In Milton lies a fruitful garden, 3 years old and almost an acre in size. A cottonwood tree grows in its center surrounded by purple and red salvia, anchoring the space. The bounty of this garden includes micro-mustard greens, five varieties of heirloom tomatoes, three types of okra and Silver Queen corn.
The garden, tucked just out of view behind the 150-year-old farmhouse that is Milton’s Cuisine and Cocktails, ignites the passion of the restaurant’s chef, Boyd Rose. During a conversation with Rose, all paths lead back to the garden.
He says, “When we started the garden three years ago, it transformed me as a chef.” His connection with the garden likely played a role in his cooking style, which has him cooking “more simple, basic food . . . not as froufrou as what [he] made at Rainwater.”
Rose categorizes his food at Milton’s as new Southern cuisine, Southern cooking with a twist. The twig-bound clipboarded menu features Southern comfort favorites like the fried green tomato stack ($9), thickly breaded tomatoes stuffed with soft goat cheese (the twist?) on a bed of “tomato fondue” (aka marinara), a grid of reduced balsamic and a ring of Rose’s signature basil oil. Granted, the tomato plays second, third or maybe fourth fiddle here, but who can resist warm goat cheese and breading?
And speaking of breading, fried chicken ($29 for two), the quintessential Southern comfort food, makes an appearance each Tuesday evening. The chicken, brined in an apple juice-based solution overnight and then marinated in buttermilk, got this chef talking nearly as much as the garden.
The thick-crusted cayenne-spiked flour batter fries up to a dark golden hue in the bubbling pool of Crisco lining the lidded cast-iron skillet. The moist and dark golden fried chicken comes bundled with biscuits, super-smooth mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Sounds great, right? But those poor undercooked sprouts are doused with a sticky mess of cheese much like that which comes in the microwavable jar, coating the picture-perfect cast-iron crock.
Rose prides himself on the fried chicken. Good, yes, but better is the thick espresso-rubbed pork loin ($25) brined in the same apple solution. The char-black secret espresso blend made especially for Milton’s by Sidney’s Spices forms a crust on the pork to contain the rush of juices within. The coffee flavors meld with the dark bourbon demi-glace, highlighting notes of salty caramel and brown sugar. Dinner and dessert all rolled up into one!
Rose says sauces like the bourbon demi-glace are his specialty. Most dishes have a sauce, syrup or vinaigrette like the vibrant green basil oil that appears on nearly every plate. The pan-seared crabcakes ($28) have a silky rich but bright lemon beurre blanc, while the sesame-crusted mountain trout ($22) and the sweet potato and shrimp fritters ($8) both benefit from a spicy red chile syrup (think upscale sweet and sour).
Rose is right. He’s a sauce man. The Asian-inspired syrup complements the ginger tucked inside the fritters, large mounds of dark brown crispy sweet potato matchsticks. Yet, the sauce can’t overcome the undercooked interior of the fritters. So plump and full, the outside burns before the inside cooks, resulting in a darkened layer concealing a mass of starchy, raw strands of milky sweet potato.
The fritters warn of vegetables to come. Rose, so delighted in his garden, says, “I shouldn’t say this as a chef, but it makes me want to eat more raw vegetables.” Indeed, some of the goodies on the bountiful chef’s vegetable plate ($20) such as the green beans, asparagus and spinach come closer to their natural state. I found them much improved reheated for lunch the following day, a one-minute microwave miracle.
At Milton’s, almost anything is improved by taking your dinner on the lovely multitiered porch out back. You’ll find it just the place to sip a cocktail served in Mason jars. Choose from one of the bourbon-based cocktails like the Horse Neck ($12), a well-balanced mixture of Knob Creek bourbon, bitters, lemon and ginger beer, preferable to the New Old-Fashioned ($12), with gelatinous blobs of unmixed orange bobbing along the bottom of the jar.
Sadly, the enchanting back porch doesn’t afford a view of the garden, but you’ll certainly taste the garden’s influence on the chef and the food at Milton’s Cuisine.Milton’s Cuisine and Cocktails 800 Mayfield Road, Milton. 770-817-0161