11AM-3PM
Please note: I practice social distancing guidelines, shoot with long lenses to look like I'm closer than I am, get in and get out to stay out of the way and do not go in to kitchen's unless invited, stay far back from food and I check my temperature before going out.
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