White Dog Café
At this Wayne-based satellite of the University City original, there’s a lot to like and even some aspects to love
by Brian Freedman

White Dog Café has always been ahead of its time. When it opened up in University City in 1983, it was a beacon of honest-food hope in an era that, in hindsight, gave far too little thought to the origins and sourcing of ingredients. And when Judy Wicks sold the business to highly regarded restaurateur Marty Grims back in 2009, he maintained that focus on serving honest, thoughtful food, both at the original and at the Main Line outpost he opened in 2010.

It’s been three years now since this suburban White Dog first trotted into the area, and we thought that it was a good time to check in on it and see how it was faring since all the early hoopla surrounding its opening has died down a bit.

Quite well, it turns out, if not flawlessly. Over the past several years, the White Dog has gone from being the exciting new arrival from the city, to a neighborhood bistro that the locals have taken full possession of and made their own: families, dates, businessmen at the bar, recapping the ups and downs of their day over a tight, thoughtful selection of beers and seasonal cocktails.

The food, in general, carries the day. An excellent special appetizer of Duroc pork cheeks was anchored by that fantastically earthy, expressive meat, each forkful a knob of tender and moist deliciousness. Tuscan kale salad, which continued a minor trend of late of serving this muscular green thin-sliced and raw, went right where others so often come up short. It was dressed in a meyer lemon vinaigrette whose acid seemed to tenderize those green ribbons, sweetened up with accompanying marcona almonds, the sweet pop of mandarin orange and a creamy bass note of avocado.

Pasta, too, was a success. Homemade ravioli was filled with a lovely combination of mascarpone and spinach, pan fried until crisp and well browned, joined on the plate by sautéed mushrooms, patty pan squash and, most excitingly, ramps (a perennial wild onion) that had recently come into season.

Pennsylvania rainbow trout was a remarkably successful presentation, a generous fillet of the fish rolled in on itself and wrapped up in crisped La Quercia prosciutto—an excellent producer of charcuterie in Iowa that deserves more of a presence on local menus than it currently gets; bravo to White Dog for taking advantage of it.

I’m still trying to figure out, however, what could have justified the $17 charge for the burger. The Green Meadow beef, ordinarily so remarkable, was slightly underseasoned but enough that it lacked the expressive punch it typically has. And the thickness of that patty was overwhelmed by its accouterments, lost amid the fluffiness of the bun, the layering of lettuce and grilled red onion. Even the punchy, beautiful bacon mayo was subdued, which is a shame, because on its own it was excellent.

I also wish the wine list had better curated. Aside from a number of highlights, it maintains an unfortunately generic feel that seems to be at odds with the originality of the food. The by-the-glass offerings are somewhat disappointing, with a number of the same producers being represented across a range of grape varieties, and little in the way of excitement. For a restaurant that stresses artisanality so strongly, the three Champagnes offered are all from large producers (Moet, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon, a Moet product), with nary a grower in sight. Curious.

That curiosity aside, there were some real highlights here—the trout and the pork cheeks, for example—including the desserts, especially the flourless chocolate torte with its crown of ingeniously conceived chocolate-Sriracha ice cream. There is much to like about this White Dog and even some aspects to love. What it comes down to is this: The Wayne White Dog is a very good restaurant, and it has the potential to be even better.

White Dog Café
200 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
610-225-3700 | whitedog.com