For some, it's proof that the dining scene has, quite literally, gone to the dogs.
But to animal lovers such as Dan and Joan Huber of Observatory Hill, eating with your pet al fresco at a favorite restaurant is like the cherry on top of a sundae . . . or should we say a tasty piece of rawhide after a dinner of kibble. Whatever the language, it's a treat.
It's also savvy marketing, as Cassis on Western Avenue in Allegheny West has been pleased to discover. While dog owners are hardly taking over, the restaurant has drawn as many as seven dogs and their masters to its patio off Galveston Avenue since starting its Tuesday "Bowl and Biscuit Night" in July, and promoting it on Facebook. Regulars include the Hubers and their 2-year-old miniature schnauzer, Samson Amadeus.
Walking with your pooch to a neighborhood hangout is one thing. The Hubers load their wiry bundle of energy into their car, and happily so, for the 10-minute drive to the North Side. Why should neighbors be the only ones to enjoy owner/executive chef Dianne Porter's good eats?
"Lady Di always has a beautiful menu," says Mrs. Huber, who on a recent Tuesday was noshing on baked brie with roasted peppers and potatoes. "And he loves Tuesday nights."
The dog, that is, who seemed equally pleased with his bowl of doggie chicken pate and steamed broccoli.
Cassis also offers a tofu option, but like his owners, Samson Amadeus isn't a vegetarian, "so he's never had it," says Mrs. Huber.
Two-legged diners still are very much the norm at Pittsburgh restaurants, especially inside, where health codes ban pets other than service animals.
But a handful of places host four-legged diners outdoors.
As Americans fall deeper in love with their dogs -- according to the trade group American Pet Products Association, pet owners are increasingly including their canine best friends on trips to hotels, restaurants and even spas -- more restaurateurs are following in the Fido-friendly footsteps of their European counterparts, where dogs have long been part of the sidewalk restaurant scene.
At least three websites compile lists of eateries that welcome canine guests: bringfido.com/restaurant, dogfriendly.com and petfriendlytravel.com.
In 2006, Florida became the first state to enact a "doggie dining" law explicitly allowing restaurateurs to permit dogs in outdoor eating areas.
Dogs are permitted at any outdoor dining area in California, so long as they don't have to walk through the inside of the restaurant to get to the outdoor seating. Since 2008, pets also are permitted on patios in Denver, provided the business applies for a special permit.
North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the latest to embrace doggie diners, revising its rules on Aug. 19 to allow dogs and cats in outdoor dining areas, so long as the animals are physically restrained, do not go in through the indoor section of the restaurant and avoid contact with food service items or food handlers/preparers. It goes into effect Sept. 1.
Whether the practice is banned outright by the Allegheny County Health Department, as spokesman Dave Zazac maintains, may be up for interpretation: Article III, Section 326.6 states, "Live animals shall be excluded from within the food facility operational areas and from immediately adjacent areas inside the premise." Maybe the more important question is this: if no one complains, is it enforced?
Having pets on site does raise liability issues for patrons and staff. What if two dogs get into it or someone at a neighboring table is terribly allergic? Or worse, your pooch nips at a diner or decides to relieve himself? You also have to have faith that staff wash their hands after handling bowls that have been licked clean, and properly wash and sanitize dishes that also end up on their masters' tables.
For those reasons and more, the New York City Health Department (somewhat surprisingly, given the number of dogs seen at sidewalk cafes and restaurants) joins Allegheny County in banning live animals in food service establishments (except for edible fish, shellfish or crustaceans), notes the department's associate press secretary Zoe Tobin via e-mail. So does Washington state.
At Cassis, animals arrive and depart via the courtyard, and must be kept under control on a leash while their owners dine.
It's always a restaurant owner's prerogative to choose whether or not to allow dogs in permitted outdoor dining areas, of course, and whether to go the extra mile and offer a dog-centric menu, like Ms. Porter of Cassis, which will continue its Biscuit and Bowl night through fall. Double Wide Grill in the South Side is another that offers pet eats in nice weather on the outdoor dining area facing Carson Street. Served in a special doggie bowl, they include chicken breast or beef patty for $2.99, a tofu platter for $1.99 and an organic biscuit for 99 cents.
Some furry friends come so often during summer, says marketing coordinator Ashley Ryon, that the servers get to know them. The restaurant also held non-profit pancake breakfasts this summer to help raise money for Animal Rescue League and Animal Friends.
At other restaurants, dogs-night-out unfolds more informally. At Aladdin's Eatery in Mt. Lebanon, for instance, it's not unusual for someone walking her dog to decide to stop at one of the restaurant's tables lining the sidewalk. Or request some water for said pooch in a take-out soup bowl. The same goes for Hartwood Restaurant in Indiana Township, where dogs are permitted on the patio and more than one owner has indulged his pet with filet mignon.
"Some people have called, but it's really just word of mouth," says Robin McCarthy, Hartwood manager.
Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon is another that keeps its dog-friendly patio on the down-low, if only because it's a "rare occasion" when patrons bring Fido along.
"It's a non-issue," says owner Ron Molinaro.
That said, he's happy to serve canine customers a bowl of meatballs, no sauce, should their owners request it. That's what his own dogs nosh on on nights he works late.
Most dogs, Mr. Molinaro says, are more well-mannered than most people. "And there certainly are other things running around outside beyond our control."
Raccoon and squirrel excepted, animals on the patio in Pittsburgh is still new enough that some restaurateurs don't seem to realize it's an option.
"Hey, do we ever have dogs on the patio?" Sean Casey, proprietor of the Church Brew Works, called out to a staffer when contacted by phone.
Turns out they have, for the past two years. It's just that people don't ask often enough for the privilege for the brew house to promote or even encourage it.
"It's only about once every two weeks or so," says Mr. Casey.
Four-legged customers are much more common at Jerry's Curb Service, a drive-up hamburger joint in Bridgewater, Beaver County. General manager Fran Benedict guesses its car hops every day serve at least six $1.30 "mutt burgers" (it's a chopped burger served in a special dog dish with no bread or toppings) and maybe twice that amount on weekends.
Not only that, but Jerry's has been doing it for . . . well, probably since the restaurant opened in 1943.
"How long?" repeats Mr. Benedict when he's posed the question. "Honestly, I don't know the answer to that. But I've been here eight and a half years," he says with a laugh, "and it's been way longer than that."
Doggiepate ala Cassis
This recipe is meant to be for the dogs.
- 2 pounds boneless chicken meat (trimmings or combination boneless thighs and breasts); leave the fat on for flavor.
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 large carrot, quartered
Cover chicken, celery and carrot with water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrot is tender and chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Cool. Transfer to processor and process until blended. Add cooked rice if desired. Form into decorative shapes, if desired, and serve.
-- Dianne Porter, Cassis
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1419.