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Benson's mixes food, collectibles

Antique coffee grinders, plates and vases displayed alongside modern espresso machines and coffee cups are a feast for the eye at Benson's Antiques and Coffee Emporium, a cozy restaurant in the city's downtown.

Treasured collectibles, price tags dangling from each, are everywhere, even in the bathrooms. This artistic display partially accounts for Jan Taylor's fondness for the restaurant.

"I love antiques and to have my two favorite hobbies put together _ antiques and food _ is just too much," said Taylor, who had invited close friend Allen Sledge to have lunch with her.

Last Monday, over a seafood quiche platter, she talked about her life since retiring as an information specialist for a company under contract with the U.S. Air Force. Painting, sewing, garage sales, reading, theater and wrestling with a stubborn garden occupy much of her time, Taylor said.

Her lunch companion, a retired purchasing manager from New Jersey, is an avid gardener. He teased Taylor about her lack of gardening acumen, conceding, however, that it is difficult to coax anything to grow in the mound of shells on which her home is built. He, on the other hand, produces hibiscus, azaleas, amaryllis and camelias in his Old Southeast neighborhood.

vSledge and Taylor ate among the antiques that lined the walls at Benson's, which is at 244 First Ave. N. The collectibles are the hobby of restaurant owners Richard and Catherine Benson.

"My wife and I have been collecting since 1971," said Richard Benson. "We are just obsessive collectors. You can't imagine what we've got in storage."

Though displayed for sale, the Bensons are loathe to part with their collection. They would much rather sell the range of salads, sandwiches and quiches they have for lunch and dinner, said Richard Benson, who describes the restaurant as "a real, live New York deli."

Tamiami, a nightclub, opened next door last New Year's Eve. Through a business agreement, Tamiami sells liquor and Benson's caters the food in the newly expanded space that allows the restaurant to serve 118 customers at a time rather than just 28.

Benson's serves a special entree on Friday and Saturday nights, when there is live classical and folk music.

It has become a place to sight visiting celebrities. Both Elliott Gould and Peter Frampton have made the deli a regular stop while in town, reported Richard Benson.