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Shoppe Talk : LOS RIOS, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

November 26, 1998|DAVID REYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Step inside Moonrose gift shop in San Juan Capistrano and get ready to be whisked back in time. From the creaky floorboards to do-it-yourself homemade candles, even Spanky, the owner's big cat that greets customers, triggers a fond nostalgia.

Phyllis Crow, a licensed marriage and family counselor, has owned the store for more than two decades. Behind her shop, Crow has her practice, where she uses soothing aromas and scents as part of her therapies.

"I bought these things to create a healthy environment," Crow said. "It helps awaken all the five senses. Now I sell them at the store."

Welcome to Los Rios Street. Far from the madding rush of department stores and shopping malls, sits the Los Rios Historic District, a small stretch of road near the city's train depot and a skip and a hop from Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Regarded as California's oldest neighborhood, Los Rios Street is a special combination of Victorian, Western, adobe and board-and-batten homes (such as the Rios House), gift shops, restaurants and a petting zoo, all situated along a comfortable, tree-lined road.

For example, Moonrose is in the Lupe Combs House of 1878, which in its many past lives was a store, a post office, a residence and now Crow's gift shop and workplace.

Across from Moonrose is the Rios Adobe, listed in history books as the oldest continuously inhabited house of its kind in California. Today, it's also a law office for Stephen M. Rios, current patriarch for the surviving Rios clan.

Stroll down the way for brunch at the Ramos House Cafe. Owner and chef John Humphreys, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, in New York, moved into the house four years ago. The cafe has been open for the last three.

For starters, try the French toast (strawberry basil pain perdu, $8.50) or the spinach, bacon and caramelized onion scramble ($8.50). They serve beer and wine, breakfast and lunch.

Two new additions to Humphreys' menu are soup with chestnut Oregon chantrelle mushrooms and duck crackers ($9) and a dessert of green apples and dried cherry tart with hand-turned toasted almond ice cream ($5).

Beyond the cafe is the Lemon Drop Grove, which owner Sherri Wright has had open six months. She carries fun stuff such as children's clothing, homemade soaps, and home-decor items in the old Americana tradition. She has also created some unique dolls with the help of seamstress Karen Sahagian.

If you happen to have children along, hers is a must visit to pet the family's three rabbits.

"Our biggest sellers are our pickles, old-fashioned dill pickles," Wright said, adding that her daughter Brittany, 10, handles that end of the business. "She makes more money than all of us."

Got a yen to see more critters? Go back up the street to Gil Jones' mini-farm. They have all sorts of barnyard animals that kids love.

On most Sundays, members of the city's historical society dress in period attire and greet visitors along Los Rios and Verdugo streets.

"We say hello and give visitors a little of the history of the mission and the area," said Monique Rea, who stopped in at Moonrose to buy some handmade jewelry by Christina Lovejoy.

* The Ramos House Cafe, 31752 Los Rios St. (949) 443-1342. Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Moonrose, 26711 Verdugo St. (949) 493-8905. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The Jones' mini-farm, 31791 Los Rios St. (949) 831-6550. Hours: Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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