Restaurant Review: At Chapman's Mill, a County's History in a Simple Burger
I tried the Crooks Road restaurant after hearing raves about their burgers and fried pickles.
History meets food repeatedly in every dish; however, history meets restaurants less and less frequently. Chapman's Mill is an exception to this rule, opening specifically as a monument to the Industrial Era's beginnings in Michigan.
It does not seem particularly historical from the outside, as the restaurant sits on the corner of a plaza along Crooks Road instead of in the more historic business district downtown. There is no actual "mill" at the restaurant. However, the name itself is a tribute to Charles Chapman, the president that used to reside over one of the first mills, Rochester Woolen Mill.
Mills were the beginning of the Industrial Era in Michigan, and with more than 33 mills in Oakland County during the height of their popularity and success, the area boasted more mills than any other place in Michigan. While mills obviously receded with time, the success they brought to the area has had a lasting impact, and in honor of the tradition, Jim Nichols founded Chapman's Mill.
It did not take me long to figure out the business of Chapman's Mill once I was inside. I was surrounded by solid oak chairs, booths and tables, a large bar with enormous TVs and projections of TVs even on the walls. A massive fireplace with stuffed animals dressed the center of the main dining room. I knew I had entered a true Midwest joint.
You go to the West coast for progressive food. To the South for soul food. To the East coast for lobster.
In the Midwest, you can find some of the best burger joints in the country.
The Mill exemplifies this concept, and it becomes apparent on the menu itself. Randy Jarman and John Mitchell are the operating partners of the restaurant, and both have a corporate background: Jarman from The Redcoat Tavern in Royal Oak, and Mitchell from Andiamo. The Redcoat Tavern influence is obvious in the wide beer and spirits selection, as well as its amazing reputation for some of the best burgers in town, while the Andiamo's influence becomes more realized in the kids' menu and wine selection.
To say that Chapman's Mill is an entirely unique restaurant might be pushing it; there are burger baskets, fish and chips, and artichoke dip. To say that it provides simple, honest food is a bit more realistic.
I ordered a pumpkin ale--which arrived colder than I could even dream in an enormous glass. The waitress was friendly, letting me try the drink before I was sold, and having heard the praises on the burgers sung incessantly, I paired one with something less spoken of--a salad and fried pickles.
Fried pickles are always a winner for me, and reminiscent of the South--the food I was raised on. The burger was juicy, cooked but not over-cooked, and too big to finish. It was precisely what I expected from a Redcoat Tavern veteran. The salad? A classic Michigan salad.
I ordered The Mill Special salad, which is not particularly unique, dressed with blue cheese, a choice of meat, candied pecans, dried cherries, and more. I ordered it mostly for the dressing, a maple balsamic, and I was curious about the apples and pears that were also listed. Basically, my sweet tooth sought out the sweet version of a savory dish--and sweet it was. The fruit and pecans added a nice crunch with the chewy and sweet cranberries, and the dressing was delicious. The portion was massive--much more than I could finish--and at $11, I certainly got a meal out of the salad alone. Yet it was a bit too sweet, and that perhaps stopped me from finishing, as well. It could have used something bitter or bland to balance the sugar of fruit, candied nuts, dried fruit and syrup.
The experience, in the end, was good, but not extraordinary--and perhaps that's how burger joints should be. Sometimes, all you want is a cold beer and a good burger, as that tends to be a favorite in our region, and that is absolutely what Chapman's Mill exceeds at. If you are in the neighborhood and want a good burger that keeps away from corporations, Chapman's Mill is the perfect spot to stop in with friends and relax while watching the game, or come in with the family and find something on the menu that will please everyone.
As for the history, that is perhaps the best part about the restaurant; it feels good to eat someplace where it's not just about the food, but also about the community and its beginnings.