Worth the Wait

A Philly institution plants its sustainable roots in Wayne.

Executive chef Zach Grainda. See more photos below.When local restaurateur Marty Grims bought University City’s beloved White Dog Cafe from Judy Wicks in 2009, it generated an instant buzz among Main Liners. For months, we waited for a “Now Open” sign to replace the “Coming Soon” version on the window of its new Wayne outpost.

Finally, on Nov. 12, White Dog “West” opened its dark, wood doors for the first time, welcoming food-savvy locals anxious to see how the new restaurant would measure up to the original.

Much like its inspiration, the new White Dog is broken up into several small dining rooms—four to be exact, each with its own, carefully considered look and vibe. The first may be almost too welcoming. The night I was there, bar patrons spilled out into the space as couples and families tried to enjoy their meals. The room is reminiscent of an old English pub, with dark-mahogany accents, countless oil paintings of dogs, and light fixtures made of antique green bottles. The remaining rooms each offer fanciful accents (books suspend from the ceiling in one) and some sort of reclaimed, refurbished or antique element.

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Service was friendly, energetic and attentive—that is, until the restaurant filled up and busy servers began juggling several big parties and numerous smaller groups in the front room. The lengthy waits between courses may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed me to truly savor the creamy mushroom ravioli appetizer before my salmon and autumn vegetables arrived.

As you’d expect, Wicks’ reliance on local ingredients and sustainable business practices is evident in the seasonal menu and farm-to-table approach. Executive chef Zach Grainda (Moshulu) specializes in contemporary American cuisine, using pasture-fed meat and sustainably sourced seafood. The coffee, tea and chocolate are all fair trade.

Dinner for two—including two glasses of wine and dessert—was on the expensive side. Entrées ranged from $15 for the cheeseburger to $36 for the wood-grilled, grass-fed filet mignon. For starters, the Lancaster County pumpkin bisque was perfectly creamy and not too sweet. The aforementioned wild-mushroom-stuffed ravioli—with scallions and tasso ham in a light porcini cream—was rich and earthy, even if the dough was a bit thick. A lighter standout, the roasted Bosc pear salad came with a rousing accompaniment of peppery arugula, hazelnuts, shaved pecorino and aged port syrup.

Beautifully plated and executed, the entrées were highly flavorful in their straightforward simplicity and clever use of seasonal ingredients. The cheddar burger came with smoked-bacon mayonnaise, grilled red onion and house-cut fries. The waiter promised it would “change our lives,” and while it didn’t exactly live up to its billing, it was one of the better burgers we’ve had in a while. And the fries? Divinely salty and crisp, with the faintest hint of truffle.

The Arctic char was tasty, if slightly overcooked. The fish was served with wild mushroom spaetzle and butternut squash in a cream sauce that was too rich for the fresh, local squash. By contrast, the Swiss chard was a welcome match.

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Other entrée highlights included the red-wine-braised short ribs with root vegetables, garlic-Parmesan potato puree and crispy shallots, and the roasted local vegetable casserole with arugula pesto.

Dessert found us digging into the warm cinnamon apple brioche pudding, whimsically presented in a mason jar and served with sautéed heirloom apples, butter rum sauce and vanilla ice cream. Delicious.

THE SKINNY: If you’re a fan of the University City original, you won’t be disappointed with this second location closer to home. It offers delicious food you can feel good about eating, a fun and sociable atmosphere, plus quality service. With its clever decorating touches and small, inviting rooms, it’s almost as if your eating in the home of an artsy friend.

Granted, the prices are up there. But the extra expense should be worth it to anyone who covets quality ingredients and the peace of mind in knowing exactly where your food is coming from.

Without a doubt, the White Dog Cafe is the new “it” location on the Main Line. And with a few small tweaks in the kitchen, it appears that it will continue to do its namesake proud.

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Location: 200 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne; (610) 225-3700, whitedog.com.
Cuisine: Contemporary American.
Cost: Appetizers $8-$14, entrées $15-$36.
Attire: Dressy casual.
Atmosphere: Homey, warm and a bit noisy on weekends.
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10:30 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Extras: Bar menu Monday-Thursday 2:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 2:30-10:30 p.m. and Sunday 2:30-9 p.m.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!