Put the exceptional team at Hallowell’s Liberal Cup into an old Maine mill with beautiful huge spaces — and invite them to create fabulous brewed-on-the-premises beer and tasty food — and what do you get? The Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery in Saco.

Linda

Run of the Mill is anything but what its name suggests. Housed at Saco Island in one of the old mill buildings, I was not expecting the charming ambience of this sprawling restaurant. It is not big. It’s huge. The massive bar and multiple separate dining spaces were all full on the Friday night we visited in April. And though they were extremely busy, an efficient staff kept things running smoothly. In the summer they open a large outside deck, serviced by a separate kitchen and offering a completely different menu.

Run of the Mill feels cozy and welcoming despite its size. Extraordinary wooden beams, brick walls and thick, hand-hewn tables are part of the décor. It was well-designed with smaller eating spaces to make it a bit more intimate. The large “Mill” sign that was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of our room helped remind me that this building had a very different purpose for many years.

With it’s own brewery, the restaurant offers many beer choices. Their lightest beer, Bug Lager, is very smooth and one of the best I’ve tried. You will notice that they incorporate their beer into some of their menu items to create very tasty dishes.

Their Beer Cheese Soup varies each day with different cheeses and beers. The combination on the day we visited contained “I Do” ale plus asiago and sharp cheddar cheeses. It was just as great as it sounds. The creamy combination was so flavorful I started to think that perhaps I should have ordered a bowl instead of a cup. Served with pretzels on the side, this was an amazing starter.

The menu holds lots of options, and they offer many daily specials. All sounded intriguing, but lots of items on their menu are ones we’ve come to love at their sister restaurant, The Liberal Cup in Hallowell. Alas, despite all the creative options, I ordered an old Liberal Cup favorite, the Drunken Pot Roast entrée. The beef is slow-roasted in their brew and served with spectacular gravy (no doubt due to the beer). A large portion of beef comes with garlic mashed potatoes and a perfectly sautéed mix of crunchy vegetables. All of this is a bargain at $10.50. The prices here are very reasonable across the menu.

Their Mac & Beer Cheese, something George insisted on ordering, could make me into a mac and cheese fan. The topping of crackers and pretzels and the wheel of crispy baked cheese set this one apart from all others.

A table of 12 dined next to us while celebrating a birthday. Ten were young college students, I would guess. When they thought they were done, the older couple with them insisted that everyone order dessert, which is pretty impressive here. Our jaws dropped to see two trays loaded with dessert. From the “Mmmmm’s” and “Ohhhs” coming from the next table, I gather they were all a hit.

George said we had to have a photo of a dessert, even though we had no room to eat it. To his delight, after he took the photos, the restaurant’s dining room manager, Rebecca, suggested we take the dessert home. Of course, he agreed!

George

Imagine the Liberal Cup with 10 times more space, more beer and food choices in a wonderful old mill location, and you’ll understand why we were so delighted with our experience at Run of the Mill.

Although we were there before the deck was opened for the season, I’m hoping we can return for the opening-day pig roast, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 19. That is, if Linda will allow it. This is an all-you-can-eat feast for just $14 ($10 for kids under 12), and Lin doesn’t usually let me near a feeding opportunity like that! The deck will be open on weekends after the pig roast until June 14, when it opens full-time.

The pub’s beers, all brewed right there, offer wonderfully diverse choices. I was happy to see the “Mudflap Springbock” still available, and it was superb. Later, I chose owner Geoff Houghton’s creation, the “I Do” ale, created for his wedding. Nice! Generous 20-ounce “liberal cups” of brew are available for $3.75, or 16-ounce pints if the alcohol content is over 5 percent.

The menu that night included really interesting specials from pan-roasted duck breast with rhubarb jam over risotto, to grilled hanger steak with roasted banana puree and BBQ coffee crostini. But I opted for more traditional pub food, starting with Mussels Dijon, something many online reviewers raved about. And they got it right. Sautéed with garlic, onions, red peppers, white wine, butter and a touch of Dijon mustard, these mussels were superb. And I used all of the grilled baguettes that came with it, as the menu suggested that you “sop up every last bit of the delicious sauce.”

Next up was the Mac & Beer Cheese with a triple-cheese sauce, cooked in Bug Lager, topped with crunchy pretzel crackers and a Parmesan wheel and served in a piping hot skillet. No need to tell you how much I enjoyed this! Even the small portion was big enough for two of us to sample, and the leftovers reheated nicely the next day for lunch.

As I contemplated the creative specials for my next course, a plate of fish and chips passed by and I was hooked. The plate included a massive hunk of fish, so I asked for a half portion. The fish was fresh halibut (my favorite), and it was cooked perfectly, crunchy on the outside and soft and moist inside. And the homemade tartar sauce was delicious.

A local lady, Rachel Boylestad, whose business is called Snow Flour Baking Company, creates the pub’s desserts, and my mouth is watering right now as I sit here looking at the eight desserts featured in her brochure.

While the 9,000 people who once worked in these mills would never have imagined that all of those industries would someday be gone, they would have loved Run of the Mill and been happy to see their old workplace turned into such a wonderful thriving restaurant and brewery.

IF YOU GO

The Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery
100 Maine St., Saco
571-9648
therunofthemill.net
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Snow Flour Baking Company
snowflourbaking.com

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.