Brian Boston is celebrating 20 years as chef/owner of the Milton Inn, which in turn is marking 70 years in business. Boston started his career as a teenager at Peerce’s Plantation, attended the Culinary Institute of America and was sous chef at the Brass Elephant in the 1980s. He worked at Pier 500 and returned to Peerce’s before coming to the Milton Inn. In November, Boston shifted the emphasis of the Milton Inn menu from the classic French-influenced entrees to a selection of more casual small plates. At the same time, Boston has designed a prix-fixe weeknight menu for two that will be available throughout the year. The $130 tab per couple includes a bottle of wine, hors d’oeuvres and a shared entrée of chateaubriand, Dover sole or rack of lamb. Dessert too. Get ready for the next phase of fine dining.
The Milton Inn has always been a special-occasion place. What made you decide to tweak the concept?
The public has become very casual. They don’t even make reservations anymore. The really high-end restaurants are going by the wayside. You’ll always have a few of them, but that isn’t where the business is going. We can be expensive, but if you want to come in and have a hamburger or sandwich or salad, that’s possible. That’s why I think our regular customers like the small plates so much. A lot of people use us like a neighborhood restaurant.
You’ve got a pretty good deal going to honor the anniversary—$130 for two.
I thought for a very long time about a promotion for the 70th anniversary. Something that would slow people down, bring them back to a different time and enable them to spend some quality time together. I wanted it to be a deal. Normally a meal like [our current prix-fixe offer] would be $200.
Why do you think it’s hard to become a millionaire as a restaurateur these days?
Food prices are high; wages keep going up; the government keeps coming up with new things to regulate. The restaurant business has one of the smallest profit margins of any business. You’re dealing with perishable items and a fickle public—one day you’re in, one day you’re out. You have a lot of moving parts. A dish in front of you involves at least 15 people before it gets to the table. There’s great opportunity for mistakes to happen.
And yet it’s everyone’s fantasy. They think it’s glamorous, but there isn’t anything glamorous about it. Everything in the world has to align to make a restaurant successful. Sixty thousand restaurants open every year and 50,000 close.
Do you have any really bad customers?
When I first got into restaurants it was a rare day when I had a conflict with anyone. But our society has changed. I’m one of the ones who believes in firing bad customers. Not coming at your reservation time, being loud in the dining room. I had a woman who wanted to book for Thanksgiving. We take deposits now. She said, “I don’t want to do that—I’m a good customer.” I said, “I’m looking at your history; you made a reservation for the last seven years and didn’t show up any of those times. You’re the reason I have the policy.”
Have you seen her since?
No, and I don’t care to. I want the customers to show up and behave themselves. Our society has gotten a bit out of control—sometimes they need to be told.
What would you tell Donald Trump if he came into the restaurant?
I’d tell him to get out. No, I’d let him stay, but if he didn’t behave I’d tell him to leave.
What is a good customer?
Almost every customer is a good customer. They let us do our job. They’re my favorite customers. Some people have to have a specific waiter, a special table—we really do try to accommodate people. Spaulding Goetz, we’re very good friends. The Republican candy magnate and the Democrat gay chef, we get along really well. He’s always calling with a suggestion. He’ll text me and say, “My birthday’s coming, I want this, this, this and this.” I say, “I’ll take care of it.” This is the relationship I have with my customers.
Those who go online to complain really irritate me. They should just come to me and have a conversation and let me fix their problem. 9
Tom Voss’ Favorite Oyster Stew
This recipe is named for Tom Voss, a horse trainer who lived in Monkton and frequented the Milton Inn. Voss died in 2014.
Note: You may want to change this recipe to suit your taste. You could replace the Old Bay with curry powder or use fresh tarragon or your favorite herb in place of the parsley. This is a very simple dish that you can have fun with and change to match your taste and mood.
½ pound (2 sticks) butter
6 slices bacon (cooked and chopped, fat set aside)
1 cup minced onion
1 cup minced celery
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts chilled half-and-half
1 quart oysters with liquor retained
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons Old Bay
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
Melt butter in a large pot with a heavy bottom. Add the fat from the cooked bacon.
Add onions and celery and sweat until soft.
Whisk in flour and dry seasonings to make a roux; cook for 1 minute.
Add half-and-half and whisk to prevent lumps.
Add oyster liquor (only) and Worcestershire and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
Add oysters just before serving and heat through, being careful not to overcook.
Garnish with crumbled bacon and