Mimi’s Table has been open less than three months, but it’s already one of the best reasons to dine out in Tallahassee.
The food is fantastic, the young servers are congenial and skilled and the ambience is warm and welcoming. In other words, Mimi’s hits all the culinary bases.
It’s not a huge menu, which is a good thing, yet it covers a lot of territory, delving into French, Italian and Southern cuisines. Skeptics might wonder how the kitchen can handle each style well. But don’t worry. It can.
If you want something familiar, you’ll find dishes like personal pizzas, spaghetti and meatballs and a bistro burger. Looking for something more interesting? Consider grenouilles à la Provençale (frog legs) or rack of lamb. Even humble ingredients like pork chops and chicken are elevated in this kitchen, thanks to the skills of Mimi’s trio of chefs.
At the helm is William Lawson, executive chef and owner, along with partners Rose Marie and Roy Young. Lawson, originally from Lexington, Kentucky, is trained in classic French cuisine, worked at several fine restaurants and private clubs in the South and was director of Franklin, Tennessee’s Viking Cooking School. He was most recently the executive chef at The Capital City Country Club.
Working with Lawson is chef Allen Teuton, whose career includes restaurants in his home of Destin, plus Chicago and Atlanta, and Louisiana native Abby Henderson, sous chef and pastry chef, who honed her skills at places like James Beard award-winning St. Cecilia restaurant in Atlanta and Destin’s Cuvee Kitchen and Wine Bar.
Chef-driven Mimi’s, located in the former home of Miccosukee Root Cellar, gets its folksy name from Lawson’s mother-in-law, Rebecca Johnson, of Memphis, affectionately known as Mimi. The restaurant’s logo of a small bird comes from Johnson’s childhood nickname, Baby Bird.
“She’s a great Southern lady who always opened up her house to family and friends,” said Lawson. “And she’s a really good cook.”
His wife, Holly, noted her mom, 86, of Memphis, is “truly an inspiration” for their desire to make customers feel welcome
That inspiration is realized in the hospitality and warmth at Mimi’s Table.
Mimi’s is cheerful and contemporary, melding some bistro touches like hip lighting and retro posters with class accents like white tablecloths and fresh flowers. A friend called it “understated elegance.”
Lawson did much of the renovations himself, but he worked with Tallahassee designer Ellen Sprowls on the design. There’s room for 45 by reservation and another 12 for walk-ins, seated at the counter and outside tables. If you prefer a quiet dining experience, come early because it can get a bit noisy when it’s packed. Overall, the ambience is fun and relaxing.
Mimi’s cuisine is vibrant and fresh, elemental but exciting, with a menu that changes frequently, utilizing seasonal and regional ingredients. If the chefs get a good batch of locally grown oyster mushrooms or eggplant, for instance, you’ll see them on the menu.
Meals at Mimi’s start with an amuse bouche, French for “mouth amuser.” It’s a small bite, a way for the chef to say welcome. On one recent visit, the amuse bouche was a flavorful arancini, a ball of risotto and basil rolled in breadcrumbs and fried to a light, crisp shell. On another visit, an amuse bouche of a single grilled Gulf shrimp was even more impressive, cooked not a nanosecond too long, plated with a red pepper-based romesco sauce and pesto.
Moules and frites (mussels and fries) are a quintessential dish at Belgium and French bistros. Live vicariously at Mimi’s and dive into a bowl of the ebony shells bathed in a broth spiked with sherry, and brightened by a splash of lemon, retaining a faint taste of the sea. The flavor is elevated by calabrian chilis, caper berries and roasted garlic. Fries dusted with Parmesan cheese sit atop the mussels. The sauce was perfect for dunking Mimi’s house-made focaccia. If not in polite company, we might have licked the bowl.
