By Kathy Montgomery | Photograph by Paul Markow
E.F. Sanguinetti loved his garden, and he had a talent for making things grow.
Arriving in Yuma in the 1880s, Sanguinetti cultivated an agricultural empire that made him the largest farm employer in the state. And, in a way, Yuma’s residents still enjoy the fruits of his labors at the Garden Café, built on the grounds of his former home.
Sanguinetti had a reputation for entertaining, and he loved birds, so his descendants created an experience that reflects his life, down to the family recipes.
Arriving at the Garden Café is a little like happening upon a garden party in full swing. Diners chat on the terraced patio, under a rainbow canopy, surrounded by trees and flowering vines. The murmur of conversation mixes with the chatter of lovebirds, cockatiels and parakeets contained in an expansive aviary.
“I always tell my staff, ‘Think of this as your backyard, and you’re entertaining,’ ” says Debbie Gwynn, the restaurant’s owner.
Sanguinetti’s daughter, Rosemarie Sanguinetti Gwynn, came up with the idea of establishing a restaurant on her father’s beloved garden. She approached her son, Bruce, and his wife, Debbie, about taking it on.
“[Bruce] worked full time in agriculture … and I was home having babies,” Gwynn recalls. “He said, ‘Oh, she’s got time to do it.’ And here I am, 35 years later.”
Open from October to May, the café serves breakfast and lunch, with a brunch buffet on Sundays, making family recipes from scratch. These include Minguiches de Jocoqui, offered as a Sunday special; it features spinach, onion and cheese wrapped in crepes, smothered with a cheese sauce and baked. Ham and cheese strata — a layered casserole made with eggs, ham and three different cheeses — makes another popular brunch item.
Other distinctive dishes include Swedish oatmeal pancakes, served with lingonberries, and Kammann sausage. Unique to Yuma, the spicy German sausage is made from a recipe introduced by Walt Kammann in the 1950s and celebrated at an annual sausage fry. The lunch menu includes quiches, sandwiches and salads, as well as the café’s signature tortilla soup, another family favorite. “We go through so many pots of soup every day, it’s crazy,” Gwynn says.
Then there are the desserts, among them Chocolate “Killer” Cake, old-fashioned soda cake served with or without ice cream, and Torture Cake, layers of white cake with coconut cream filling and whipped cream frosting. The latter is torture to resist.
Arguably the most influential grower in the city’s history, Sanguinetti was posthumously named “Citizen of the Century” by the Yuma Daily Sun in 2000. So it’s fitting that the restaurant built around his garden is superlative, too. Yuma’s residents have voted it best for outdoor dining and Sunday brunch year after year.
The Garden Café is located at 250 S. Madison Avenue in Yuma. For more information, call 928-783-1491 or visit www.gardencafeyuma.com.