Reason to Rise 

If you can find a table, brunch at Millie's is a robust wake-up call.

The other pauses at the window, notes the crowd and whisks the final dribble of butter into the hollandaise. In a moment the doors will open, the tables will fill, and six hours of nonstop action will mark another of Richmond's most popular weekend meals.

The loyalty of Millie's clients seems to be equally rooted in the balance of what they can count on and what's up to chance. For example, they're likely to wait for a table, but they're not sure if their server will lean toward attitude or charm. They'll probably see someone they know; whether or not that will be pleasant is uncertain.

But one thing is sure: For those hours of the weekend, there is arguably no better fare being offered in Richmond, and according to the likes of The New York Times, Bon Appetit and Gourmet, Millie's ranks up there with the best food in the country.

In that cramped kitchen, the entrees are assembled according to the simple law of successful innovation: deviate only one step, in one direction (if at all). For example, the eggs Benedict (Eggs Benny) trades out the traditional Canadian bacon for thinly sliced Smithfield ham, and upgrades from an English muffin to a buttery croissant. Its sibling, Eggs Ben Gurion, features smoked salmon and a toasted bagel. Both are dressed with perfectly poached eggs and freshly whisked hollandaise.

With an ever-changing chalkboard menu, the options are fresh and exciting. They include dishes such as crab and egg enchiladas with spicy tomato and sour cream sauces, and soft-scrambled eggs with lobster topped with hollandaise. Brunch entrees range from $5.95 to $13.95.

And there are several more-dinner-than-breakfast options as well. Grilled salmon and grilled beef loin are paired with grilled asparagus and poached eggs and home fries to create satisfying plates that are sure to revive you after a rough night. My steak was perfectly prepared medium and the dash of sriracha put just the right spicy spin on the steak-and-eggs standby.

Castro's Mess is the latest addition to the growing lineup of messes offered at brunch. A mess is just that — everything cooked together in a sauté pan. Signature items are built upon a base of home fries and scrambled eggs. In Castro's case, it's roasted Cuban pork, black beans, peppers and onions topped with fresh salsa and sour cream. In the Cajun rendition, it's andouille sausage, crayfish and corn. The veggie mess is self-explanatory. Not only are these tasty and a great deal, they stick to your ribs. Our food arrived at 9:30 a.m.; I wasn't hungry again until dinner.

But that might also have something to do with my favorite aspect of brunch: dessert. And the desserts at Millie's are as good as the entrees. The list includes double chocolate espresso cake or Kahlua pound cake with butter-pecan gelato; both are moist and flavorful with ample whipped cream and strawberries.

I remember those days of anticipatory butterflies before the doors open to customers. I remember the satisfaction of setting 'em up and knocking 'em down, all while giving complete attention to the detail of every plate. Seeing these guys ring the bell and feeling the buzz of a hopping joint run like a well-oiled machine make me wish I were back on the other side of the line. Well, almost. S

Millie's Diner ($-$$$)
2603 E. Main St.
Brunch: Saturday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Lunch: Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday - Saturday 5:30 - 10:30 p.m., Sunday 5:30 - 9:30 p.m.

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