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  1. Business

News flash: There's stuff to do in Brooksville

I have news that might change your whole perspective on living in Brooksville:

Now there's stuff to do here.

Specifically, you can go out at night on the weekends, choose a glass of wine or beer from a thoughtfully put together list and eat the sort of meal that used to require an hourlong commute to Tampa. On some evenings, you can find live music or a wine tasting.

The advantages include avoiding that commute or another option that is almost as much of a drag — getting a decent-but-predictable meal at a faceless chain restaurant in Spring Hill.

Also, you'll probably run into people you know, some of whom you haven't seen in a while, meaning that what starts out as a date can end up feeling like a block party or even a reunion.

You'll feel even more connected to your hometown because both of the restaurants that recently have started opening some evenings — Rising Sun Bistro & Market and Florida Cracker Kitchen — play up the Brooksville theme.

Rising Sun, on Main Street, displays several poster-size photos of downtown streets from decades ago, as well as a black-and-white image of the Chinsegut manor house from its glory days (which, by the way, may be returning; the $1.5 million renovation of the historic home is nearly complete).

At Florida Cracker, on Jefferson Street just east of downtown, I could look up at framed labels for old local brands of citrus — Blue Heron and Zeneda — as lushly illustrated as Highwaymen paintings.

On one wall there's a large steel sign from a signature business in downtown Brooksville, Weeks Hardware; another sign is from an old landmark south of town — the Lykes Brothers feed lot at the current site of the Southwest Florida Water Management District headquarters.

Florida Cracker, which did a dry run for guests Saturday night, will be open on Friday and Saturday evenings starting this week, said Blair Hensley who owns the restaurant with his brother, Ethan.

It won't offer as many selections for dinner as it does on its vast breakfast and lunch menu. But my entree — a chicken breast stuffed with artichoke hearts, cheese and country ham — was as tasty as any of its famous omelets.

Rising Sun, which has been open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, offers a different menu every week.

And the food isn't the only attraction.

It looks like a community meeting hall — big and open, with brick walls and a pressed-tin ceiling — and new owners Criss Holzaepfel and Catherine Reeves are determined to make it one. "I'd really love to bring a sense of community back to Brooksville," Holzaepfel said. "I'd really love for it to be a gathering place."

So they don't mind if people come in just for a glass of wine or beer. In fact they encourage it by regularly hosting trivia challenges, wine tastings and live music.

On a recent Friday night that featured a Hernando County duo named, appropriately, Local Harmony, the place was packed.

My wife and I ate a good meal, listened to Neil Young songs and stopped to talk to one of my son's old soccer coaches and neighbors of our old house on S Brooksville Avenue.

We left with a lot of good will toward our hometown and a feeling that, with the fresh look at these restaurants and a few other recent downtown restorations, that the place is just too pretty, too full of history, not come around.

Plus, our drive home only took five minutes.

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