July 17, 2019
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Miller Time

A restaurant in a 106-year-old Owensboro, Ky., home boasts mouthwatering seasonal menus. Is it worth the drive?
The Miller House in Owensboro, Ky., offers a varied menu of Southern gourmet food such as shrimp and grits.

I always feel like I am walking back in time when I walk up the steps into the Miller House in Owensboro, Ky. It is a place with many stories to tell, and its tale of the moment is not cautionary but wonderfully culinary thanks to the namesake restaurant opened in 2009 by Jeanne and Larry Kirk, two natives who love the lore of the home.

The house is more than 100 years old, and it has touched many lives since it was built by Owensboro, businessman Elmer Miller and his wife Lizzy. “Hardly a day goes by where somebody coming to the restaurant shares some connection they once had with the house,” says Jeanne. “I was told that Lizzy Miller would roll up the carpets for the kids in the neighborhood to come by and dance. I love the stories.”

Another patron remembers never being allowed in the basement billiards room when he was a kid. When he returned to the restaurant for the first time, he insisted taking the elevator down to what is now Spirits at The Miller House bar. “I waited 90 years to be on this side of the room,” the man told Larry.

The guest learned the house is now a beautiful, versatile lady wearing many outfits throughout its three floors. It can be the place for a rehearsal dinner, a milestone birthday celebration, or a romantic dinner, just like my wife, Evansville Living creative director Laura Mathis, and I had in early spring.

The main floor of the 8,000-square-foot restaurant has two large dining rooms with tables set with a homey feel while the second floor typically is the stage for big parties. Laura and I opted for a table overlooking the front porch, which also has tables for alfresco dining.

Chef Kasey Kirk-Dillow’s wonderful Southern comfort cuisine beckoned, and the menu boasted spring offerings. We started with lightly fried green tomatoes, made more delectable with a buttermilk peppercorn chive dip. Instead of the favorite standby — shrimp and grits — Laura had the evening’s special, the Chilean sea bass served with coconut risotto, grilled plantains, sautéd spinach, and dense and addictive sweet potato rolls. The sirloin steak with horseradish butter intrigued me, and I was more than pleased with the medium rare, 8-ounce cut with roasted potatoes and asparagus. We finished dinner with a sumptuous lemon crème brulée and specially blended coffee.

The Kirk-Dillow menu showcases her education from the nationally renowned Sullivan Culinary Institute in Louisville. She also worked in Ashville, N.C., for three years where she honed her skills at Southern cuisine before returning to Owensboro to pursue her dream of cooking for her own restaurant with her family.

“I think Daddy brought me back,” Kirk-Dillow says. “It’s been a lot of fun. I try to make sure people in the area will appreciate everything, and then I try to add some new stuff. I try to make everything a little Southern.”

Downstairs, the basement billiards room has been transformed into a cozy bar that runs halfway under the house. Soft lighting and paintings from local artists adorn the old block walls. The bar is perhaps the most unique part of the house.

It was once Elmer Miller’s billiards room, and it isn’t difficult to imagine a group of men, dressed for a Friday night of relaxation, billiards, and brandy. “This is where he entertained his friends,” says bar manager Aaron King.

The drink menu entertained me: Bourbon — 54 varieties — line the shelves of the bar. Such diversity means bourbon flights are available (and legendary) at the Miller House.

Drink or eat enough at the Miller House, and you can add your own chapter to its fascinating story.

Location: 301 E. Fifth St., Owensboro, Ky. • Phone: 270-685-5878 • Hours: Open Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch), 5-10 p.m. (dinner), 4 p.m.-12 a.m. (bar); Sat. 5-10 p.m. (dinner), 4 p.m.-12 a.m. (bar); Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (brunch). Closed Mon. Adult Beverages: Yes • Prices: $15-$30 • Reservations: Yes • Payment: Major credit cards accepted.

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