Brian Boston, executive chef at the nationally-recognized and critically acclaimed Milton Inn in Sparks thinks you’ve changed.
You used to be so easy to please. Now you’re more confident, informed – a little demanding, even. You’re just not the “you” you used to be.
Now, when I say “you,” I clearly don’t mean the “you” sitting at your computer, reading this review. I mean the royal “you” – the dining public.
Nearly thirty years ago, when Boston – still in high school – entered the world of culinary arts as a line cook at Peerce’s, diners were docile creatures who ate anything you put in front of them. There were no special requests, hardly any allergy-related alterations, and a level of reverence for a chef’s art.
“If they didn’t like something, they just moved it around on their plate and set it aside," he said.
Today, 14 years after Boston joined the Milton Inn family, diners are more attuned to what they eat – and ready with questions. Local? Organic? Farm-raised? Diners want to know where their food comes from; they want to know – beyond just the experience – what the value is in their meal.
But, according to Boston, this change is not a bad thing – it’s just a part of a deeper cultural, generational shift. To keep up with a younger, more diverse crowd, the Milton Inn’s dedicated staff has to learn how to “stay committed to quality – but also to evolve with the time,” according to Boston.
Following this mantra and responding to – rather than fighting – cultural change is what kept Boston’s business strong through the recession.
“You can’t stop changing. It’s important for any restaurant to continually evolve.”
In response to the ever-changing tastes – and pocketbooks – of his customers, Boston introduced moderately-priced brunch and bar menus, the latter of which brings some neighborhood regulars into a restaurant most closely associated with special occasions.
But change is tough.
“The Milton Inn has a reputation that is difficult to overcome,” Boston said.
What does he mean? Well, for starters, the restaurant is not any more expensive than its closest in-town competition, with entrees ranging from $32 (for chicken) to $58 (for a shellfish sampler). And, with I-83 and the recent success of the Hunt Valley Town Center, it’s really not as far – “out of the way” as diners like to say – as it once seemed.
Another part of the Milton Inn’s reputation that Boston would like to lose is the restaurant’s perceived formality. Struggling with a younger, more relaxed clientele that dings the restaurant for being “aloof,” Boston notes: “We’re a little more approachable than you think. A little more relaxed.”
Still, as Boston reminds me, every billionaire in town has dinner at the Milton Inn. He prides himself on his ability to provide a consistent, albeit seasonally-adjusted, menu.
On a recent visit, the meal resembled a ballet. Although we were seated in an unnecessarily awkward, near-doorway location, our server appeared exactly when needed, rattling off specials and opening a bottle of wine simultaneously – and with grace – although the speed did result in an order miscommunication. Boston’s expectation that the seasoned wait staff offer top-notch service – whether you’re in for a 45-minute meal or a 4-hour dining experience – showed throughout the meal.
The plates came and went – slowly, the way we wanted – and had occasion to wow us with new flavor profiles (venison pate with a cranberry sauce) and comfort us with old-fashioned staples (crème brulee).
The entrees were expertly done, as expected. From temperature to presentation, it was a simple joy to receive a plate just as you asked for it: rare, not some interpretation of rare.
The highlights are the restaurant’s signature sauces. Indeed, they are quite an undertaking. Reduced for three days straight and cooked, bone-in, without thickeners or additives, Boston asserts that his sauces – translucent yet packing intense flavor – differentiate the Milton Inn from its counterparts. While I consider myself a bit of a protein purist – no spices or sauces for me, thank you – I appreciate the time, effort and process of sauce-making as a form of art rather than a form of cooking.
Boston would note that they are, in fact, one and the same.