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Weekend Escape: Fallbrook

Antiques & Avocados : A bed and breakfast, small-town shops and eateries deliver a slice of Americana

July 14, 1996|KITTY MORSE | Morse is the author of several cookbooks, including "The Vegetarian Table: North Africa" (Chronicle Books, 1996)

FALLBROOK, Calif. — The air was still fresh from a rainstorm and we could see for miles as we drove past hundreds of acres of citrus and avocados that blanket Morro Hill, an exclusive, rural community near Fallbrook, where my husband and I had made reservations at a bed and breakfast.

We reached our destination near dusk: The aptly named Chateau des Avocatiers (Manor of the Avocado Trees, $75 a night plus tax) sat on a hillside in the middle of a two-acre avocado grove. (With 6,000 planted acres, Fallbrook is known as the avocado capital of the world.) The gurgle of a fountain filled the still evening air as Sarah Bates, our host, guided us up the crushed rock path to her home. The guest quarters--a bedroom, bath and small sitting room--are in a secluded area of the multilevel house.

Mouth-watering aromas emanated from Sarah's open kitchen, where she had been preparing a tray of Mexican hors d'oeuvres--complimentary appetizers are a Friday evening tradition at the Chateau. Our room was furnished with a Provencal-style double bed and other antiques, including a porcelain wash basin and large pitcher that held a bouquet of garden flowers. In a small sitting room adjoining ours, bottles of wine and mineral water were cooling in a bucket of ice. Grace the cat, another member of the welcoming committee, soon appeared, purring.

On the advice of friends, we had made dinner reservations at the Garden Center Cafe in Fallbrook, 10 minutes away. A remodeled nursery, the restaurant is open daily for breakfast and lunch; dinner is served on Fridays only. Chef Julie Jones and her partner, Nancy Schillig, specialize in flavorful Mediterranean-inspired fare. My husband's shrimp and scallop scampi with garlic and fresh herbs were plump and perfectly cooked on their bed of fresh fettuccine ($14.95). A bowl of thick, creamy clam chowder had been well-prepared, as had the fork-tender roast pork loin in a hot pepper, honey and cilantro glaze ($12.95). My husband had a generous helping of bread pudding in whiskey sauce, and I, a parfait glass brimming with whipped cream and fresh strawberry trifle.

The next morning we woke to brilliant sunshine. A cascade of nasturtiums and rosemary covered the bank just outside our bedroom window. Promptly at 7:30 a.m., as she had promised, Sarah left a beautifully set tray with pots of freshly brewed coffee and tea at our door. Had the weather been a few degrees warmer, we might have considered an early morning swim in the chateau's swimming pool. Instead, we decided to stroll the peaceful grounds.

Over breakfast--baked eggs sprinkled with fresh herbs, a platter of fresh fruit, homemade muffins, freshly squeezed orange juice--we solicited suggestions from our hosts as we planned the day's activities. Fallbrook offered more attractions than we had expected, from antique stores to art galleries to a gem and mineral museum.

A few miles south of town, along busy Mission Road, we found a small complex of stores called the Stage Stop Antique Shops. At the Tin Barn, a decades-old Fallbrook landmark, we admired owner Robert Homer's large collection of wood-burning stoves, early American furniture, and turn-of-the-century antiques. Next door, Country Elegance Antiques housed an exquisite collection of multicolored glassware.

We decided to stop at the Last Straw, just up the road. This feed store-cum-petting zoo is a popular destination for busloads of schoolchildren. We drove past towering bales of hay toward large enclosures that held llamas, peacocks, goats, swans and Fatima the camel (actually a one-humped dromedary), who chewed contentedly and cast a patronizing eye on us.

*

Back in Fallbrook, we veered right onto Main Street, which is anchored by the avocado-green 1930s-style warehouse that houses the Del Rey Avocado Co. Nearby, Rocky Peak Farms, Fallbrook's only health food store, occupies the site of the town's first grocery, according to Rocky Peak owner Jerry Weiss.

The more we explored Main Street, the more we felt as though we had stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. This feeling grew stronger as we entered Juanita Walden's Westerner Department Store, which has specialized in western wear for more than 30 years. An old-fashioned cashier's cage stands at the entrance. Most importantly for the dozens of schoolchildren, however, the Westerner is the only place in town that still sells penny candy.

Some of the old buildings along Main Street are getting a face-lift. The newly restored Mission Playhouse regularly features live theater; and Harrison Drugs, a longtime fixture on the corner of Main and Alvarado streets, is now the Fallbrook Art and Cultural Center, befitting a town where scores of artists have settled. In early September, the former Wespak Packing House on Alvarado Street will reopen as the Fallbrook Art Works, a space combining a bronze foundry and glass-blowing, ceramics and stone-carving facilities, among others.

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