The quaint Wisconsin township of Delavan was once known as "New France" and even waved the French flag until it came under British rule in 1783, then becoming part of the Northwest Territory. But when lifelong resident Mildred Novak opened her first restaurant in 1959, she decided to go more German and eastern European than French. Not even current owner Dean Griffith knows why. Regardless, her restaurant, originally titled Millie's Pancake Shoppe, was a success, serving plates of hearty breakfast fare one would expect in a province usually covered in rain, snow and icy winds.
It was because of that constant flow of a-bit-too-close-to-Canada frost that Mildred sold her restaurant to a family member and lit out to Arizona to find some sun and a warm retirement. It didn't take long for Mildred to grow bored with the not-much-to-do-all-day routine, so she forged a new skillet and opened Millie's Pancake Haus on Tanque Verde in 1982. The food and atmosphere were a bit different than most Tucson residents were used to, yet after a while the flavors and hospitableness began to sink in and before long Millie's was a destination for locals and travelers alike.
Unfortunately, Mildred was getting older and she finally relented, giving into the mild repose of her golden years, and sold Millie's to Beverly and Warren Whitmer in 1985. It was around this time that Dean Griffith walked through the front door and asked for a job.
"I've worked here off and on since 1986," says Griffith, sitting in one of the original booths adorned with hearts carved in the wood. "Sometimes I would just lend a hand during busy holidays bussing tables or working the line. I took a job with Lexus in late 2000 and stuck with them till 2011 when an offer to buy Millie's came my way."
When the former owner, not Mildred, passed away, that family knew Dean could run Millie's by himself if he had to, and, most importantly, keep the welcoming food and tradition alive.
Not much has changed since Griffith took Millie's over, except one thing.
"A customer that had been coming here since Millie owned it walked in and asked for a mimosa," he says with a grin. "I had to tell her that we didn't have a liquor license, to which she replied, 'Well that has to change.' So, I hand-built the bar to go with the German theme of the restaurant and, well, got us a liquor license."
The license only extends to beer and wine, as Griffith doesn't want people coming in and getting "shnockered" before noon, assuming patrons would appreciate that as well. But it is nice to know you can order a Wittekerke (Belgian ale) to go with their Schnitzel plate ($9.95) which is a generous sundry of breaded pork loin over spaetzle noodles and served with a traditional rotkohl (braised red cabbage) and sweet but savory gingersnap gravy. That or a Radeberger (German pilsner) with their handmade Swedish Meatballs ($9.95). Either way, Millie's is like taking the comfort food Eurail without, you know, having to leave the 520 area code.
With the word 'pancake' right there in the namesake, it is Millie's breakfasts that has made it stick around for all these decades. If you've got the time and patience, because it takes almost a half hour to get to your table, the German Apple Pancake ($9.50) is a capsized catamaran of fluff, fruit and European frivolity. All of the dishes at Millie's are generous, but this thing is crazy. Well worth the wait and well worth the impact on your waistline. The regular pancakes are, as expected, as close to perfect as can be, but a personal favorite has to be the Bohemian Pancakes ($6.50), a tall stack of flapjacks that are filled with jam and sour cream. I've never been to Bavaria, but I have a hunch this is what I would be gorging on every morning before hiking the grassy hills just outside of Kronach. The crepes, the benedicts, the blintzes, the omelets, the waffles...never have I, or most of southern Arizona, been disappointed. And if you have never been here, what is the excuse? It's been around since the Reagan administration and it isn't going anywhere soon, as far as the current owner is concerned.
"We've had some visitors from Germany and they say the look of the place reminds them of traditional cottages there. And the food is a taste of home as well," Griffith says. "I think that's why Millie's has endured so long. It's quality mixed with consistency and I plan on keeping it that way."