Breakfast — or brunch as it’s known on the weekends — has become a cultural movement of picturesque avocado toasts and bloody Mary one-uppery. But despite the growing competition, one particular coffee shop has managed to maintain a classic brunch menu sans trendy dishes and boozy cocktails since 1926 — in one of L.A.’s “brunchiest” districts, no less.
Millie’s Café has thrived in the same location on Sunset Boulevard near Maltman Avenue for 90 years, a rarity in trendy neighborhoods like Silver Lake, where leases continue to skyrocket. The original interior space is tiny: With just six tables in the main dining area and about eight stools at the counter, the sidewalk seating often spills out onto the pavement in front of the neighboring shuttered storefronts.
Even without a real social media presence, and with its absence of booze and bacon flights, Saturdays and Sundays still attract lines of sunglasses-clad, matted-haired locals vying for a heaping scramble, a giant breakfast burrito or something called the Slutty Bun (the dish of scrambled eggs on a brioche bun was named years before the downtown restaurant Eggslut entered the breakfast scene).
“We’ve been steady the whole time and have only gotten busier,” says Robert Babish, who’s owned Millie’s for the past 16 years. “I think it’s because of the amount of food on the dish, the huge portions we give, and we do good-tasting food.”
The menu is plentiful, perhaps too plentiful for the indecisive, but its vastness doesn’t compromise the quality. This may be in large part due to Millie's chefs, Martin Garcia and Carlos Escobar, who run the open kitchen like a racing Porsche, because "well-oiled machine" is an understatement. Though the crowds gravitate toward the outdoor tables, the regulars know the best seat in the house is at the counter, where Garcia and Escobar deliver an unintended “Brunch with a Show.”
The style and pace at which they produce fresh meals for hundreds of customers can be mesmerizing. On a typical weekend morning, it's not uncommon to see Garcia handling the pancakes, meat and potatoes while Escobar somehow poaches five eggs perfectly while simultaneously flipping three omelets.
Meanwhile, servers and bussers wearing T-shirts inscribed with “Service With a Fuck You” on the back squeeze together to garnish and get plates off the line. Babish pitches in, wiping spilled cream off the counter and checking in with customers, keeping a low profile despite owning the place. But the whole team doesn’t appear to break a sweat, making their T-shirt motto seem like a wry joke.
“'Service With a Fuck You’ came from the previous owner, who didn’t allow cellphones and didn’t give a damn about the customers,” Babish explains. “We’re not giving bad service, we just [kept it] because it’s funny.”
It’s that casual attitude that completes Millie’s vibe as a down-to-earth, neighborhood coffee shop — which also happens to serve delicious food. The menu leads with a huge selection of “messes” and scrambles, some of which are said to be from the original 1920s menu, including the Devil’s Mess and Eleanor R. Special (rumored to have been the first lady’s favorite).
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Two of the more popular dishes are the huevos a la Mexicana, a two-egg scramble topped with homemade ranchero sauce, along with the equally beloved Heavenly Hash, a rendition of corned beef hash. A selection of 10 Benedicts offers everything from crab and salmon to a tofu Florentine, while the pancake and waffle list includes a "make it pretty" option with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and the like.
But the true hidden gem, which may be easily passed over due to its simple, meatless ingredients, is Maynard’s Special: three eggs scrambled with spinach, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. The dish's namesake, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, was a Millie's regular when he lived in the neighborhood, according to Babish. The plate is best enjoyed with a fluffy, house-made biscuit smothered in butter and jam.
In a time and place where competition and costs are high, Millie’s continues to keep a steady balance on the line between old and new. At year 90, and after having changed ownership a number of times, the old-school coffee shop has solidified itself as an L.A. institution time and again with a promising outlook toward year 100. Just don't try to order avocado toast or a bloody Mary — you won't find any of that here.
Millie's Café, 3524 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 664-0404, milliescafela.com.