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Restaurant charms way into regional spotlight

Antique blue and white plates rest on shelves high above the tables at Mallie Kyla's Cafe in Brooksville.

Freesias stand in vases that once were sparkling-water bottles. A side door is made of cut-and-beveled glass. The walls are crowded with old-fashioned lithographs and wreaths of bound twigs.

Along with fresh sandwiches and salads, homemade soups and irresistible desserts, this atmosphere has brought in a bustling lunchtime business from the day Mallie Kyla's opened in August 1996 at 510 E Liberty St.

Now it has brought the restaurant regional recognition.

In the November issue of Southern Living magazine, Mallie Kyla's was one of five winners of the Reader's Choice Award in the small-town restaurant category.

The award is an indication that the restaurant has unusually loyal customers, its owner said. The recognition also came partly because the atmosphere of the restaurant matches the style of the magazine _ pictures of ornate interiors that all but give off the scent of potpourri.

"Customers call it adorable," said Larie Hensley, who owns Mallie Kyla's with her husband, Brooksville chiropractor Don Hensley.

"They do use the A-word," said her sister, Kim Paff, the restaurant's manager.

The award is compiled from ballots mailed or faxed to the magazine, the largest regional magazine in the country. It is circulated in every state in the Southeast and in Missouri, Texas and West Virginia. Its circulation is 2.4-million, said Valerie Fraser, corporate communications manager for Southern Progress Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., the magazine's parent company.

The year-old restaurant finds itself in venerable company among reader's choice winners. Colonial Williamsburg, Va., is one of the favorite historic sites. Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa was one of five city restaurant winners.

The restaurant did not stuff the ballot box, Paff said, but encouraged its customers by providing them with copies of the ballots. The people who take the time to send in these ballots, Paff said, tend to be loyal customers, of which Mallie Kyla's has many, she said.

They are attracted, Larie Hensley said, by the theory of the restaurant, which is to concentrate on a few simple items.

"It's fresh food with high-quality ingredients," Hensley said. "It's not rocket science here.

"We have lots of regulars who come in two to three times a week," she added.

One of these is Vikki Farrow, who works at SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast in Brooksville and eats at Mallie Kyla's "several times a week."

She likes the quiche, which Hensley and Paff make from scratch, including the pastry. She likes the bowls of fresh fruit and the soups. On Monday these were black bean and Swiss potato, a creamy potato soup with a generous grating of Swiss cheese.

But for Farrow, as with many customers, the meal sometimes serves mostly as an appetizer for the dessert, the pumpkin pie, oatmeal cake and coconut silk pie.

"The homemade soups are very good, but their desserts are the best," Farrow said.

Besides, she said, Mallie Kyla's "is just a nice place to go and have lunch. Especially when you work all day, it's just nice to go there and be in a pretty atmosphere like that."