Change is tough in the restaurant business, especially when you're an established place like Milt's Coffee Shop.
The Huggs family sold the business near Olive Drive and Highway 99 after decades of ownership to Roger Coughenour, a former employee turned restaurateur who's been doing great things with his Old River Grill locations. Since he was already turning his other restaurants into a version of Milt's, it seems natural.
But there have been changes. The first we noticed was the end of dinner service, which we discovered when we drove there one night to get some good grub as we have done in the past. Breakfast and lunch only now, which I understand. There's a beauty in these days of hard-to-staff businesses of only having one shift, and I'm not sure the revenue was there to make it work, as nights were the least busy time when we went to Milt's.
The second is a serious fence around the parking lot, the better to keep it from becoming a tent village during all those hours the place is closed. Such is the state of the state we live in today. The restaurant was closed for a time for remodeling but nothing radical has been done and we think that's good. It's still as comfortable as an old pair of penny loafers.
That's pretty much the extent of the changes that we experienced, though service was not up to the usual standards we've enjoyed on our monthly visits. A one-off? Let's hope so, because the rest of the operation is pretty much the way things were when the Huggs family was running it.
The website has a bio of Coughenour, a Wasco High grad back in 1992 who was hired as a cook for the graveyard shift back when Milt's was open 24 hours a day. He seems to have an affection for a place that we have loved for a long time, for things like the house-made pastrami, the monthly meal and dessert specials that seem straight from the Food Network and the policy of breakfast served any time of day. And giving out the Wikki sticks to the families with kids, which always keeps things so peaceful.
On our most recent visit, my companion chose the chilaquiles chile verde with eggs ($17) while I went for the Texas chili omelet ($17) and we ordered the beignets ($8) to share. Though many near us ordered those famous spicy bloody marys or flights of four different mimosas, we stuck to water (with that popular crushed ice that Sonic Drive-In is known for) and coffee.
The quality of the food was comparable to what it was before the ownership change. The beignets are available with powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar, with a strawberry dipping sauce or frosting. If you've enjoyed these at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, you know they're prone to dumping half a pound of powdered sugar on top of these fried pillows, such a waste really. Here they're far more sensible, and, if like us, you put fresh fried doughnuts right up there with fresh-baked bread, this is the place to go.
It's important to note that my omelet labeled the chili as Texas style, which meant no beans. I love beans, but a chili without beans makes for an exceptionally rich breakfast, especially with the generous portion of medium cheddar in the eggs and those fantastic Milt's hash browns that are fresh-cut and so crispy with a buttery exterior.
My companion's biggest issue with her plate was that she asked for her eggs over medium and they came over easy. The chilaquiles were made with a red sauce, not particularly spicy, and the chile verde, made fresh on the premises that day based on our assessment, worked really well with the whole creation, though we wondered if it would conflict with the red sauce.
What we will order next time is the chicken and waffles, which includes four pieces of bone-in fried chicken, not just a boneless breast the way so many places offer it. The plate we saw looked positively alluring, more than enough protein for leftovers.
Our service experience was not typical of what we've experienced in the past under either owner, but it's worth mentioning. Let's face it, Milt's is always busy and the staff hustles, but our waiter froze us out after returning from a break. We saw him working other tables, but it was quite difficult to flag him to get him over to our table.
The waitress taking care of customers near us was not negligent, so hopefully this was a rare event. It did not appear they had all new people working as servers.
Milt's can still be recommended for a fine dining experience.