• Wednesday , 21 February 2018

Eat All the Farm Fresh Food at White Dog Cafe in Haverford

Story, photos by Cassie Hepler

What if we told you a supernatural story?

Once upon a time there was a woman who broke her leg. A white dog lay on it for a week while it was healing and all of the sudden it was healed. This is the tale of why there are multiple locations all named White Dog Cafe, according to our excellent server for the evening, Sara with no H.

Known for award-winning contemporary American Cuisine and friendly service with three neighborhood locations in Philadelphia and the Main Line, Judy Wicks, social activist and original founder, opened White Dog Cafe in January of 1983. Located in three connecting Victorian brownstones in University City as a cafe, White Dog quickly became a local favorite known for its environmental sustainability and community engagement. The majority of ingredients are purchased from local farms, located no more than 50 miles from our restaurants.

So when we were invited to dine, it felt great to be able to bring the foodie family from central Pa. along for the ride. My father immediately took on the role of restaurant critic and we were off to the races of a delightful dinner ahead.

White Dog Cafe in Haverford on a sunny afternoon.

We were seated in the kitchen section of the restaurant. Since the owner began in her home, there are three parts: living room, kitchen and bar.

Loving country style, my stepmom adored these rustic strainer lights.

A cocktail to knock your socks off is the Dirty Dog made from Tito’s Vodka with spicy pickle brine and spicy pickled green beens (which might make their way to central Pa. now somehow…). This is great for an after dinner drink or stiff cocktail after work.

The parental units went for a couple rounds of the Spring strawberry bellini since they are now becoming winos. It was like sipping strawberry fizz juice, way too easy to throw back but in a good way. You can also choose cherry elderflower and strawberry rhubarb and OJ, of course.

An amuse buche to start the feast was the whipped salmon in cucumber. It was so fresh and creamy, perfect for warm weather.

Just as my father was pouting that he would not get his Kennet Square mushroom soup, Chef Mike Selser came out to meet us and surprise him with even better mushrooms…

These fungi are stuffed with crab and were to die for, courtesy of the chef and my father was raving already.

The smoked salmon latke with caviar on house made tater tots was number one on my parent’s appetizer list and the texture between greasy and creamy was enthralling indeed.

My favorite was the DiBruno Brothers burrata with spring peas, pine nuts, mint pesto and shaved prosciutto. It was so fresh and heavenly, I even used the bread to sop up the rest of the pesto.

My parents also were in love with the Spanish octopus, lightly flash fried with potatoes made for a slightly heartier dish. I usually love my seafood not fried as it loses flavor however the spices retained the integrity of the octopus without making it mushy on the inside.

We were having quite a hard time deciding what to eat for our entree and eventually we just all decided on steak. My parents chose the 30 ounce bone in ribeye for two with the lobster mac and cheese option, of course. I went for the hanger steak, a different cut of steak with sides included. Spring lamb, salmon and pork chops also sounded delightful but when you want red meat, it has to happen and this is certainly the place to indulge.

Seasonal menus feature only the best ingredients from farms including pasture fed animals, humanely treated livestock and fish and seafood that is harvested through sustainable suppliers. Incorporating organic items, wines grown and produced from American vineyards, tea, coffee and chocolate are Certified Organic and Fair Trade. The restaurants use renewable energy, LED lighting and practice sustainable initiatives that are environmentally friendly.

The hangar steak is a great price and portion for a hearty meal with asparagus and potato sides included. We always tell the chef however they would recommend it prepared and it will always come out perfect.

The masterpiece of the night was certainly the 30 ounce bone in ribeye for two, which could actually feed three or four people easily. It was still moo-ing as my dad said (cooked at also chef’s recommendation) but that did not stop dad from making happy man-grunting, ape noises as he ate it like a lion. I stole a couple pieces and it was as tender as you can only imagine, perfectly seasoned and lovely to look at “in my stepmom’s pan” we joked.

Lobster mac and cheese as a side was a clear winner as well with large chunks of lobster bigger than the pasta. That’s how is should be!

Spring vegetables were light and crisp, adding a fresh green flavor to the meat heavy dishes we loved.

I needed a switch up from the stiff cocktail so switched off to the King Rowlf made with Single Barrel Jefferson’s Bourbon, strawberry, basil, mint, honey and lemon.

A nice blend of hard booze with light notes, another winning drink from White Dog Cafe.

House made sauces were available for the medley of steak including chimichurri, house made steak sauce and a red wine sauce.

Because we didn’t order the house made fries, chef sent us out a plate to delve into and it did not disappoint.

Forcing my parents to continue eating dessert just as they were entering into a food coma was kind of fun, I’m not gonna lie. But with an in-house pastry chef, you cannot say no. It would be rude. But I went light with the mini chocolate mousse parfait with the most delightful candied pecans.

Chocolate mousse with a scoop of s’mores ice cream which tasted more like Rocky Road but I love all the chocolates. The mousse was perfect and the caramel gooey, just what you need to end the meal.

Carrot cake and bread pudding are two of my father’s favorite things made into one. Even with the threat of his hated raisins inside, he was in sugar carb heaven and it was a lovely mix. No raisins were discarded.

My stepmom went with the vanilla bean creme brulee with blueberry shortbread cookies, it was done to perfection with that satisfactory crispy shell.

A little gift was given to us before we left, some dog bone sugar cookies and strawberry rhubarb to go.

As a pioneer of the farm to table movement, Judy’s vision was about supporting the surrounding communities and growing the local economy that includes farmers, cheese mongers, fisherman, brewers, artisans and bakers. Over the years these partners have grown along with White Dog Cafe. In 2009, Marty Grims bought White Dog Cafe to continue the legacy, adding culinary inspiration and service commitment creating a new compelling restaurant model. A second location opened in Wayne in 2010, to support the needs of a growing Main Line, and in May of 2015, a third location opened in Haverford. Each location’s warmth and welcoming décor boosts a love of dogs that is both artistic and playful. Executive Chef Zach Grainda drives the culinary creativity and sustainable business practices, while Tamas Szene oversees the service and daily operations. Together, the team is proud to provide our local neighborhoods and guests a unique dining experience that is fresh and delicious served by professional staff in a warm and inviting setting.

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