Making a Mess of It

Richmond favorite Millie’s Diner hits the 25-year mark.

Meredith West

Paul Keevil, Millie’s

Millie’s Diner owner Paul Keevil.

Paul Keevil came to Richmond to be a starving musician. “And I succeeded,” he says. Starving as a musician, that is. As owner of Millie’s Diner, the London native has been hugely successful making sure others don’t starve. Now he, along with longtime business partner Lisa Edwards and countless fans, is celebrating 25 years of luring hungry folk to the far reaches of Richmond’s East End for cuisine that can only be described as “haute diner.”

Having attracted much national attention (Saveur, Southern Living, CNN, to name but a few), Millie’s is known for a few things: its legendary line for weekend brunches; its Bloody Mary, which has been written up in Time magazine; and, perhaps most singularly notable, the Devil’s Mess, a cross between an omelet and a frittata with avocado, cheese and sausage with the hint of, hmmm, is that curry?

Keevil, 63, brought the Devil’s Mess with him from Los Angeles, where he created it for the original Millie’s, a tiny diner on Sunset Boulevard in the Silver Lake district, where bands like The Blasters and the Red Hot Chili Peppers frequently warmed counter stools. The frittata-omelet “mess,” which became the signature dish for Millie’s on both coasts, got its name when Keevil found some old letterhead at the Silver Lake diner (which he later sold) with that name and the diner’s Sunset Boulevard address. Now there’s Castro’s Mess and Cajun Mess, but there’s no Mess like the Devil’s which, according to Keevil, accounts for five percent of all orders. “It drives the whole machine,” he says. And, pushing out 1,500 to 2,000 meals per six-day week, what a machine it is.

Any changes on the horizon for the diner’s next quarter-century? “Millie’s is an institution,” says Edwards. “In some respects, we’d like to reflect that. But we like to keep things fresh and timely.

“Millie’s has to be Millie’s, but we can always learn.”  

Millie’s Recipes

—Virginia Crab Salad

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat

1 cup mayonnaise

1 lime, zested finely and juiced

1 lemon, finely zested and juiced

1 can hearts of palm

2 avocados

2 oranges, peeled, segmented and scraped of all pith

1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated

1 small bunch parsley, chopped

Salt and white pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix together crabmeat, lime zest and juice, lemon zest and juice, mayonnaise, parsley and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix together until ingredients are evenly distributed, taking care not to break up lumps of crabmeat. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Wash lettuce and dry on towels. Slice oranges, hearts of palm and avocado into small slices. Arrange lettuce leaves on a plate, and place large scoop of crab salad on top, garnishing with oranges and hearts of palm. Serve chilled.

Serves 4-6

Cherry Clafoutis

2 ½ cups fresh cherries, pitted

4 ½ ounces all-purpose flour

3 ½ ounces granulated sugar

pinch of salt

3 whole eggs

10 ounces whole milk

1 nine-inch pie pan, buttered and sugared

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients and eggs in a bowl until smooth and a paste forms, then add milk and mix until there are no lumps. Add cherries to the pie pan, forming an even layer.

Pour batter over cherries.  Bake about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve with fresh whipped cream and powdered sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8

Millie’s Tips

*For weekend brunch—Saturday OR Sunday, get there when doors open. Otherwise, the wait is at least an hour. The good news: When it’s your time to dine, you won’t be rushed. (Millie’s opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday, 9 a.m. on Sunday.)

*At brunch, order the Devil’s Mess. It’s Millie’s signature dish, accounting for five percent of meals served.

*We’re not pushing, but the Thai shrimp sells as often at dinner as the Mess does at brunch. That many people can’t be wrong.

*If you’re a morning drinker, have a Bloody Mary. If you’re not a morning drinker, come in the afternoon/evening, so you can really enjoy the Bloody Mary. It stands apart.

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