The Mount Dora LOOTH – An Occasional Column by Daemon Fields

Daemon Fields is back to share more of his Mount Dora LOOTH experience.  

What is LOOTH? It’s Life Outside of the House.  In Daemon’s own words, “It’s more of an idea…an inspiration to experience Life Out Of The House to see the amazing world around us.”

Hangin’ Out At the StrEAT Corner

Hello again, fellow Mount Dorians and welcome back!  It is time for the 2nd installment of the Mount Dora LOOTH and I am very excited about this one.  I have to be honest…the version you are reading is NOT the original article I wrote for this particular LOOTHing adventure.  Although the original article will never see the light of day, I was VERY proud of it.  Frankly, it was a great article if I do say so myself!  Thankfully, my lovely wife Heather is quick to keep me humble by reminding me about unwashed dishes or the repair project I keep putting off…but I digress!  The article had drama, history, excitement and lots of very long words put together in a very professional manner.  It was (is) a great article!

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However, those nice words, the compelling backstory and the thoughtful insight did nothing to capture the atmosphere I have come to love at the StrEAT Corner found on Fifth Street and Highland.  This unique place located on the edge of the Mount Dora historic district has a vibe…a friendliness which is a refreshing breath of fresh air to the hustle and bustle of typical Central Florida life.  The busy intersection where StrEAT Corner sits provides a tremendous contrast to the laid back experience of wood fire pizzas on a breezy Friday night under the lights with live music playing the soundtrack for your evening.

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I have met some amazing new friends as my wife and I continue our LOOTHing adventure.  I will frequently ask if they have tried the StrEAT Corner and get a response very similar to mine before I discovered this unique Mount Dora eatery.  “I’ve seen it, driven by it…but never stopped.”  Owner operator and head chef Ryan Donovan is quick to say, “but that’s ok!”  Ryan opened StrEAT Corner in December 2014 after coming home from a family reunion where he prepared an amazing spread for his family.  Many of his family members suggested Ryan open his own restaurant but, “No one ever gave me cash,” Ryan joked during our entertaining conversation.

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Ryan is a 17-year resident of Mount Dora and has seen the old gas station on the corner of Fifth Street and Highland change hands and change names numerous times.  What started as a gas station has had 6 different owners since 1985.  During this time, 846 East 5th Street has been various gas stations, seen extended vacancies, a farmers market, a taco joint called El Filling Station and most recently Chicago Hotdog.  While most of these businesses experienced some success, no one was able to establish a foothold for an extended period of time.  Ryan always coveted this location and believed it simply needed “the right people and the right product.”  In 2014, Ryan decided he was that guy when Chicago Hotdog decided to close their doors.

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Ryan Donovan is proof the American Dream is alive and well.  He worked hard spending 10 years working events for the Walt Disney Company, serving others as a Certified Nursing Assistant and has consistently been a strong influence to his 2 teenage children.  Ryan has always been passionate about food working as the first general manager of Pisces Rising (“when there were still dirt floors…”) and catering many of his large family functions.  Starting StrEAT Corner in December of 2014 allowed Ryan to combine his love for food with his passion for service.  During our conversation, Ryan sat back in his chair and reminisced about his time as a CNA “I could bring someone the best steak and the greatest bottle of wine and they still don’t care.  But you bring someone hurting a cup of water…” he smiled as his voice trailed off.

A few months after the December 2014 opening, Ryan felt it was time to change the bright yellow and red colors left by the previous business to give StrEAT Corner its own identity.  A muted grey color palate was applied to the building and awning which gives the location its signature simple and unique feel in contrast to the brightly colored businesses nearby.  The large racks of firewood on site provides passers-by an idea of what to expect from this successful 18 month old business.  The amazing smell of barbecue smoke from the backyard-style smokers teases the senses and draws people in.  People notice.  People come.  And what they find has them coming back again…and again.

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“So Ryan,” I asked.  “How did you choose your menu?”

“Things I like,” Ryan stated matter-of-factly with a smile.

“And how would you classify your style?” I followed up with.

“Simple.”

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Ryan believes simplicity, variety and quality is what people want.  He uses locally supplied ingredients when they are available and works closely with his commercial supplier to get quality Florida ingredients whenever possible.  He likes his food to be simple.  He jokingly said, “Maybe that’s a lack of talent or lack of knowledge, but for me it’s simple, quality products.”

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I gotta tell you…the food at Ryan’s StrEAT Corner is worth the trip!  The shrimp and fish tacos are clean, simple and tasty in a way that is hard to find these days.  For someone like me, who loves chicken wings, the sauceless smoked wings are phenomenal and a welcome change from the over-the-top wings found in most places.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they fire up the wood-fire oven and make some amazing home-style, thin-crust pizzas.  The burgers are a specialty at the Corner and have recently been rated the best in town by a local publication.  Even the French fries are hand-cut, blanched and cooked twice.

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There is good food to be found in Mount Dora and my LOOTHing adventure has enhanced my appreciation for it.    We have an amazing, unique town – but sometimes having good food does not guarantee success in the Mount Dora community.  What makes our town special is the social connection and the sense of community which makes locals and visitors feel at home.  The StrEAT Corner embodies these qualities and has a welcoming spirit which delights visitors and keeps locals coming back for more.  On any given night, you will find Ryan working the kitchen with his dedicated staff, his daughter happily serving tables while delightfully chatting it up with locals, his son expertly working the pizza oven and his lovely mother Maureen excitedly greeting guests and taking orders.  This is truly a family affair.

Some nights, seating is hard to come by because StrEAT Corner is so busy.  This is where the Mount Dora sense of community and the StrEAT Corner shines.  “We’ve had more days and nights where there is just no seating.  So people say ‘come sit at our picnic table.'” Ryan is very proud of this and rightfully so.  In a time where people are easily offended, nervous about strangers and frustrated about everything, this relaxing sense of community and friendship is a welcome change.

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I asked Ryan what he would say to people who just want to know what StrEAT Corner is all about.  “We are a family owned and operated business that is very much a part of this community.  We live here, we work here, we love it here.  It’s quality products, the best food you will have…no doubt.  The environment and atmosphere are just fun.”

I couldn’t agree more after spending time with Ryan, his mom and this unique place.  And besides…I know when I show up at the Corner, I’ll always find a smile, a great meal, amazing friends, excited out-of-towners and friendly locals enjoying the atmosphere with a great food, a glass of wine and cold beer!

So…If you see me at the StrEAT Corner, come say hi and have a beer with me!  Let’s get LOOTHing…I’ll see you soon!

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Daemon Fields, Guest Columnist