We haven’t eaten frog legs in years, so we were intrigued by Mimi’s rendition of the French classic, grenouilles à la Provençale. The dish is superb, six legs fried in a light batter, served atop polenta with olives and roasted garlic in an aromatic Provençale-style tomato sauce. There’s not a lot of meat on a frog’s gams, but what’s there is succulent, and the whole preparation makes it delectable. Do frog legs taste like chicken? Not exactly, but the meat has a pleasant, mild taste that’s not fishy.
You could easily just graze on starters at Mimi’s. Fritto misto (mixed fry) is excellent, teaming calamari fried to just the right texture with sliced zucchini with a kicky fra diavolo dip.
The comforting Tuscan soup is brimming with white beans and Italian sausage. The beet salad is a colorful, refreshing medley of cooked red and yellow beets, arugula and ribbons of carrots, garnished with goat cheese and pistachios dressed in a honey vinaigrette.
Mimi’s entrees are also a diverse bunch, generous plates with well-paired accompaniments.
My husband and I often are reluctant to order pork chops because they’re usually overcooked. But Mimi’s version, smoked and cured with apple cider vinegar, was outstanding, tender as an Elvis love song.
“It was the stuff pork chop dreams are made of,” said our dining companion, chef Jessica Bright McMullen.
“Pork chops can be really boring, but this chop was anything but,” said Jessica, the owner of the KitchenAble cooking school at Lake Ella. “To take a humble pork chop and elevate it to that level was amazing. It was so perfectly prepared.”
Jessica’s enthusiasm was spot-on. The chop, a hefty hunk of meat at about 14 ounces, was a winner, especially with sides of a rich pimento cheese potato mash and Southern-style collards with a hint of potent pot liquor, topped with crisp, battered onion rings.
The grilled N.Y. steak was perfectly cooked and well-seasoned, served with a braised cipollini — a flat disc-shaped flat onion — and a drizzle of chimichurri sauce. The punched potatoes were a surprise highlight. These boiled fingerling potatoes are flattened or “punched” so the skin breaks and then they’re fried, resulting in a treat that’s crunchy outside, soft inside.
My husband raved about his rack of lamb, the juicy slabs of meat plated with potatoes au gratin, grilled asparagus and a mushroom demi-glace.
The chefs made house-made pasta for the duck confit rigatoni, enhanced with truffle cream, arugula and oyster mushrooms. It’s a delicious dish but somehow didn’t wow us quite as much as the others.
But there’s more: splendid desserts from Abby Henderson. We loved the panna cotta so much we’ve ordered it twice. The creamy Italian dessert is silky smooth, served with cherry sauce.
We also liked the strawberry shortcake but the other must-have is the house-made sorbet (flavors vary). Our watermelon-berry sorbet was like a taste of summer, sweet and sassy.
These dishes don’t just taste great — they’re also more than pretty enough for your foodie photos.
Mimi’s offers a good choice of beer and wine. Our bottle of AIX, a delicate Provence rosé, was terrific, included on a long list of selections from France, Italy and Spain as well as Napa, Sonoma and Oregon, with bottles priced from about $28 to $135. About two dozen choices are available by the glass, for $8 to $12. Can’t decide? You can request a taste of any vino available by the glass, said Lawson. The beer list includes choices of Eightfive-O and Mango Wit from Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Company and 30A Rosé Gose from the Grayton Beer Company in Santa Rosa Beach.
Mimi’s staff exudes authentic hospitality. Servers may be college-age, but Lawson has trained them well. Our most recent server, Thaddeus, was professional and on target with suggestions. He kept the meal well-paced without making us feel rushed. Lawson and Teuton are also personable and available, stopping by tables to make sure you’re happy. We were.
“To share” dishes range from $4 to $14, first course from $8 to $13, entrees from $13 to $35, desserts from $5 to $9.
“They knocked it out of the park,” chef Jessica said after dinner. I agree. Mimi’s is the total package.
One of the Best
Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at [email protected]
When you go …
1311 Miccosukee Rd., Tallahassee
Bar opens at 4 p.m.
Dinner served starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.