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Column: Classy bistro is just what Brooksville needs

Mike McMahon, 53, of Riverview installs trim on one of the booth tables at G.M.’s Bistro in downtown Brooksville. The restaurant is going in the 93-year-old Jennings Building.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Mike McMahon, 53, of Riverview installs trim on one of the booth tables at G.M.’s Bistro in downtown Brooksville. The restaurant is going in the 93-year-old Jennings Building.

Walking under a banner advertising a new bistro in downtown Brooksville, I saw signs of a great old building's restoration:

Exposed brick walls, tin ceilings and a tile entrance from Chelf's drugstore, the first business to occupy this space on N Broad Street.

I saw ambitious plans coming to life:

The owners of the restaurant, G.M.'s Bistro, plan to open next month with a menu including crepes for breakfast, tapas during happy hour and dinners built around locally grown vegetables, fresh seafood and Black Angus beef.

Most of all, I saw hope.

I mean hope for advocates of downtown redevelopment who have long viewed a destination restaurant — especially one open in the evenings — as the Holy Grail.

It could show off the distinguished and long underused Jennings Building, a tall, 93-year-old brick structure across the street from the Hernando County Courthouse.

It could (and this, admittedly, is a big hope) do for Brooksville what Lunch on Limoges has done for Dade City: draw a stream of visitors who will disperse into nearby antique stores, boutiques and, eventually, other bars and restaurants that open to catch the spillover.

"It could be a destination location, where they come in and then go on to find other things to do downtown,'' said Brooksville community development director Bill Geiger.

"It's a great thing.''

More selfishly, I saw reason to hope that Brooksville might finally have a restaurant with food, atmosphere and a wine list good enough to build an evening around.

Though there is healthy competition for the following distinction, it's my opinion that the lack of such an establishment is the most gaping hole in the cultural life of Brooksville.

Please don't think I don't like or appreciate Brooksville. I just want a better option for a night out than Applebee's — a so-called Neighborhood Grill & Bar created in corporate headquarters in Overland Park, Kan.

G.M.'s Bistro executive chef and co-owner Udi Mekler, on the other hand, actually is a neighbor. A native of Israel and a longtime chef in Broward County, he moved into a house on Lemon Avenue eight months ago.

He was seeking a quieter life for his wife and 6-year-old daughter, and, to support this new lifestyle, a business opportunity — which is how he found James Tsacrios already hard at work on the bistro.

"G" and "M" are the initials of Tsacrios' grandfather, George Maillis, a Greek immigrant who parlayed a fruit stand on Main Street into ownership of both a grocery, which took over Chelf's space in the 1920s, and the Jennings Building itself.

The building is named after another local dynamo, J.A. Jennings, the first president of Hernando State Bank (now SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast), a three-term county commissioner and a former sheriff, said Bob Martinez, publisher of Old Brooksville in Photos and Stories.

Maillis passed the building on to his daughter, Katherine Tsacrios, who lives in Pinellas County, as does her son, James, 56, a contractor.

He built the bar out of cherrywood salvaged from a land-clearing operation. The tabletops are marble. The kitchen looks as clean and spacious as an operating theater, with high ceilings, tile walls and stainless steel fixtures.

In other words, Tsacrios has shown he has taste and resources, which is why I'm more optimistic about his project than some other restaurants that have promised great things for downtown.

I also like the way Mekler talks about the food he plans to serve: tapenade, a spread made from olives, parsley and roasted peppers; sandwiches with fresh mozzarella cheese; and potatoes cut and fried in the tradition of a French bistro.

"We're going to change the taste buds of Brooksville,'' Mekler said. "We're going to be a famous restaurant, known all over the region.''

Boy, I sure hope so.

Column: Classy bistro is just what Brooksville needs 03/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 10:46am]
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