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Escape to gardens of eatin’ – Watson’s and Windmill

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on May 9, 2014 at 12:00 am | No Comments »
May 8, 2014 5:18 pm
A club sandwich piled high with tomatoes, turkey and bacon is one of the lunch offerings at Anton's, located in a garden center. Drew Perine/Staff photographer
A club sandwich piled high with tomatoes, turkey and bacon is one of the lunch offerings at Anton’s, located in a garden center. Drew Perine/Staff photographer

My Japanese maple resembles Cousin It and my mock orange is drooping.

I’m currently playing a weekslong game of “ignore the shot weed.”

Like plenty of other procrastinating gardeners, I fell prey to a seasonal affliction I call Garden Center Time Suck. It’s a phenomena in which I intend to spend 15 minutes perusing variegated hostas only to emerge two hours later with a dazed look and a wagonload of blue fescue.

I’m looking at you, Watson’s Greenhouse and Windmill Gardens.

While wandering aimlessly (envisioning fairies magically making over my garden) through two East Pierce garden centers that offer sprawling campuses with plants aplenty, I also found something for diners: nicely appointed cafes.

They’re cafes for a bite with your gardener Mom – especially considering this is her weekend, after all – or a destination for ladies who lunch.

Dining alone? That’s fine, too.

Get digging. I know I need to.

Shoppers at Watson's Greenhouse in Puyallup can also satisfy their hunger by visiting Jim Anton's restaurant, Anton's, tucked into a cozy corner of the greenhouse. Drew Perine/Staff photographer
Shoppers at Watson’s Greenhouse in Puyallup can also satisfy their hunger by visiting Jim Anton’s restaurant, Anton’s, tucked into a cozy corner of the greenhouse. Drew Perine/Staff photographer

Anton’s at Watson’s
6211 Pioneer Way E., Puyallup; 253-845-5451

If you’ve dined in Pierce County long enough, you already know the name Anton’s.

Jim and Basil Anton operated Anton’s on Puyallup’s East Main for 42 years (it’s now a Mama Stortini’s), as well as downtown Puyallup’s Charlie’s, which they sold five years ago to Teresa Suprak and Janice Carter. They also had Anton’s Farmhouse at the Puyallup Fairgrounds and sandwich shops from Puyallup to Tacoma.

Retirement was supposed to happen five years ago when they sold Charlie’s, but that only worked for Basil. Jim continued catering until Dan Watson urged Jim Anton to consider tucking a cafe into the back corner of his greenhouse off Pioneer Way in Puyallup.

Anton booted his semi retirement in December 2012 when Anton’s opened. The cafe is open year-round, serving a light menu of coffee and pastries in the morning, followed by lunch. The cafe closes daily around 4 p.m.

Enter the greenhouse, a sprawling 32,000-square-foot, glass-and-steel structure, and veer to the rear right corner. Find Anton’s through an arbor and grab your own seat on the wicker patio furniture.

Anton’s proved a simple lunch destination, but one that hit every hallmark I like in a sandwich cafe. Lettuce was layered two leaves deep, red tomatoes (not anemic pink) were chunky cut. Meat came in triple or quadruple layers. Sandwich spreads extended from crust to crust.

A BLT sandwich is oversized with thick-cut tomatoes and three layers of bacon at Anton's.
A BLT sandwich is oversized with thick-cut tomatoes and three layers of bacon at Anton’s.

Someone in that kitchen paid attention to the tiniest details. That someone was Jim Anton, who learned to assemble good sandwiches working at his father’s sandwich shops. “He’d tell me, ‘We’ve got to make 100 sandwiches today.’ I’d look at him a little cross-eyed. That’s where I started, I was probably 10 years old,” recalled Anton in a phone conversation last week.

A meal at Anton’s should begin with a BLT ($8.25) built on thick-sliced toasted bread with triple layers of chewy bacon along with chunky-cut tomatoes and green leaf lettuce. They didn’t skimp on the mayo.
A Mediterranean panini sandwich ($8.95) with roasted red peppers featured housemade pesto, heavy on basil and light on the garlic, and a thick wedge of grilled eggplant that carried just the right texture — hearty, but pliable.

A pastrami on marble rye with Swiss.
A pastrami on marble rye with Swiss.

On a second visit, a pastrami sandwich ($8.25) came with a pile of thinly shaved pastrami on soft marble rye (order it toasted for a bit more crunch). Swiss cheese and green leaf lettuce added heft to a sandwich made with the best pastrami I’ve had since my January tour of grilled pastramis. Sandwiches come a la carte.

Salads tasted just like you’d make for yourself at home, including housemade dressings. A shrimp Louie ($10.95) was as much shrimp as it was iceberg and tasted punched up with a puckery Thousand Island. The Thomas salad ($10.95) — named after Anton’s cousin — arrived with a generous portion of bay shrimp and a creamy dressing.

Save room for a cookie ($1.50), baked daily by the cafe’s manager.

Windmill GardensWindmill Bistro at Windmill Gardens
16009 60th St. E., Sumner; 253-826-7897 or windmillbistro.com

When entering the sprawling grounds of Sumner’s Windmill Gardens, the choices sent me spinning: Head to the Tea Madame for loose tea? Check out the display at The Pond Store?

Hungry for a sandwich, I meandered to the edge of the enormous nursery to a converted old house that’s home to Windmill Bistro.

A portobello sandwich at Windmill Bistro in Sumner.
A portobello sandwich at Windmill Bistro in Sumner.

If Windmill Bistro appears as if it’s a place where wedding receptions are held, that’s because it is. With wood floors, a ladies-who-lunch atmosphere complete with a wine and cocktail menu, this is the place to bring your bridesmaids, mom and grandma.

The bistro serves weekend breakfast and dinner Wednesday through Saturday, but I stuck with lunch, served daily.

Given the enchanting surroundings, I wanted to like the food more than I did. A first visit brought sloppily assembled sandwiches. A second visit was more successful, but I warn diners that this restaurant is inconsistent.

The dining room was busy during my first visit, which might explain the haphazard assembly on a BLT sandwich ($11 combo) with limp tomatoes, wilted lettuce, skimpy bacon and flat-tasting sundried tomato mayo that was unevenly applied. We didn’t fare much better with a chicken salad wrap ($11 combo) overloaded with curry mayo. A cup of clam chowder ($5/$7) tasted fishy. A butternut squash salad ($7/$12) held still-crunchy squash.

A French dip with fries at Windmill Bistro.
A French dip with fries at Windmill Bistro.

A do-over lunch several days later found a restaurant operating up to par. A beefy French dip with Swiss ($13) came on sturdy ciabatta and was paired with fries. A portobello sandwich ($12.50) on brioche with a pesto-spiked mayo came piled with fresh, crisp veggies, the exact opposite of those flaccid ones on a previous visit and a fresh green salad.

Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.

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