Brunch at Blue Dog Cookhouse

Restauranteur Elizabeth Slavutsky was inspired to open her restaurant Blue Dog by her childhood pet, Oliver.

Budding entrepreneurs cite a host of reasons behind their dreams for launching a new restaurant — a lifelong passion for food, the realization of a childhood dream, chefs ready to take the next step and venture out on their own.

While the reasons may vary widely, it’s safe to assume that not many are inspired to open their own restaurant because of their dog.

But that was the case for Elizabeth Slavutsky, who opened the first Blue Dog restaurant in Manhattan’s Chelsea section in 2006. The eatery was inspired by, and named in honor of, her late English Bulldog.

A bloody mary with a tasty truffle oil, cucumber and a red pepper rim. Photograph by Aleesia Forni.

“The restaurant’s name comes from the fond memory of my childhood dog, Oliver,” she said.

Initially, Blue Dog’s menu consisted of a number of Slavutsky’s family recipes, many of which were deep-fried.

“A lot of these recipes are my grandmother’s recipes from way back when,” she said. “My grandmother was a very big part of my childhood. I was basically raised in the kitchen, so instead of playing with dolls, I was in the kitchen, and I found it to be second nature.”

But that concept has seen a shift in recent years, when Slavutsky decided to give the menu a healthier twist, removing certain aspects of the dishes and shifting to an alternative method. Dietary restrictions are also accommodated with ease.

Today, nearly all of the food served at Blue Dog is organic, locally sourced and either homemade or unprocessed. Proteins are grass fed, all natural and USDA approved. Nothing is frozen and all dishes are made on site.

Slavutsky’s venture has proved a popular one. She now operates four restaurants across Manhattan.

WAG headed to a midtown Blue Dog Cookhouse & Drinkery, which was busy on a rainy Saturday afternoon. At the entrance of the restaurant (at 308 W. 50th St.), we were met with a cozy dining area that featured a single long communal table in the center surrounded by booths and high tables. A bar at the front of the restaurant was decorated with industrial fixtures, while faux white branches hung from the ceiling and lined the windows that offered a view of passersby. We grabbed our seats at a table, which just so happened to offer a front-row view of the black-and-white movie projected onto a wall.

Slavutsky said the choice to show classic films stems from her background in filmmaking.

Chocolate brownie sundae. Photograph by Alessia Forni.

“We wanted to add a medium that would enrich the visual experience to celebrate the arts,” she said.

Blue Dog offers a drink choice for virtually every taste. There are more than two dozen cold-pressed and natural juices, along with an array of teas, espressos and coffee options. A cocktail menu was similarly eclectic, ranging from a Purple Rain, which features lavender Fords Gin and violet liqueur, to the provocatively titled “He Had It Coming,” a mezcal and tequila cocktail with a red wine float (and a hint of the musical “Chicago”).

I started with a Bloody Mary, but asking for the brunch classic is not quite specific enough. This eatery offers four variations — a classic vodka and mix, one with mezcal, another with bourbon and a fourth with scotch. I choose the last, which also includes a tasty truffle oil, cucumber and a red pepper rim.

Though the restaurant may place a focus on healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods, that doesn’t mean their brunch menu is lacking for enticing options. There are 11 — yes, 11 — variations on the burger. Unable to resist, my guest chose a juicy Senor Benedict burger, which was topped with a poached egg and slathered with Hollandaise. Crumbled chorizo added a nice kick to the burger, served on a sesame seed bun with a side of crisp fries. 

I opted for home-style chicken and waffles. Crispy chicken sat atop fluffy waffles, while sides of jalapeno maple syrup and a creamy mustard aioli were perfect additions to the brunch staple.

Home-style chicken and waffles. Photograph by Alessia Forni.

Offerings on the dessert menu, or what the eatery refers to as its “Guilty Pleasures,” range from a flourless chocolate cookie ice cream sandwich to a dish called a Chocolate Fantasy, which features sponge cake, layers of chocolate mousse and caramel mascarpone, caramel and chocolate drizzle and chopped chocolate.

We decided on a chocolate brownie sundae, which paired a deliciously rich brownie with vanilla ice cream and was finished with a chocolate drizzle. 

While Slavutsky said Oliver was the driving inspiration behind Blue Dog, a second loving pup is playing a part in making the restaurant the success it is today. Coffee mugs and to-go cups are adorned with the face of Rupert, Slavutsky’s present pet.

“Rupert is a very rare blue English Bulldog, my favorite breed,” she said. 

With gray coats and striking blue eyes, blue Bulldogs are slightly different from their other English counterparts.

“When I laid eyes on him, it was love at first sight.”

Slavutsky said her adoption of Rupert seemed meant to be. She felt destined to bring him, along with his “beautiful blue eyes,” home to Blue Dog. 

“I felt there was no better reason to adopt him,” she said. 

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