Dog bites

Whether fad or poisoned pet-food fallout, some chic spots are plating for pooches

Posted: May 31, 2007

A CHICKEN pot pie sounds nice, with red potatoes and snow peas. Or how about a nice risotto with hanger steak and spring vegetables?

Sounds heavenly - if you're covered with hair and walk on all fours.

Call it a case of Le Bec Fido, but something doggone tasty is happening this spring at restaurants from Rittenhouse Square to Northern Liberties to the Main Line: customized canine menus for pampered pooches.

The alfresco menus, designed with discerning - and figure-conscious - pooches in mind, are printed just for the four-legged foodies, and handed out along with master's menu.

Even the finest chefs citywide are jumping on this culinary chuckwagon, honing human meals into doggie delights, from lamb, duck and chicken to sweet treats like carob-coated pretzels and peanut butter cups.

Offering a bowl of water or a biscuit treat is nothing new for many dog-tolerant outdoor restaurants. Rittenhouse Square's Rouge, manned by dog-loving owner Neil Stein, has been welcoming dogs with water and treats for years. So has Caribou Cafe, at 11th and Walnut streets; Bliss, on the Avenue of the Arts, and plenty of Starbucks locations.

But this new, more upscale canine craze can be attributed to a number of things, from clever restaurant marketing to a rise in doggie health consciousness after the recent pet-food recalls - to the fact that so many darn Philadelphians want to take their dogs out on the town.

"People get home and haven't seen their dogs all day and they think 'I'm going to get a beer, and I'm bringing him with me,' " said Deuce Restaurant & Bar owner Laura Vernola. "Happy Hour is a big one for them."

The neighborhood surrounding Liberties Walk (2nd Street near Girard Avenue), where Deuce is located, is arguably one of the most dog-dense areas of the city.

"There are two or more dogs for every one person," laughed Vernola, who noticed a recent increase in owners who come to the restaurant's 60 outdoor seats with their pooches.

So she employed the culinary services of Liberties Walk's nearby pooch palace, Chic Petique, which now provides human-grade dog meals that are tasty and properly balanced with meats, veggies and starches, like the "Cowboy Cookout," a $3 entree featuring beef, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans and Granny Smith apples, or the "Turducken," another $3 feast featuring a melange of chicken, duck and turkey with sweet potatoes, carrots and green beans.

"The dogs eat and then they just go to sleep under the table," said Vernola.

The fringe benefit for the restaurant?

"We notice people now stay longer at night because their pets are comfortable."

Catering to owners is also the reason why Marianne Gere, owner of Gypsy Saloon, in Conshohocken, adopted her new "Doggie-Style" happy hour at the popular neighborhood resto-bar.

"It's a very close-knit neighborhood and people know each other and they want to meet at happy hour with their dogs," Gere said.

So Gere, who owns three yellow Labs herself, insisted this spring that in addition to water bowls, dogs have their own $2 canine menu, featuring the howlingly good "Hot Diggity Dog," a plain hot dog, hold the bun, and the "Bow Wow Wow," a delicately baked boneless chicken breast. (Later this summer, the trendy new Tavern 17 at the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel will unveil a similar menu with its own version of "Hot Diggity Dog" and five other American-style entrees priced at $2.50 each, like fried green tomatoes and beef patties.)

Over on the Main Line, dog-loving folks like to start, rather than end, the day with their dogs at the cozy restaurant Meredith's in Berwyn. The eatery just unveiled a new pampered pooch Bow Wow Breakfast on their outdoor patio for $2.99, featuring scrambled eggs and lots of sausage.

"We get quite a few people who sit outside [in the morning] with their dogs," said owner George McLoughlin, "so we decided to feed the entire group. They [the dogs] are really well-behaved."

But some chefs had even more reason to adopt the new canine cuisine. Chef Patrice Rames, of Old City's trendy Cote D'Azur restaurant Patou, has been cooking for his French poodle Lutece ever since a massive, nationwide pet food recall was announced March 15, a recall that affected dozens of packaged dog and cat food brands.

Rames decided to make some of the healthful food he'd been cooking at home at the restaurant.

"I found it was easy to cook for her [Lutece] because I had all the ingredients in front of me at home," said Rames. "It's a health issue."

Now, dogs who saunter up to the handful of outdoor tables at the 3rd and Market streets restaurant can enjoy a $5 to $8 Doggie Dining Menu, including Lutece's favorite: risotto with lamb shank, hanger steak, chicken or seafood served with a heaping side of spring vegetables.

And yes, doggie bags are always available. *

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