Atlanta Orders In: Miller Union finds new ways of doing fine dining

This takeout order from Miller Union includes skillet trout fillet, with creamed corn, summer squash, snap beans and cherry tomato.
CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
This takeout order from Miller Union includes skillet trout fillet, with creamed corn, summer squash, snap beans and cherry tomato. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

One of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants, Miller Union was founded in 2009 by James Beard Award-winning chef Steven Satterfield and sommelier and General Manager Neal McCarthy.

Driven by Satterfield’s vegetable-forward farmstead cooking, the business enjoyed steady growth for more than a decade, until the pandemic closed the dining room on March 15.

At that point, Miller Union tried takeout for a week, then landed a seven-week contract with Emory Healthcare to help provide meals for frontline workers five days a week.

These grits fritters, with country ham, pimento cheese and strawberry hot pepper jelly, are from Miller Union.
CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
These grits fritters, with country ham, pimento cheese and strawberry hot pepper jelly, are from Miller Union. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“During that time, our goal was to support our farms, and keep our staff, as best we could,” Satterfield said.

“We didn’t really feel like we could do Miller Union-level food and the Emory work, so we decided to do one, and not both,” McCarthy added.

But, after the contract ran out, the restaurant went back to takeout, then reopened for limited dine-in service on June 1. With a Small Business Administration loan and Paycheck Protection Program in place, things were looking up until early July, when the summer holiday season slowed business again.

“We also had a sharp rise in cases in Georgia at the same time,” Satterfield noted. “Since then, we’ve seen a pretty sharp decline in dine-in, except on the weekends. So, we’re really pushing our takeout program now.”

Recently, Miller Union sent a survey to its customers to gauge the kind of service they wanted. As a result, the restaurant now is offering its dine-in a la carte menu for takeout seven nights a week, with curbside pickup.

There’s also a new take out option, which was conceived as a preorder family style meal for four, but can be ordered for any number for around $20-$25 per person, in multiples of two.

“We’re excited about that, just because it’s something a little different we can offer people,” Satterfield said. “And, we’re considering doing delivery, but that’s a little more complicated.”

Satterfield and McCarthy said they’re constantly brainstorming, trying to come up with new ways to create revenue for the restaurant. But, they agreed that most fine-dining restaurants are not designed for takeout. “Our food doesn’t look good in a to-go box,” McCarthy quipped.

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Grilled pork chop, grits fritters and skillet trout fillet boxed for takeout from Miller Union.
CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND
Grilled pork chop, grits fritters and skillet trout fillet boxed for takeout from Miller Union. CONTRIBUTED BY BOB TOWNSEND

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“People don’t necessarily think of us as a takeout restaurant, so we’re trying to change that perception,” Satterfield said. “Maybe it’s a little more of a splurge for some people, but our family meals are really quite a bargain. We just want to be as accessible as we can, in as many ways as we know how to do.”

Beyond that, the co-owners have spent a lot of time and effort making dining at Miller Union as safe as possible, including a long list of guidelines for staff and guests, and the installation of duct-mounted commercial air cleaners that destroy pathogens.

Still, they wonder about the future.

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“Our level of dining has been affected the most,” McCarthy said. “The question is, do we lose that level of sophisticated dining, period? Does it just become a dinosaur, and people just don’t do it anymore? That’s my biggest fear about this whole thing.”

“People might not realize how bad it is for restaurants, right now,” Satterfield said, “but it’s a really important time to support the restaurants that you care about. Because, if you wait, it might be too late.”

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MILLER UNION

Menu: a la carte for takeout or dine-in, with daily selections of starters, entrees and desserts, made with seasonal ingredients from local farms

What’s new: family-style takeout meal for two or more, $20-$25 per person

Alcohol: extensive wine list curated by Neal McCarthy, plus beer to go; full bar for on-site dining

What I ordered: grits fritters with country ham, pimento cheese, blueberry hot pepper jelly; trout fillet, with creamed corn, summer squash, snap beans, cherry tomato; grilled pork chop, butter bean and sweet corn succotash, and blueberries; vanilla-bourbon custard, bing cherries, cornmeal sablés. As expected, everything was good to great, reflecting the level of ingredients and cooking that Miller Union is known for.

Service options: order by phone and pay with credit card for takeout curbside pickup; reservations or walk-up for indoor or outdoor on-site dining

Safety protocols: adhering to all recommended health and safety guidelines, list of restaurant’s guidelines on website; duct-mounted commercial air cleaners

Address, phone: 999 Brady Ave. NW Atlanta; 678-733-8550

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5–10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: millerunion.com