Mallie Kylas Cafe
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From Lake Sumter Life Magazine - Published Jun. 1, 2005


Story by Harriet Daniels, Photography by Doug Engle

Quiet streets canopied by giant Oak trees, draped with Spanish moss gives way to the quaint town of Brooksville in Hernando County. Traffic moves along a couple of main thoroughfares and if you aren't looking you will miss a few notable spots.

Just shy of 50 miles south of Ocala off Interstate 75, a day trip to the area holds a lot in store for those seeking to do a little shopping at area boutiques, discover Florida history, play golf or just stop in for lunch.

Tourists traveling from the interstate typically drive through Brooksville on Hwy 50 heading to nearby attractions like Weeki Wachee about 13 miles away to see the costumed mermaids. Roger's Christmas House is also a Brooksville landmark, attracting shoppers to buy ornaments and gifts year round.

Just across the parking lot from Roger's is Mallie Kyla's Cafe in the Historic Hawkins House. If plans for the day include lunch at the cafe, get there early because it's no secret the food is good and you'll likely be met by a line at the door.

Lucky enough to get there right at opening, chef and proprietor Larie Hensley will rattle off the day's specials as she readies several chalk boards with the menu. She may still be a flutter of activity putting the finishing touches on several featured desserts.

Hensley opened the restaurant in 1996, naming it honor of her ex-husband's grandmother Mallie Kyla Howard. Diners are able to read the tribute Henley pays to the cafe's name sake,

"Mallie Kyla Howard was a wonderful and kind woman who was an exceptional cook. We like to think her spirit is among us as we celebrate life and enjoy a good home cooked meal."

Two dining rooms, with combined seating for 50, are the hub of constant activity as customers rotate through the cafe. Reservations are encouraged, illustrated by a full lunch crowd 30 minutes after the doors opened at 11 a.m. on a Friday. Popular menu items include one of several entrees like broccoli cheddar quiche or Gulf Coast seafood bake and an assortment of salads. The meal is usually topped off with one of Henley's legendary desserts, on this day it was butter pecan cake or banana cream pie.

Mallie Kyla's Exterior
A patron leaves Mallie Kyla's Cafe after lunch..
The cafe is only open for lunch Monday through Saturday and features home-style dishes to sandwinches and fresh baked desserts daily.

Regular customer Chris Abrash, 80, stops by on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week to see the staff and enjoy the food.

"If I'm not here, they call me to check and make sure I'm okay," Abrash said.

She has her favorite table and likes just about everything on the menu, although she admits the calories are not always kind to her.

A transplant to the area from Miami 20 years ago, Abrash was introduced to the cafe by friends. They made it a habit to stop in whenever shopping at Roger's Christmas House. She said the cafe is one of her favorite places.

Mallie Kyla's Exterior
Larie Hensley, owner of Mallie Kylas Cafe, serves lunch to a group of school teachers. The cafe offers up home cooking and baked goods at its best.

Mallie Kyla's Cafe has gained small acclaim, earning the Southern Living Readers Choice Award for Best Small Town Restaurants in 1997 and 1998. The cafe was also featured in Backyard Buffets and Country Cafes, complied by Don O'Briant.

Hensley has bottled her vinaigrette and citrus salad dressings under the Mallie Kyla's Cafe name for customers to purchase. The cafe moniker is also embossed on souvenir t-shirts and Mallie Kyla's Cafe also has a presence in cyberspace at

Once the bill for the meal is paid at the cafe, many linger to browse through several other shops in the Historic Hawkins House like the flower shop and the gift shop.

Several other Florida historic places are handy to visit on a drive to Brooksville. Visits may include a stop at Chinsegut Hill, a former plantation about four miles north of Brooksville off SR 50. The manor house - used today as a conference center and retreat by the University of South Florida - was built in 1849. The property's third owner Col. Raymond Robins named the area Chinsegut after the Innuit Indian tribe of Alaska. The Florida property was his winter residence.

In 1932 Chinsegut Hill was given to the federal government as a wildlife refuge, forest and agricultural experiment station. Today it's operated by USF. Rolling hills for several miles paint a picturesque setting in this virtually untouched setting complimented by a maze of nature trails.

While you might find other avenues to explore, a day in Brooksville is likely to uncover a little known fact or just offer a surprise or two while relaxing in this laid back atmosphere.

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