By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008
At a glance: This is no date night (though that could be fun). This is no kid place (though they are welcome here). This is no rowdy bar or snooty, upscale restaurant with a 20-page wine list and a string quartet (though the beer is plentiful and the wine is good).
Lost Dog Cafe is very simply a good spot to hang out: a neighborhood joint where you can go to praise Redskin Jason Campbell's quarterback skills, the recent election or the latest episode of "The Office." Wear a baseball cap here, and maybe those old running shoes your spouse keeps trying to get you to chuck. Come with your girlfriends, your soccer buddies or your wife. Just come to hang out. Like the food, there should be nothing heavy about your experience.
In a small strip mall on a hill in Arlington, the lights from Lost Dog's window shine brightly. The restaurant is a small, happy, inviting place that was born out of a love for lost dogs and a desire to help them find their way home. (The cafe's owners started a foundation for lost dogs and cats.) Diners may be momentarily confused by the entrance: It's through the deli, past shelves of microbrews. Rest assured, this is the right place.
The restaurant decor reflects the owners' passion: Pictures of dogs are everywhere. In huge, slightly gauche paintings in the back room, dogs are playing pool, reading the paper, watching TV and making phone calls. Outside the bathroom are photos of dogs in small frames. On the menu, a dog looks to be howling to the night sky. The T-shirts, sweat shirts and caps for sale depict man's best friend, too. If you don't like dogs, this may not be your place.
On the menu: Think of what the saints might serve in heaven to a really hungry, hardworking crowd that has just made it through the gates. Would Peter serve a beef barbecue pizza with onions and mozzarella cheese? Would Matthew offer a pastrami, ham, pepperoni, salami, red onion, jalapeño, basil and oregano pizza along with a cold beer to wash it down? Or maybe Agnes, looking out for the sweet tooths, would provide a mint chocolate chip milkshake and a chocolate fudge sundae to the faithful. Lost Dog Cafe takes some of the tastiest individual food items (bacon! spinach! feta cheese!), puts them together on a pie crust and transforms a typical pizza into a fresh, fun and exciting dining experience. And that's before you even get to dessert.
Choose from 31 inventive individual, medium or large pizzas with very thin crusts. The Rin Tin Tin Pie with fresh mushrooms, spinach, red onions, red pepper, mozzarella and basil was a favorite. It's simpler than the other pizzas but a great combination of fresh veggies on a whole-wheat crust (a small detail that really added a great deal to the taste). For the barbecue lover, Yogi the Lab's Pie is dripping with sweet barbecue sauce. (Although it could have had more chicken on it.) The spinach and feta pie is covered in small pieces of crisp bacon that will leave you thirsty but satisfied.
The Whippet Pie, one of five white pizzas, was too cheesy and the chicken a bit dry. Though I confess I am not usually a big fan of white pizza.
Lost Dog was originally a deli, and you can still choose from 52 sandwiches. (And, yes, they are pretty much toasty, scrumptious delights.) But whatever you do, save room for dessert.
Lost Dog doesn't make its desserts on-site, but that doesn't make them any less fresh or delicious. Do yourself a favor and do not offer to share the Reese's Peanut Butter Pie. With a thick layer of peanut butter, whipped cream and chocolate, you will want to eat the whole thing. Lost Dog also offers three sundaes and 10 milkshakes. The mocha milkshake was tasty: not too thick and not too runny.
At your service: The staff members are fast. They're nice. They are cool types, and they'll chat with you if you like or leave you alone if you prefer. Note that weekend days and nights at Lost Dog are busy; waits can be as long as an hour.
What to avoid: The Lost Dog Dip is similar to what's left of the taco dip after the party winds down at the end of the night. And although the Green Dog Dip (spinach and artichoke) was good, it was a pretty small serving for an appetizer.
Wet your whistle: This is not a good place to drink heavily. The restaurant limits alcoholic drinks to three per person. That said, there's a good beer selection that changes with the season and now includes Dogfish Head pumpkin ale. The wine list offers a little something for all grape lovers, and you'll get a healthy serving.
Bottom line: The food isn't fancy, cooked to perfection or seasoned with just that right mix of sea salt and cardamom. It's good because the people behind the Lost Dog took a tried, true and delicious concept (pizza) and made it their own. In a cool, inviting setting, perfect for a meal with friends, the restaurant would lead any lost dog home.
Lost Dog Cafe 5876 Washington Blvd., Arlington Phone: 703-237-1552 Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Prices: Appetizers $2.95-$9.95, individual pies $10.95-$12.95, sandwiches $4.95-$8.95 Wheelchair access: Good