At Red Dog Diner, the Magazine Street restaurant from neighboring Rum House owner Michael Buchert, it's hard to escape the space's namesake. The dog motif, Inspired by the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, extends to the restaurant's design, from the giant dog head made of out wooden slabs in front (which during the holidays, was fashioned into Rudolph with antlers and a red nose) to the brick-lined rear dining room adorned with murals of the crimson hound in landscapes.
The restaurant has a casual, farmhouse-chic vibe, complete with mason jars filled with a colorful array of pickled vegetables lining the shelves and a back bar furnished with reclaimed wooden accents, wrought iron barstools and dangling pendant lights. What could be precious comes off as charming and cozy.
The homey vibe extends to chef Terri Savoie's menu, with its extensive list of eclectic and creative comfort food. While most dishes have an Americana feel, there are international touches here and there, as seen in a bowl of seafood and chorizo stew topped with saffron-colored ancho pepper rice and in duck diablo soup topped with poblano-spiced polenta croutons.
Cloves of elephant garlic dress the "Nosh Plate," a curious appetizer sampler akin to a selection of side dishes at a Mediterranean wedding buffet. The plate is loaded with thinly sliced roasted potatoes, warm Kalamata olives, thick slices of spicy grilled chorizo, pickled shrimp and grilled bread. The flavors are all there, but the Chihuahua cheese melted on the bottom of the dish congeals quickly so scooping up leftover bits is an awkward and greasy endeavor.
Crab and corn fritters are soft and creamy on the inside and have a dark caramel exterior after a dip in the deep fryer. The crunchy orbs are perched on a bed of garlic and chive butter, and the chef's liberal use of garlic is balanced by the sharp bite of chive and fresh, buttery corn kernels.
Crab and avocado bruschetta has the necessary elements to succeed, although it seems seasonally inappropriate — creamy nibs of avocado, buttery crab morsels and tomato top toasted slices of sturdy and chewy herbed focaccia.
In diner style, the lengthy menu includes dishes that run the gamut from comfort-inspired Southern plates to pizzas, pastas and sandwiches. There isn't a cohesive theme or cuisine, but dishes are fine for the most part.
The menu's girth is mirrored in portion sizes, and several entrees easily can be shared. Parmesan- crusted chicken draped over a heaping pile of smoky macaroni and cheese with glazed carrots is a gut-busting blue plate special. The chicken is spatchcocked and kept tender under a blanket of buttery Parmesan crumbs, but the show stealer is the macaroni and cheese, which is smoky, gooey and wonderfully cheesy.
Pizzas are manageably sized pastries with thick, buttery pielike crusts. A version with roasted beets, spinach and mushrooms is topped with melted fontina and wisps of creamy goat cheese. The pie is drizzled with a syrupy-thick balsamic gastrique that renders the dish almost like candy.
Red Dog Diner isn't close to realizing the popularity of Rum House, but for neighbors and Magazine Street shoppers looking for a quick and casual dining experience without a long wait, that appears to be a good thing.