Last year in Atlanta, the 70-seat Miller Union restaurant was the buzziest new food stop in the city, winning a slew of ‘Best New Restaurant’ awards in Bon Appetit, Esquire and Southern Living, among others. It’s located inside the old Miller Union Stockyards in Westside, which in the early 1900s anchored the city’s meatpacking district, located about 10 minutes from downtown Atlanta.
Why all the fuss? The food, design and sustainable ethos work together to create a dynamic experience that celebrates a strong sense of community and responsibility. There are five semi-private dining spaces for small groups up to 24 people. Previous buyouts have been no sweat for 110.
Open since late 2009, Miller Union is housed inside an artfully refurbished 1940s warehouse, combining both country and industrial motifs. Right from the start, co-owners chef Steven Satterfield and GM Neal McCarthy created a business plan prioritizing sustainability, which encompassed everything from food sources to construction to employee relations.
In terms of the design, all of the tables are constructed from reclaimed wood, while walls and bookcases stocked with the eclectic wine collection were built out of recycled snow fencing from Wyoming. That rusty/susty vibe is enhanced with big industrial pot lamps, refurbished steel windows, antique armoires and textured red wallpaper in the entry hallway etched with various tree motifs.
“So there’s a lot of layers of patina and age that come into play that gives Miller Union a warm homey feel,” says Satterfield. “It’s really a cross between a farmhouse and an industrial factory.”
The sustainable ethos continues in the kitchen with almost 90% of waste diverted from the landfill. Even the fryer oil gets converted into biodiesel fuel.
Satterfield naturally works extensively with local farms and farmers, which has become somewhat of the norm here in Atlanta’s hip Westside neighborhood. The grass-fed beef for “The Daily Grind” cheeseburger comes from White Oak Pastures, about three hours south of town. The cheese is aged Red Hill cheddar, made by Wright Dairy & Yellow Moon Cheese Company just over the Alabama state line.
“Sustainability is huge for us, it’s a big part of what we do and who we are,” says Satterfield. “There’s so many people who own and run restaurants, but the thing for us, it’s more meaningful when you’re actually doing the right thing for the community. It makes our job much more fulfilling, working with local growers that we know, who we’ve worked with for years at other Atlanta restaurants where we cut our teeth in.”
Everyday, the chefs at Miller Union check the availability lists with local suppliers detailing not just what’s fresh, but what’ still growing in the ground. It’s called “harvest to order.” Satterfield places his purchase order, and the purveyors will harvest the items the next day for same day delivery. Companies such as Chipotle Restaurants have brought their groups here based on those shared values surrounding freshness and sustainability.
“Everybody around here wants to figure out how they can be more green and give back to their communities,” says the chef. “It is really important, we have a lot at stake as business owners. So you make choices about where you’re going to spend your money, and those choices can really make a big impact in the area.”
Now for the food itself. Menu items are seriously Southern in nature created with what Satterfield refers to as a “California mindset” focused on natural flavors and lighter calorie counts. This can range from a lowcountry boil with corn, potatoes, andouille sausage and shrimp to a cucumber/citrus cured Spanish mackerel with watercress, fennel, tomatoes and peppers.
Everything is made from scratch including the house ketchup, slow cooked all day with cloves, coriander, garlic and cinnamon. I like the Georgia quail and blackberry salad, utilizing two hearty Southern staples readily available, which combine to create a wholly unique flavor of spicy and sweet flavors rare in the Old South oeuvre.
The chocolate soufflé cake with caramelized banana ice cream and candied peanuts is a local crowd favorite too.
“I think what we do here is unique and the reason we’ve got so much attention is because we’re a very hands-on approach,” sums up Satterfield. “The menu is small and it’s not very intimidating for people, so there’s a certain amount of familiarity. The service is excellent and the wine choices we make are really great [including Georgia/Virginia labels]. It just sort of came together to the point where the sum is greater than the parts.”
What has the response been with the local community, Steven?
“It’s been incredible, there’s something kind of magical happening everyday here that’s exciting to us still, and we’re almost two years old, you know? We have people walking out with big smiles on their faces and thanking us for such a great experience. I think it’s because we have a warm environment and the food is good and clean and fair and delicious.”
Anything else, Steven?
“Well, everything we do comes from a real place because we do really care about our choices, which affect the plate of food, our employee’s happiness and all of that kinda stuff. The choices that we make, they make us feel good about our job and they make diners feel good about their choice coming here.”