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Mount Dora

Antique Paradise & Quiet Getaway
by Anna Collins
photos by Anna Collins
unless specified

If you're looking for swinging nightlife, jetsetters and the excitement of city living, don't visit this tiny Central Florida town. Mount Dora is the place to chill. This is the where you come to slow the speed, kick back and relax with a cold drink and a good book, or.... to find that Queen Anne chair you've been searching for since last summer.

Known as the antique center of Florida, just 25 minutes from Orlando, Mount Dora is a cozy little town that is perfect for that much deserved weekend getaway or that trip you've been promising yourself to do nothing but "antiquing".

Loaded with antique and crafts shops, Mount Dora is a treasure chest of collectibles and hand made items all nestled within its 12 block downtown area. Being here is like stepping back into time; when people in a town knew each other by name and there was no K-Mart or 7-11 in sight. (Yes, there was such an era.)

My traveling companion, who happened to be my mom for this trip (it was Mother's Day weekend) is an antique and collectibles buff like moi. The very first thing we both spotted as we headed into Mount Dora on Donnelly Ave., was a house with a big sign in front that read Joan Henns Estate Sale. Our car, like it had a mind of its own, pulled into the driveway.

Joan Henns, it turned out, was a real person and was actually inside at the sale. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with estate sales it works like this: typically the person conducting the sale will sell the entire contents of a home to the general public. It's as if you are walking into someone's house, just like they still lived there, only all the stuff has price tags on it. It's sort of a strange feeling at first, you half expect the occupant to show up and go: "Hey, get your hands off my stuff!" But of course, they don't, and after you see what great deals you can get, you settle right in.)

Joan Henns is an upbeat, friendly woman who immediately makes you feel comfortable. She told me she's been in business since 1975, running estate sales and helping people who are moving to the area.

"I help people who are moving here and looking for furniture," Joan explained. "People coming from out of town who need things for their new home. I work with a lot of realtors."

"She's got the best reputation of anybody around," quipped an eavesdropping woman named Shirley.

Just then, a young mother and her two children came in to look around.

"I saw you trying to get into your car this morning with a locksmith," said Joan to the young woman.

(How's that for noticing your neighbors? Imagine saying that in New York City? Somebody would probably think you were stalking them.)

"I finally got in," said the woman, "I didn't want to miss this sale!"

My Mom picked up some great old records and some ivory and rhinestone vintage jewelry. (All for under $50). I got an anodized aluminum cookie canister from the 1960's and some 1950's ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles along with some hand carved figurines. (All for under $10.) That cookie cannister made my day; I saw the same thing on eBay for literally ten times as much! And Joan didn't make me pay shipping charges! Joan Henns Antique & Estate Sales, 6878 S. Round Lake Rd., Mount Dora, Fl. Tel: 352.383.7373 or Website: www.estateappraisalandsale.com.

After gathering up our goodies, we said good-bye to Joan headed towards our lodgings. We were staying at the Mount Dora Historic Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast wonderfully located just a few blocks from downtown.

The Inn was originally built in the 1880's and has been immaculately restored by its new owners, Nancy and Lindsay Richards,a husband and wife team, that do it all! Nancy cooks, decorates the place, and is a charming hostess. Lindsay, a great cook himself, also whips up delicious breakfasts and is always on hand to fix anything and keep the place looking ship shape. In addition, he's quite the raconteur and keeps his guests entertained with amusing stories about his life and the Inn. Before being an innkeeper, Lindsay managed an orange juice plant and had 230 employees working under him.

"Now I only have one employee--and she doesn't do what I say!" he jokes.

The Richards admit the Inn is a lot of work, but they love it.

"It's friendly here," says Lindsay, "There's people I've talked to 100 times and I don't even know their names!"

Nancy and Lindsay make you feel like you're part of their extended family--they're very accommodating and genuinely nice people. I would highly recommend this place to anybody seeking some good old fashioned R&R and the serene surroundings of days gone by.

