A barking dog in the neighborhood can be a pain in the arf. Then again, if you live around the cozy intersection of 49th and Pennsylvania on the city's Northside, you probably don't mind the pooch at all.
That's because The Barking Dog Café, 115 E. 49th St., is the kind of place that makes a neighborhood sing. It's little, tucked around the corner from a gas station - blink as you go by and you'll miss it - but for those who know what they're looking for, it does exactly what a neighborhood place should: serve up reasons to slow down and savor.
Barking Dog recently celebrated its second anniversary of serving up fresh and, whenever possible, locally sourced lunches and dinners in Meridian-Kessler. Walk in, though, and you might think you'd stumbled on a nifty little "Down East" bistro - the kind of eatery you chance upon in Kennebunkport.
The spiffy yellow and purple color scheme and café tables have a way, even on a rainy day, of conveying light and warmth, as does the large chalkboard menu inscribed with multicolored offerings on the back wall above the counter.
We stopped by for lunch. Barking Dog's midday menu consists of soups, salads, signature sandwiches, "Dog House" specialties and "Down East" specialties. A choice, in other words, between going East or Midcoast.
We split the difference (sort of) by starting with a cup of Tucker's Nantucket Clam Chowder ($4.75). Buttery with just the right hint of pepper, and loaded with clam meat and savory bits of potato, this made-daily dish was a great beginning.
I'm a burger nut, so I had to try Jeff's Single Cheese Burger with Everything ($6.25). Even the best burgers are usually sleep-inducing; not this one. Barking Dog serves it thin and crispy on the generously overhanging edges. Somehow it's cooked up tender and flavorful but, miraculously, with little or no grease in evidence. Served with a "special sauce," lettuce, onion, ketchup, Dijon mustard and pickles, this is as guilt-free as a burger gets.
My companion ordered the "Life's a Beach" sandwich with Bark Lard - locally raised and cured bacon - a delicious combination of goat cheese, avocado, red onion, sprouts and tomato on lightly toasted wheat ($9.75). This sandwich wasn't "built" so much as composed - yet more evidence that the artisans at Barking Dog have real flair for combining ingredients in just the right proportions to make every flavor count.
We shared an order of Pomme Frites with homemade chipotle ketchup ($3.75). These were fries in the thin, skin-on Belgian style that would have made any Belgian proud.
A lunch this good is nothing if not a prelude to dinner. Barking Dog serves Bistro-style dinners Thursdays through Saturdays, from 5:30 until 9 p.m. There are three entrees in addition to the regular menu: Cod Mitonnee, a soup thickened with yesterday's bread, roasted Atlantic cod and fresh Middleneck clams in a tomato broth with a dry sherry; Poulet de Riesling, chicken braised in a crisp wine with vegetables finished with heavy cream and served over fresh Gnocchi; and Le Porc bourre avec Proscuitto et Brie, which sounds like it does amazing things with a seared bone-in Indiana pork loin chop.
Next time your growler's goin' you can dine in (reservations are recommended) or take out. Although the Dog hasn't got a liquor license, you can bring your own wine or beer (and glasses to drink them in). And be advised: Barking Dog requires payments in cash - no credit cards.