Run of the Mill Tavern, situated in Saco’s repurposed former textile mill complex, is pleasant, spacious and filled with a surprising abundance of natural light, given its mammoth red-brick walls. Thick, rough-hewn wood tables and iron fixtures accent the decor while servers offer friendly greetings and immediate seats.

With 14 barrels and all beer sourced directly from the in-house brewery, Run of the Mill’s beer rotation varies. This night’s menu included Alewife Ale, Bug Lager, Impact Pale Ale, Tarbox Cream Stout, Mudflap Springbock, State Budget Red and Brickhouse Bitter.

My writer-self loved the wordplay (I made a mental note to return for Smelt Camp Strong Ale and Ex-Wife Extra Bitter), but with all the choices, I knew I was out of my league. I needed a beer tutorial, and Chris Seavey, known in some editorial circles as Portland’s Beer Guy, was kind enough to lend his expertise.

(Full disclosure: I had not seen Seavey since the night my 1981 Honda ditched its muffler en route to a KISS concert, and I slid my acid-washed, teenaged self under the car to reattach the assembly with pantyhose.)

I reminisce because Run of the Mill Tavern is a terrific spot for reminiscing. With all manner of spaces — from cozy nooks to a large, central bar area — I envision regulars, sports teams, reunion after-parties and families with children each finding a pleasant niche at this venue.

Because this night was about beer, though, we ordered the Run of the Mill sampler. While many beer aficionados mock the sampler approach, it worked for me. Delivered on a paddle, seven 3-ounce servings of each beer priced at $5 might be the best deal for the indecisive or unaware. Taste your way down the paddle, and know that Run of the Mill will pour most favorites as imperial pints (20 ounces versus 16) for $3.75.

“Educate me,” I said, and I learned the chemical basics of barley, hops and water fermenting with yeast, noting things like esters and lager yeasts. Thankfully, though, Run of the Mill did all the technical stuff, and with Seavey’s guidance on each beer’s complexities and subtleties, my job was to learn what tastes good.

My stand-alone preferences were the Brickhouse Bitter, with its cask conditioning and caramel flavor, and the Tarbox Cream Stout, a Guinness-like, thick and creamy treat. Paired with food, I can easily see why the refreshing Bug Lager, smooth and light, is Run of the Mill’s best-selling beer.

Like Run of the Mill’s beer selection, the food menu is rich with options, and Mussels Dijon ($11) was the surprise favorite. In a mussel world filled with white wine sauces, it is difficult to make this shellfish distinct.

The mussels, plump and tender with no hint of rubber, were served in a generous portion. The mustard cream sauce held a perfect balance of subtlety and interest — so much so that I found myself craving them well into the next week.

However tasty the mussels, Run of the Mill’s interpretation of pub food is where the establishment shines.

The house staple, Mac and Beer Cheese ($8.75), delivered tender macaroni with a triple cheese sauce made with the signature Bug Lager as creamy comfort food. Instead of bread crumbs, Run of the Mill’s version is served with a crunchy pretzel and cracker topping, and a parmesan wheel bonus. A pizzelle-like wafer of flavor, the wheel, along with the meal’s presentation in a mini cast iron skillet, earned points for creative presentation.

Run of the Mill’s traditional Shepherd’s Pie ($9.50) is another example of a restaurant kitchen knowing its best skills. Ground beef and a savory mix of onions, mushrooms and veggies covered with a crust of garlic mashed potatoes tasted soothing, delicious and exactly as expected.

The night’s special was tequila lime marinated strip steak, and while these are three of my favorite food items — tequila, lime and red meat — the steak was chewy, the broccoli cold and the rice side dish bland. It wasn’t terrible, just uninspired, and given the kitchen’s stellar approach to other menu items, I modestly suggest that patrons stick with this restaurant’s area of expertise — Run of the Mill does the pub food and beer combination remarkably well.

Desserts included familiar chocolate and cheesecake offerings that, while certainly approachable with mass appeal, do little to inspire creativity, with the exception of my new favorite — Run of the Mill’s pineapple cake.

I do not recall if it was billed as upside down, but it was presented as such. A mini ring of moist yellow cake was topped with a caramelized pineapple slice in a pool of warm syrup. Perfectly proportioned, I would order this again (and again). Rather than cloying, the dessert was just sweet enough.

In addition to a superb pub menu, Run of the Mill promotes local musicians. The calendar advertises some great local talent (more disclosure: My husband occasionally plays this venue), as well as community favorites like trivia night. Check out the online calendar for more information.

I wish the Run of the Mill Tavern was closer to my house, because I would like to become a regular there. For those in the Saco area (or Hallowell with Run of the Mill’s companion, The Liberal Cup), you are lucky. For those outside the area, it might well be worth a trip.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel “Show Me Good Land.”


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