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Service, atmosphere appeal at The Stray Dog

Published 3:35pm Friday, July 1, 2011

Burgers, hot dogs and appetizers make for a casual dining experience. Photo by Brittney Massey/430 Studios

By JENNIFER PIOTTER

Blue Star Highway

The Stray Dog Bar & Grill in New Buffalo is a favorite of locals and summertime tourists alike. And if you’ve never been, you’ve probably seen the T-shirt.

Walking into The Stray Dog, a few members of the generally young staff greeted us as we passed by piles of colorful Stray Dog T-shirts, sweatshirts and other merchandise.

My friends and I opted to sit by the fireplace in the enclosed, heated patio that is surrounded by a few sapling-like trees decorated with white lights. Had it been a warmer day, no doubt we would’ve spent time on the rooftop deck.

Our server, Cody, appeared to be one of the “new guys” — likely a college kid looking to make some good spending money with a summer job.

The Stray Dog offers a variety of the usual beers on draft but also features a selection of craft beers. Wine is available by the glass, and a specialty drink menu has some awfully enticing options, from a frozen berry lemonade libation to thirst-quenching margaritas.

Sticking to my penchant for craft brews, I decided on the Rogue Dead Guy Ale from Newport, Ore., which exhibited hearty, but not heavy, flavor and a deep honey hue.

The drink service was especially quick for the three of us; the women behind the bar were on their game. Frosty glasses distributed little ice chips in our beers, though not so much to create a beer icee.

For dinner, we started with the mystifying onion loaf. “Loaf” is a bit of a misnomer; I’d call this an onion “wall:” a rectangular block of intertwined onion slices the size of a box of graham crackers. It was difficult to maneuver a bite without literally reaching in and grabbing a chunk of the deep-fried morsels.

Though chunks of the onion loaf were crispy and crunchy, it was hard to decipher the onion essence. We opted for a side of ranch dressing for our dipping endeavors, as the barbecue sauce masked too much of the main character’s flavor. Abbey woefully noted, “I thought they made their own ranch, but this is definitely Hidden Valley.” We dug in, anyway.

Entrees at The Stray Dog run from sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs served with fries to salads, tacos, pizza and more.

In the name of research, I had to sample the Stray Dog hot dog. The restaurant must’ve been ahead of the everything-wrapped-in-bacon trend, as the Stray Dog is a cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog tucked into a poppy seed bun and topped with caramelized onions.

Biting through the bun and the bacon, the hot dog’s snappy casing gave way to gooey cheese, while the onions added a nice crunch (crunchiness defies the claim of caramelization, but I digress). It was every bit indulgent and texturally gratifying. Even the table’s non-hot dog lover approved.

Abbey’s choice, the grilled grouper sandwich with remoulade sauce, held the promise of good reviews, but a little too much time under too-high heat gave way to overcooking and charring.

Brittney’s go-to dish at The Stray Dog, the fish tacos, did not disappoint. The flaky fried tilapia was nicely cooked and the pico de gallo and cumin lime sauce provided just the right acidic punch.

Another selection for the table, the green chile cheeseburger, was lacking the flavor kick I hoped the green chiles and pepper jack cheese would provide. Also cooked past the requested medium-rare, the burger had promise on paper but didn’t deliver on the plate. Luckily, a side of well-seasoned french fries saved the day.

Tables out on the patio allow visitors to enjoy the summer weather when the restaurant opens up the windows, but the space isn’t without detractions. I sat facing a small service area where staff members hung around idly when not busy.

The service was quick and attentive, though it slowed slightly as the patio filled up with more patrons. Management was genuinely apologetic and responsive to comments about the burnt grouper sandwich and “new guy” Cody showed he has the chops to handle the droves that flock to The Stray Dog during the summer.

The attractions of friendly service and a great bar will keep the masses coming to The Stray Dog. When it comes to the food, count on a few menu items being consistently good, while others may just satisfy.

Jennifer’s impression in a nutshell:

Food: 6/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

The Stray Dog is open daily at noon. It is located at 245 North Whittaker St., New Buffalo. Its phone number is (269) 469-2727.

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