The Mount Dora Historic Inn has four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. One of the rooms downstairs boasts a real ball and claw bathtub so make sure you reserve early if that's the room you want--it goes fast! My mom and I stayed in the Honeymoon Suite (next time I stay in a honeymoon suite I'll try and bring a groom!) The bed was big and comfortable and Nancy has the rooms decorated in restored antiques collectibles and old family portraits.

"I pick up stuff at thrift shops and antique stores--wherever I can," says Nancy about her decorating flair.

Whatever her M.O., it works. You feel more like you're staying at a favorite aunt's house or your grandmother's, rather than a bed and breakfast. But television addicts beware! There's no TV or telephone, so plan to really get away from it all!

One memorable unique touch; each room has journals that contain comments written by previous guests. It makes for fascinating reading; like browsing through a hundred people's diaries all rolled into one. Make sure you leave your mark when you visit!

After our quiet night's sleep, my mom and I awoke to a bright, sunny morning and the delicious smells of home-cooked breakfast foods wafting into our room.

Breakfast is served promptly at 8:30 and this is when you'll meet the other guests. We were eight that morning. My mom and I, another mother daughter and two married couples. Everyone takes their place at table and Nancy brings on the food, served family style. We started with strawberries and cream, followed by Apple Clafouti (a sort of apple pancake/bread concoction), Blueberry Bread and "Mystery Casserole" (turned out it a was a grits and cheese casserole). Coffee, tea and juice flow freely. All the food made your tastebuds stand up and sing. And if you want any of the recipes--you're in luck! For $9.99 you can purchase a cookbook that contains all the Inn's delectable dishes.

Rate structure for rooms is normally between $110 and $125 on weekends and between $85 and $95 during the week. Amenities are always the same and a full gourmet breakfast is always included. Call the toll free number at 1.800.927.6344 for the best rates for the time period you desire. Or email the innkeeper at innkeeper@mountdorahistoricinn.com. (exterior photo of Mount Dora Historic Inn, courtesy of MDHI.)

After our delicious breakfast we said good-bye to our dining companions and went off to explore the town.

Truth be told, I'm not a big crafts person. I personally don't find those "toddler sculptures facing the wall in time out neither likable nor artistic. Likewise, how many pastel colors can you paint that "welcome" plaque? Buuuut....some people like that sort of thing and like Heinz said, it takes all varieties. So to give a perfectly fair account of Mount Dora shops, lots of them have "crafts" not antiques. So if that's not your cup of tea on a gingham place mat with ruffles, don't despair. There's a great antique mall called Renninger's just a few minutes out of downtown, which we'll get to in a minute.

Along with the shops, Mount Dora offers some great places to eat. We particularly liked La Cremerie and Cecile's French Corner. One place we tried and would not recommend was The Goblin Market Restaurant, 331-B Donnelly St., (rear alley) Mount, Dora. Everybody raved about it, but we couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about.

We were told we'd never get in without reservations. It's too popular! We decided to try our luck for dinner (on Friday night.) It was around 7:30 and the place was half full. The hostess didn't want to seat us at first (no reservations) but then told us to come back in 15 minutes after a waiter said he could take us (?). We asked where we could wait and were told to wait outdoors. It was hot out and not comfortable. We sat in the car and came back in 15 minutes. We were seated and given menus. The lighting was so bad we could hardly read our menus. We ordered the Escargot en Croute and Crabcakes appetizers and shared the special, a tuna filet. Our waiter never informed us of the price of the special ($27) or that there was a $7.50 sharing fee! We felt it an outrage to be charged $7.50 to share a $27 meal and not be told so in advance!

The appetizers did not impress us. The escargot was in a cream sauce, in a flakey pastry with pearl onions. Yuck! And the crabcakes were so overseasoned all we could taste was Old Bay Seasoning. But we were starving, so we ate the minimal portions, hoping the entree would be better.

When the main course came, it too was so over-seasoned we could barely eat it. We left most of it on our plate. The Caesar salads that accompanied our meal, were drenched in dressing and topped with too much grated cheese. We were given three or four small pieces of bread in the bread basket which we gladly ate to kill the taste of the food. We found this restaurant to be pretentious and a rip-off.

So let's eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive and concentrate on some of our favorite shops and eateries in the Mount called Dora. >>more

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