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In my home, real chefs don't scare me -- much

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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001

By Dade City standards it was the Mount Everest of entertainment ambition, and frankly, I thought my beloved and her daughter were insane to think about it, but we all survived and had a good time.

After having cleaned up four year's worth of widowerhood detritus, it was time to entertain, and there were several circles that could be closed by having Skip Mize and Phil Williams over for dinner.

Mize and Williams are the owners of Lunch on Limoges restaurant in Dade City, and I can forego my usual reticence to hype individual businesses because theirs is unique. Nobody else in this area is about doing exactly what they do, combining superb food, shopping, a slightly quirky ambience and style into what has become a centerpiece of Dade City's downtown renewal.

So I'm not writing about them to the detriment of their competitors, because they really have none.

And Mize and Williams are wonderful hosts. They live in a scaled-down version of a Mediterranean mansion on beautiful grounds on a hillside south of town and it is foolish to ever turn down an invitation to even the most casual of events there.

But reciprocating is scary.

What do you do for guests who live in a showplace home and know food and wine better than anyone in town?

I took the coward's way out about 10 years ago when my late wife and I took them out to Ile De France, now one of my favorite West Pasco restaurants but then known to me only by reputation.

"How is the food there," she asked as we were en route.

"I don't know, I've never eaten there," I answered, feeling fingernails digging into my biceps as she whisper-shrieked at me.

"You're taking Skip and Phil to a restaurant where you've never eaten?," she gasped.

It didn't get any better when, looking for the place, I remarked that it was in a building that had once been (but is no longer recognizeable as) a convenience store. I knew hiding the cutlery at her place setting would be a good idea.

But the meal and evening were delightful and I was allowed to live.

When Betty, my fiancee, and her daughter, Kathleen, who at 19 is an accomplished artist and chef, wanted to invite the guys over for dinner, I immediately divorced myself from the proceedings -- and hid during the subsequent house-cleaning tornado.

But then I got involved with wines and wine glasses and after-dinner liqueurs and became semi-frantic myself.

After all, I had only heard about the kid's cooking, for all I knew she might not be able to boil eggs.

And, for us, having Williams and Mize over as our first guests (not counting a family Christmas dinner) was an important symbol.

Friends and I facing life-threatening illnesses over the past 12 years have made "last meals" at Lunch on Limoges a tradition.

That's not as grim as it sounds. Sometimes it was just because one of us was going in the hospital and knew we wouldn't be seeing solid food for a while, and wanted good memories to carry us through. Deanna Lawrence of WTVT Ch. 13 interviewed me there before I entered the hospital for cancer surgery in 1992 and my late wife had her last Dade City meal there in 1997. The last time I saw my good friend Bryanna Latoof before she died, also in 1997, and the last time I saw my friends Greta Adams and Suzie Hayes was during one of those lunches where good food and Skip Mize's irresistible sense of humor created good memories for all of us who survive.

So from last meal in a restaurant to first meal in a revivified home was a natural progression, the way Betty saw it, and I'm glad she did.

The kid really can cook, and whipped up a six-course gourmet meal complete with printed menu in Italian (which only Williams could decipher) and which was flawless except for a tiny error I made in picking the Gouda cheese for one course.

Mize and Williams proved to be as gracious as guests as they are hosts and we had fun eating courses of the meal in three different locations in a house where I spent four years eating on the living room floor in front of the television set.

And, I was gratified to learn, I actually own a tablecloth.

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