No one went to Cheers for the food.

The cast and characters of TV’s most popular Boston bar went back for 11 seasons because of the atmosphere and the company. There’s something to be said for a neighborhood place where “everybody knows your name.”

Mill 67 in Sanford reminds me of Cheers. There’s sports banter coming from the bartender and television sets hanging on the wall. The wait staff is familiar and informal. A constant stream of locals stop in for drinks, chatting, laughing, waving at friends and making themselves at home. This self-described “gourmet pub” serves comfort food for lunch and dinner, and a few of the basic bar snacks are good, but they’re not the draw. It’s the ambience. And – unlike the basement beer joint on TV – the setting.

Mill 67 is, quite simply, a knockout. It fills one corner of a historic textile mill – part of a sprawling complex founded in 1867 (thus the name), shuttered in the 1950s and reopened last year with apartments, offices and retail space.

The dramatically reworked pub showcases many of the mill’s original features, including a forest of brawny, rough-hewn wooden columns; soaring ceilings (protected by acoustic baffles to muffle some noise); exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling arched windows overlooking the Mousam River.

The night we visited, I walked through the front door and murmured “wow.” “We get that a lot,” manager Jeff Mayo told me later. (Earlier this year Mill 67 won Eater Maine’s award for best-looking new restaurant in the state, besting finalists in Portland and Scarborough.)


Finding the place can be something of a puzzle. The published address is 61 Washington St., just a block off of Main, and there is a pedestrian entrance out front. But when a directionally challenged friend and I drove to Sanford in a downpour, it took three passes before we realized that the main parking area and business entrance were at the rear. (Hint for the similarly challenged: If you Mapquest Aerofab Drive you’ll find your way straight to the double doors.)

It’s obvious that the pub is still new: They don’t have a website and are tweaking the menu, and temporary banners currently stand in for permanent placards – coming soon, fingers crossed, with the cooperation of town fathers.

“We opened in March, so we’re still experimenting and finding our way,” says owner Jim Paquette, who grew up in Sanford and owns the Back Street Grille on School Street. Wary of competing with himself, Paquette designed a limited pub menu for the Mill that will change with the seasons and grow to include “more substantial dishes” over time, he says. Last fall, he offered bar food, charcuterie and meats smoked outside over apple wood from the Giles Family Orchard in neighboring Alfred. This month, he retired the smoker in deference to the weather and added Canadian-inspired items, like traditional pork and salmon pies served in skillets. “My grandfather, Lucien, came down from Canada to work in the mills in Biddeford,” he says. “The French people he knew liked bang-for-their-buck comfort food.”

It’s a good description of the entrees currently on the menu at Mill 67. Take the House Bacon Meatloaf ($15), thick slices of ground beef and pork stacked against a dense mound of mashed potatoes and covered with a heavy, brown gravy. The dish may be underseasoned, and the binders a bit brazen, but it’s ample – and it’s filling. (Paquette says his relatives cooked substantial meals because they were ideal for large families. This meatloaf would satisfy a village – or a province.)

I liked the meatloaf well enough, but was underwhelmed by the new salmon entrée, a Mill Skillet fish pie ($15) with Atlantic salmon, herbs and potatoes in a lemon dill sauce. Once again, the portion size was extravagant and the fish was moist, but the dish was bland and the pastry (not made here, but purchased from Take 2 Dough nearby) was uninspiring. Paquette notes that his pub serves about 30 pounds of fresh salmon a week; as he continues to modify the menu, this dish deserves a makeover.

More flavorful but equally filling are the appetizers, which Mill 67 does well. Calamari is quickly fried and served with tangy, lime-laced remoulade on the side. At many restaurants, it’s a crap shoot to see if rings of squid are overcooked and tentacles just-done, or vice versa. Here both are light and crisp – all crunch and no rubber. They are extra good with a spritz of fresh lemon.


I also liked the Washington Street Wings with honey-bourbon sauce, an endodontist’s dream that takes wingtips and drumettes, coats them in an extra-sticky house-made barbeque sauce spiked with Jim Beam and roasts them until they’re tender, juicy and a dark golden brown. I plowed through the entire plate before pausing to lick my fingers and check that my fillings were intact.

The menu introduced earlier this month retains a selection of burgers and sandwiches ($8-$12) as well as Mill Pizzas ($8-$10) topped with beef, cheese or chicken and offered on Take 2’s flatbread, regular dough or a gluten-free crust. Paquette says that the bar keeps 10 beers on draft (including Allagash, Baxter and Sebago from Maine) and 15 other brands in bottles. He also serves his own flavored vodkas, made from Twenty 2, the spirit produced at a microdistillery in Brewer.

In keeping with the comfort food theme, Mill 67 serves just-baked cookies for dessert. Either accidentally or deliberately, my Cast Iron Peanut Butter Cookie ($5) was deliciously under-baked and topped with vanilla ice cream and a spoonful of whipped cream that melted into the dough and created an uber-sweet pudding bubbling up from the serving skillet below. The dessert was syrupy and sugary and steamy and soothing, like digging into a dish of just-baked fruit cobbler – minus the fruit.

Mill 67 isn’t going to change the way you think about food. (And calling the place a “French-influenced gourmet pub” on the Facebook page is either a mistake or a misnomer. Yes, they have poutine ($8) and baked Brie en croute ($9), but American comfort food is their strong suit.)

On the other hand, this pub may remind you that a table full of good appetizers makes a fine dinner, and an evening in a stunning riverside setting, surrounded by good cheer and good friends, just can’t be beat.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines for more than 30 years. Long a commuter between Portland and Washington, D.C., he retired from his job as vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2013 and relocated to Maine.

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