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Dining profile: Iconic San Martin Cafe creates multi-cultural menu, cozy atmosphere

Restaurant now offers BBQ and catering services

Published in the June 22 – July 5, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Lauren Newcomb

Photo by Lauren Newcomb Luis Galo Biondi in the kitchen at the San Martin Cafe.

Photo by Lauren Newcomb
Luis Galo Biondi in the kitchen at the San Martin Cafe.

When he arrived to live in California after growing up in Peru, Luis Galo Biondi never really enjoyed cooking. But over time as he developed his kitchen skills with his first job at a restaurant, he found a passion for the culinary arts. Now he spends his time helping his mother and father run the San Martin Cafe.

The family-run diner in the heart of the rural community of San Martin gives off a cozy, down-home vibe. Patrons read local newspapers over their breakfast pancakes hot off the griddle or they shoot the breeze with friends over their lunchtime sandwiches. Biondi’s love for cooking is reflected in the cafe’s multicultural menu ranging from Mexican to Italian dishes to classic American breakfasts. The San Martin Cafe’s also does catering, offering Italian and Mexican dishes for people throwing a party or a corporate event.

The Mexican options include flautas, mole, enchiladas, and birria de chivo, a spicy stew made from slow-cooked goat. Other items are huevos rancheros, to menudo and chile verde. The Sicilian Italian options range from fettuccini alfredo, to veal parmigiana, to “Mezza Luna” ravioli, a reference to Biondi’s now closed Italian restaurant in Morgan Hill, Mezza Luna.

Biondi’s Mexican dishes have a subtle Peruvian influence, due in part to the spices and condiments he uses to accent the traditional flavors of the foods. This creates an intriguing fusion of Mexican, Peruvian and, at times, Sicilian flavors. Biondi’s favorite dish to prepare for his customers is the chile verde. “It’s different from everybody else’s,” he said. “We combine the Mexican food with South American food.”

The San Martin Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, opening from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“The regulars usually come in the morning, and by two o’clock it’s winding down,” Biondi said. “The afternoon is more for barbecue now, which we recently added.”

The restaurant truly is a family affair. Galo Biondi’s mother, Olga, opened it about 19 years ago with her husband. At 76, she has yet to show any inclination to slow down. “We’ve tried to convince her to retire, but she doesn’t want to,” Biondi said. “Really, I want to retire! But not her.”

The dishes Biondi recommends the most are the chile verde, the birria de chivo and the huevos rancheros. “The rancheros is good, nice and spicy,” he said. “And the birria is really good. The goat is cooked for four hours.”

Biondi’s developed his skills in cooking Italian food when he owned Mezza Luna for a number of years. Although that restaurant closed in 2005, he has transferred those skills and knowledge to the San Martin Cafe, broadening the menu and spicing up the food, especially with items on the Italian catering menu. It includes linguini tuttomare, consisting of a wide variety of seafood in marinara sauce, and petto di pollo fantasia, comprised of a chicken breast sautéed with white wine, garlic, lemon, artichoke hearts, cream and parmesan. Although these dishes are not served in the restaurant, they are available for catering.

“When I came here to California, my first job was washing dishes and cooking,” Biondi said. “Even though I love to cook now, I still don’t cook in my house at all.”

His favorite part about running his cafe is chatting with the customers. “When people compliment the food, it makes me happy. Why should people come to the San Martin Cafe? Because I’m here!” he said with a grin. “We have good food, good service and a good atmosphere.”