Miller’s Famous Restaurant in Borough Park
has undergone a radical facelift.
Joe Miller, son of Michael "Mike" Miller (the second owner of Miller’s Famous Restaurant) and the grandson of Chris Miller (originally Christopher Mylonoplous of Cypress), the restaurant’s founder, is the new co-owner. With John Odorisio, a patron of Miller’s since childhood and a butcher with 20 years of meat-cutting experience, the two transformed the aging restaurant, a neighborhood institution since 1947, into a gleaming replica of a 1950s dinner.
"I was adamant that the new design should stand out from other diners," says Miller.
Surrounded by stores whose facades were new 30 years ago, the refurbished restaurant, with its shining red-and-white tiled exterior edged in chrome, looks more like something you’d see along Route 66 than a diner nestled under the shadow of the old El train track.
"Even the design of the tiles on the wall are a replica of a subway station," says Miller, who sketched his ideas on a napkin before consulting an architect.
To expand the diner’s seating capacity from 35 to 75, Miller designed two replica subway cars and had them built on site and attached to the outside of the diner. Patrons can now enjoy a hamburger, comfortably seated in one of the deep, red vinyl booths, while looking out the train’s window.
Continuing the subway motif, a miniature train runs along a track that hangs directly over the funky, ’50s-style chrome counter.
"We want people to be reminded of a Manhattan restaurant," Miller says of the renovation, then adds, "but we don’t have Manhattan prices. Two guys can eat here like kings. We give a lot of food. That’s what we’re known for."
Chef Miller will do the cooking following the recipes handed down from his father and grandfather. His four-course dinner special, served each evening, features a fruit cup or cup of soup du jour, an entree of prime roast sirloin, turkey, ham or brisket served with a potato and vegetable, coffee or tea and Jell-O or rice pudding - all for $8.95.
"’Never leave the restaurant hungry’ was my grandmother Electra’s motto, and it’s our motto as well," Miller adds.
Serving quality cooking in enormous portions is a practice Miller intends to continue.
"Everything here is homemade. We make our own corned beef, our own brisket. We cook our own roast beef, our own fresh ham and our own turkey. When someone orders a turkey sandwich, I’m cutting them turkey that I roasted that morning. Nothing is pre-made!," Miller says with pride.
He hopes that Miller’s Famous Restaurant will be considered a destination for hamburger aficionados the way Nathan’s lures hot dog lovers to Coney Island.
"We closed [in June 2002] with an 8-ounce burger, and that’s a pretty nice size. Now we have the biggest with our 9-ounce burger, and it’s delicious - juicy and so fresh," he says.
Special bragging rights apply to the diner’s Greek salad.
"We make a Greek salad like nobody else," says Miller. "We use hard-boiled eggs but no anchovies. We put in the eggs, and the feta cheese, and the oil and vinegar and the olives, and we turn the salad ourselves. We mix it together like they do in Greece, in the old town. We are famous for our Greek salads."
Disappointing customers who might compare him unfavorably to his predecessors isn’t an option for Miller.
"People come in here, and they see a young kid - I’m 32 years old," explains Miller. "And if they say, ’Oh, the kid made it all fancy but the food stinks,’ then I have no business. I’m feeding people who my grandparents served 50 years ago."
As if on cue, an older couple, with unmistakable Brooklyn accents, walks in.
"Hey, Hey Joey," they say. "Whayz Jimmy Bow’s pictuah?"
"Thatz huh brothah," says the man pointing to his wife.
"Yeah," she says, "Jimmy wuz the bahtendah at the El-ah-gont. Yaw fatha had thah pictuah hangin’ behin’ the counta for a thousan’ yeeuhs."
Miller promises to re-hang Jimmy Bow’s picture before the diner’s Jan. 18 opening, "If God is willing."
The couple leaves happy.
"This is perfect!" says Miller. "This is not staged! If you stay here all day, you’ll see people dropping in saying, ’I remember your grandmother!’ They tell me, ’When I came to America we couldn’t afford to eat. Your grandmother used to give us french fries with cheese and a lime Rickey.’ [The lime Rickey is still on the menu.] She never let anyone leave without being fed."
"Tell Tina how long you’ve been coming here," Miller asks Al, the diner’s fruit man, who wanders in to say hello to Mike and "the boys."
"Oh," says Al, "Like, 40 years! I knew his grandparents when his father was this big." He holds his hand near his knee.
Patrons who remember the original Miller’s, which opened in 1947 on 13th Avenue at New Utrecht Avenue, and have seen the restaurant evolve since 1957 in its present location on the corner of New Utrecht Avenue and 56th Street, needn’t worry about a rocky transition. After 36 years of 18-hour days, the still youthful Mike Miller has retired, but he plans to continue as a consultant, whenever "the boys" need him, and adds, "Joey and John are both young and they have a lot of incentive. The diner will be excellent."
When I visited, the kitchen was not yet open, so instead of food, Miller searched for gifts for "The train ride back home." He gave me a large polo shirt with the Famous Miller’s logo - a train - on its back; a wooden massager in the shape of a bird; a plastic key chain; and a denim, snap-bracelet for my daughter.
"You have to leave with something," he says, "so you don’t forget us."
Miller’s Famous Restaurant (5602 New Utrecht Ave. at 56th Street) accepts Visa and MasterCard. Entrees: $5.95-$18.95. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For further information, call (718) 438-9594.