Tofanelli’s |


Courtney Ferguson
Special to The Union

In the winter of 2005, Susie Purdy and Frank Cooney had a meal at Tofanelli’s that turned into a life changing experience. They’d moved here from Marin County, where Susie had run 15 successful Golden Egg Omelet House restaurants. Their intention was to retire on their 20-acre ranch in Auburn.

“Frank and I came in here, and we both felt this sudden connection. Just touching the brick walls that date back to 1859 gave us a strong sense of local Gold Rush history,” Susie recalls. “We loved the restaurant’s location, its layout and the huge two-tiered patio. The pull was so strong, that we decided retirement could wait.”

“Suddenly, Susie’s creativity was in full force again,” says Frank, a high-profile sports publisher and partner, “and her award-winning expertise was ready for action.”

Previous restaurants she’d owned had won many awards for breakfast and lunch in Napa, Sonoma and Marin. She also owned eight popular dinner houses in the Marin area.

More recently, Union readers voted Tofanelli’s ‘Best in Patio Dining (2 years) and ‘Best Lunch’ last year. The recently extended patio features their popular barbecue with savory meat selections, smoked slowly in the old hickory pit’s “Legend” barbecue smoker. Overhead fans and umbrellas keep the beautifully landscaped patio comfortable – and because well-behaved dogs are welcome, your canine companion can join you.

“Gibson, the world’s tallest dog, used to dine here,” Susie recalls fondly. Besides the barbecue options, you can order anything from the amazing menu. There’s a choice of 101 omelets, described recently in a magazine article as “big as a queen-size pillow.” All the food is home made, using top-quality, local ingredients, many having been selected at our local Growers Markets. Their seafood gazpacho, crab cakes, ahi, lamb shanks, salmon special and classic chicken marsala are Tofanelli favorites. “Susie is a master when it comes to artistic presentation,” Frank says, “so our food looks as good as it tastes.”

The wine menu is ever changing, and features many local wines, with an unusual Casa Piena about to make its debut soon. There’s also a stylish, full-license bar. The desserts, made by Chef William, are best described as decadent. He’s also in charge of Tofanelli’s superb soups.

“I like people to think of us as a family restaurant,” Susie adds. “My grandmother was French, and she was my culinary mentor. Her influence continues to inspire me, and many of the recipes she taught me are included on our menu. My daughter, Angie Appleton, is one of our friendly, professional servers.”

Frank and Susie’s respect for Tofanelli’s history is evident, with old prints of early Grass Valley decorating the walls. The two large round tables in the restaurant’s interior have hosted celebrities such as Eric Clapton, the Pointer Sisters and politicians, as well as many famous race car drivers from Novato.

Open daily from 7 a.m. to after 9 p.m., Tofanelli’s is a delightful place to dine indoors or out.

A perfect late-summer meal you can make at home. A stunning choice when you’re entertaining a group of friends or family.

(Serves 12)


6 chicken breasts, sauteed and cut into bit-size pieces

2 cups chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 cup cashews

1 cup raisins

Mayonnaise mixture:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup plain yogurt

1 Tablespoon curry powder

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

3 tbs. honey


Combine mayonnaise mixture. Gently fold in chicken mixture. Serve each serving (1 cup) in 1/2 ripe papaya with raspberry vinaigrette on the side.

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