To those who continue to lament the 2013 closing of Hidden Chicken Café on St. Michael’s Drive—a serious blow to potpie lovers everywhere—it’s time to dry your eyes, uncurl from that depressing fetal position and embrace the new.
Loyal Hound (730 St. Michael's Drive, 471-0440) may not be potpie centric and in some ways, it's still a bit hidden. The restaurant sits on the backside of a chain pizza joint and has few markings to make it stand out on the high-traffic side of the retail complex it's attached to. Still, word of mouth in Santa Fe is king, and Loyal Hound is reaping the rewards of making sure that word is positive.
For those unfamiliar with the gastropub concept, a quick primer: Spawned in London in the early 1990s by a handful of chefs, patrons and bar owners who shared a growing disinterest in the mediocrity of pub menus, the gastropub aimed to marry the best of a few worlds—great beer, great wine and inspired food to match. The concept quickly flew across the pond and landed in Santa Fe at the now-defunct Sleeping Dog Tavern, a venue that, no matter how hard it tried with its food, couldn't shake a more adult-oriented sports-bar persona and table service that was middling at best.
At Loyal Hound, expect owners David Readyhough and Renée Fox, and the rest of the dedicated staff, to treat you like an old friend, even if you've never met each other. It's obvious this is their labor of love, from the clean, contemporary furnishings and décor, to the extra piece of dessert that may end up in your to-go order.
In the vein of more cosmopolitan G-pubs, such as The Spotted Pig in New York City's West Village, Loyal Hound's food menu keeps the savory selections short but well executed (about 22 items encompassing snacks, salads, sandwiches and entrées), with a keen eye toward quality ingredients and locally sourced products.
A snack of chile-dusted housemade white-corn chips with a chunky avocado dip and a slightly spicy, roasty-toasty, entirely addictive tomatillo salsa ($6) brought a slice of home to the table, but the avo disappeared underneath the salsa's deep flavors and textures. A squeeze of lemon from my water into the dip remedied that instantly. An appetizer of sweet, briny, clean-tasting shrimp coated in ultra-crunchy, airy coconut shavings ($10) renewed my faith in high-desert chefs who dare to fuss with the bounty of the sea. Accompanying mango-jalapeño chutney gave the dish an authentic island boost that brought me back to the beer-soaked decks of Nassau, Bahamas.
Speaking of beer, Loyal Hound offers at least six brews on draft and a few in the bottle. On my visit, no New Mexico beers were available, but a pint of Abita Turbodog dark brown ale from Louisiana ($5) on draft was the perfect foil for my entrée. Brimming (but not bursting) with the flavors of Willamette hops and a trifecta of diversely caramelized malts, the brew made good friends with one of the best burgers I have ever shoved into my maw. Ever.
The "Wil-Burger" ($14; pictured above) may seem pricey, but what you get is much more than a meat-on-bun experience. A sturdy, toasted English muffin hugs a delicately formed grind of local, grass-fed beef and heritage pork (cooked to a perfect medium-rare, as requested) topped with house-cured bacon, fruity-creamy Taleggio cheese and a generous dollop of sweet-piquant cherry/red-onion compote. In deference to the richness of the burger, and because my dining companion was sticking with the "Old Skool Fish-n-Chips" ($12), I substituted green-chile slaw for house-cut fries. There is some creeping heat in there if that's what you're after, but there isn't much personality to the cabbage mixture beyond that.
Dear every restaurant/pub in Santa Fe: Go to Loyal Hound now and learn how to make batter-fried fish. Prepared with flaky, slightly fatty white fillets of the freshest fish available in town, the secret to this dish's success is its light coating. While still maintaining a deep golden brown hue, the batter renders a delicate crunch and pleasant dissolve that doesn't make the roof of your mouth look like the surface of the moon. The house-cut fries, on the other hand, could have been crispier, less long and less oily.
With at least four desserts to choose from, including a gluten-free olive oil chocolate cake, satisfying a sweet tooth is easy at the Hound. For a grab-n-go experience, place your bets on "The Doggy Bag" ($6), three beignets (choux-pastry doughnuts imported to New Orleans during the 18th century) rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Prepared à la minute and limited in supply due to their popularity, these bad boys need to be eaten almost immediately after serving.
Loyal Hound is a good pup—bite heartily and bark it on high.
: M-Th 11am-9 pm;
Fridays 11 am-10 pm
and Saturdays noon-10 pm
the get-‘em-while-they’re-hot beignets