I visited Yuma Arizona for the second time last April. It’s a spot I didn’t intend to fall in love with, but that’s exactly what happened. Located smack-dab between San Diego and Phoenix, its wonderful, genuine people, delicious food, culture and the arts and natural beauty have earned it a permanent spot in my heart. When I wrote my last piece about Yuma, I focused on Yvonne and John Peach and their Coronado Motor Hotel. I absolutely think meeting the Peaches should be your first order of business when visiting Yuma. If you want to know the town’s history, these two are walking encyclopedias.
The first evening, we were treated to a beer pairing dinner at Yuma Landing. Fair warning. Do not go to Yuma Landing without bringing an appetite. The portions are hearty and the food is delicious. Mudshark Brewing provided the beverages that were paired with each dish. Tony Beck, Mudshark’s sales and marketing manager got together with the restaurant’s head chef to create ideal pairings. Each dish, including dessert, was prepared with Mudshark beer. Have you ever heard of a chicken t-bone? Nor had I until it was served atop fresh jicama and mango with a strawberry Habanero sauce. Next was a baby romaine salad with a house made beer vinaigrette, feta, olives and candied bacon. The entrée was a pork loin with peach, bacon and onion stuffing on a bed of risotto and grilled asparagus. Not full yet? Dessert was a dark chocolate brownie with an amaretto Morning Buzz beer drizzle. The Mudshark beers, including the HavaBlue wheat blueberry, paired exquisitely with each course.
The next morning, following a hearty breakfast at Yuma Landing, we set off to Martha’s Gardens, a Medjool date farm. Chris Denning has been with sales and operations there for years, and knows every facet of the operation and explains it clearly. Growing dates is so labor intensive that I left shocked dates don’t cost more than they do. I’ll never complain about the price of dates again. The tour is fascinating and Chris told us many of those who have taken the tour come back and do it again. After we explored the orchard, we went into the gift shop and sampled some of the delicious dates and had a date shake. Medjool dates are about two and a half times the size of common dates, but with the same small pit. Nels and Martha Rogers founded Martha’s Gardens in 1990.
We left Martha’s and headed back into town for lunch at Chretin’s Restaurant. Chretin’s has been serving Mexican food in Yuma since 1946. The current location is new for them, but many of the staff has been part of the team for decades. Our server had a long history with the restaurant and was passionate about the menu. I opted for the combination taco platter and a margarita. The food was tasty and fresh and I was easily able to kick up the heat level to my liking with the variety of salsas they offer. The margarita hit the spot!
We met up with Lindsay Benacka, manager of the Yuma Art Center. Lindsay is vibrant and passionate about what she does and couldn’t wait to show us around. We took a leisurely tour of the art center and enjoyed the whimsical exhibit. The museum offers more than 20 exhibits a year in the center’s four different galleries, with a focus on local and regional art, and hosts around 100,00 visitors. The historic Yuma Theatre, right next door, dates back to 1912 and is part of the center. The center also offers classes in the creative arts and produces two full-length theater productions annually.
High tea in Yuma? You bet! Our next stop was at the Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens. The 19th century adobe home was the residence of E. F. Sanguinetti, known as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. Yanna Kruse gave us a brief overview before turning us over to our guide, Jean, who gave us the “Secrets of Victorian Yuma” tour, covering 1860 to 1901. Victorians lived by strict rules, especially when it came to courtship. We learned about a series of gestures and fan waves that men and women used to communicate with each other. The home itself has been beautifully restored. The interactive tour is fascinating and involves role-playing if you so desire. I was the post-mortem photographer. There are so many period pieces it feels as if you have stepped back in time. After the tour we strolled through the beautiful gardens and sat around a table where we were treated to Sweet History. We chose from Lilah’s Rose (strawberries and cream), Muddy Colorado (chocolate) and Ghosts of Yuma (vanilla bean cream).
Carrie Ring took us around the most impressive Yuma Civic Center, also the home of Desert Storm Stadium. Adjacent to the renowned Desert Hills Golf Course, the modern Civic Center features 43,000 indoor square feet making it ideal for anything from a birthday party to a wedding to a business conference. The evening we visited they were getting ready to crown the Salsa Queen. More than a dozen booths were situated along the walls of the spacious room. There was a long line off folks eager to get in. Upon arrival each guest received tickets to cast their votes and a bag of tortilla chips to use for sampling the salsas. It was a very fun event and I found several entries that gave me the heat level I craved.
We adjourned to the sunset terrace, with the spring temperature very comfortable and an unbeatable view. Chef Juan treated us to a mouth-watering dinner of sweet potato and red cabbage fried taquitos, carne aside and chicken adobo tacos, elote en vaso (Mexican street corn) with corn tortilla chips and freshly prepared salsa. Thus we ended a wonderful first full day of activities in Yuma. A busy day lay ahead and I’ll fill you in on that in the near future.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701! Ask about special discounts.