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The Café in The Middle of Nowhere

IN THE August 20 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andContributors,
andFood Fun
SECTIONS

by Denise Arzoian

By day it’s a country diner. By night it magically transforms into a fine Italian Restaurant. Nestled between acres of orange orchards and grape vineyards, the Blossom Trail Café and Restaurant sits on the corner of Academy and Belmont on the fringes of Sanger, and it’s as unique as its location.

Open 7 days a week, the restaurant only serves dinner Wednesday – Saturday evening. My family has had many opportunities to enjoy breakfast and lunch at the restaurant, but this was the first chance we’ve had to experience the Italian dinner menu the restaurant boasts about. I watched my husband as he took his first sip of the famous homemade clam chowder. His eyes sparkled as he looked at me. “This is fantastic. I can’t get clam chowder this good in Monterey,” he remarked. “This is definitely not from a can.”

Later we met with the owner, John Napoli. I asked what he thought the most important ingredient in his restaurant was.

“Quality,” John remarked with enthusiasm. “We don’t substitute lesser ingredients to save money. The best clam chowder has leeks. Leeks have risen in cost substantially. Most people will substitute green onion or just plain onion. We refuse to do that. It’s clam chowder…not potato chowder. No skimping. All our steaks are full 1 lb. steaks. Not 8 or 12 oz. We buy strictly certified and our hamburgers are Angus beef, half pound burgers. Everything we buy is top of the line.

Inside The Blossom Trail Cafe

“Everything is made here. Your bread was made here. We buy the best Italian tomatoes that have been canned for certain sauces. Aside from that, nothing comes out of a can. We also have a lot of Mexican dishes as well as American dishes. We believe that Mexican chefs make the best Mexican food. Italian chefs make the best Italian food. That’s how it’s done here. That’s why the gnocchi is as authentic as the chili verde.”

When John talks about the food it’s like listening to a line from the movie Julie and Julia. His love of good food has a romantic appeal. “Many of the pasta dishes we serve use only fresh pasta,” continued John. “And the Tiramisu is to die for.”

John is an excellent cook himself who grew up in a home where his mother made everything from scratch. “I watched everything she did. Over the years I have experimented extensively. I would buy recipe books from chefs I respected and read the first twenty pages or so learning techniques and principles. I learned the difference between folding and beating and mixing. Then I’d learn the recipe. I would work it until it was perfected. I’ve done this all my life.”

He considers his restaurant to be a nice casual family style one. They serve a lot of farmers and people in the agricultural industry that don’t to dress up to go out to eat. “We say, come on in and enjoy yourselves. Scream and yell if you need something. Just like you would do at home. We’ve joked about having a remote control on every table so the men will feel at home.

“Our waitresses offer the best service around. The crew is always friendly and smiling. When I’m tired I can talk to them and they brighten my day. The crew likes to be here and we have a lot of fun. But the focus for all of us is the customer. We’ve never had a customer complain about anything that we didn’t get immediately corrected. We want to know if there are ways we can improve. I love to hear compliments, but if someone has a complaint, I need to know that, too.”

They opened the restaurant on November 4, 2009 as John was coming out of retirement for the third time. When he would retire he would travel extensively. “I’d get tired of that and I’d come back home and work on the projects for the house. After a few months of that, I’d be ready to start something new.”

About that time, John’s friend, Peppino was running the Italian Garden. Peppino heard about the restaurant that was going to become available at Belmont and Academy and wanted John to get into it with him since he was planning to close his place and felt they could work on something together. “He knew the Blossom Trail Restaurant wasn’t doing well at the time, but that at one time it was a good business. Historically, that’s my strong suit. I love the challenge of taking on a fledgling business and turning it around to make it profitable. I was up for the challenge.”

Left to right-Lea Perez, John Napoli & Peppino's daughter, Carmen Vitale

Everyone wants their business to be on a busy street but The Blossom Trail Café is out in the middle of nowhere. “Most of our customers are locals, but we get a lot of business from people that are on their way to the lake and happen to spot us. It’s taken some time, but we have a lot of loyal customers, and our business is strong.”

Italian by birth, after two tours in Vietnam John completed his military career at Treasure Island and stayed in San Francisco for the next 10 years. He and his wife moved here in 1977, never knowing then they’d end up owning a restaurant many years later. “She wasn’t very happy about moving here, but after awhile it became home. We built a house and set down roots and made some of the best friends in the world. We’ve been here 33 years now. Life is full with the business, and family. I think we’re here for good.”

After enjoying the clam chowder, I was glad to hear John say that. For the complete menu and list of operating hours, visit the website.

Blossom Trail Cafe on Urbanspoon

Denise Arzoian & her husband, Dennis, moved to Sanger in 2010. She writes for SALT Fresno & writes family biographies for those interested in preserving the memories & stories of their loved ones. For more information on family biographies, she can be contacted at ladywrite2@comcast.net.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tara August 20, 2011 at 11:18am

I have eaten there many times! I love the breakfasts!

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