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Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 01:00 am

Springfield’s outdoor dining goes to the dogs


Seana Holt, a server at Augie’s Front Burner restaurant in Springfield, watches her Chihuahua, Pedro, enjoy a meal outside the restaurant.

My first sojourn to Europe was with the U of I Concert Choir. We gave concerts, attended a two-week Renaissance music symposium, and did a lot of sightseeing. But there was something else I was determined to do, something I’d been longing to experience ever since I’d read about them and seen them in movies.

I wanted to sit at an outdoor café. There may have been American outdoor cafés or restaurants in the 1970s, but I’d never seen or heard of any during trips to big cities; certainly there were none in central Illinois. Going to a European outdoor café wasn’t about the food for me – a coffee or glass of wine would be fine. It was about the ambiance, the chance to do something Europeans do rather than just be a tourist.

Unfortunately, my friends couldn’t get around the two-dollar price tag for the coffee – this was well before specialty coffees hit American shores. I explained that the price included unlimited time to linger at the table without being hassled to order more, and offered an unparalleled opportunity for people-watching; but my friends weren’t interested.

So I went by myself. Those experiences were all I’d thought they would be, and much more. Watching people strolling by and sitting around me was fascinating. But as fascinating, and completely unexpected, was observing their dogs. In all shapes and sizes, the dogs were uniformly well-behaved – and clearly more experienced at café life than I. In some places, the servers brought the dogs bowls of water; sometimes even food prepared especially for them.

Over the last two decades, outdoor restaurant seating and cafés have flourished in the U.S. First appearing in big cities, today they can be found everywhere.

Springfield has a nice outdoor dining scene. Many downtown restaurants and cafés have outdoor seating alongside lovely plantings; all have ambience provided by nearby restored buildings, the Old State Capitol and/or the Abraham Lncoln Presidential Library. Away from downtown, some just overlook a parking lot. But others, such as Incredibly Delicious with its historic mansion and gorgeous gardens, and Pao, with comfortable patio seating, also make eating outdoors special.

American cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating are increasingly accepting dogs; initially in large cities, particularly in and around residential areas where people walking their dogs could stop for a coffee, drink, or to eat. In my daughter’s Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, not only do most eating/drinking establishments allow dogs in their outdoor areas (local regulations specify they must be on the perimeter), many shops keep a bowl of fresh water outside for their passing canine friends.

Here in Springfield, there are places that permit dogs in their outdoor areas. But one is going the extra mile: Augie’s Front Burner.

Well-behaved dogs have always been welcome outdoors at Augie’s. This year , however, they’re offering a Fresh Farmers Market Brunch every Saturday with extra appeal for both dogs and their owners. For the humans, the menu, Bloody Mary bar, and fresh fruit daiquiris all utilize products from the Old Capitol Farmers Market, located just around the corner.

Chef/owner Augie Mrozowski makes something special each Saturday for his canine customers, too. One week it might be pasta with carrots, peas and ground beef; the next, hash made with chicken, lamb, or trimmings from game such as elk; as well as dog-healthy ingredients such as potato, zucchini, carrots and apples. Most preparations also contain turmeric, the spice responsible for the yellow color of ballpark mustard and many curry powders. It’s exceptionally beneficial for both dogs and humans. Each doggie entrée, always a generous serving, costs just $2.50. Though the doggie dishes are featured for Saturday brunch, Mrozowski will be happy to make something for pooches at other times – especially with a bit of advance notice.

Mrozowski was always “on board” with encouraging customers to bring their dogs to Augie’s outside. But it was server Seanna Holt who was the real impetus. “I just love my Chihuahua, Pedro,” she says. “And I like to take him anywhere I can. Augie was willing, so we decided we wanted to do things to accommodate dogs.”

Holt, who incidentally is one of the best servers in Springfield – friendly and accomodating as well as professional – also makes the variety of dog treats Augie’s sells, such as Peanut Butter Pumpkin Whole Wheat Biscuits and Puppy Pretzels with Carob Frosting.

It might not have been Mrozowski’s idea, but it was a natural for him. He says, “We always had dogs when I was growing up, but we never bought dog food. My dad was the chef at the St. Nick [Nicholas Hotel]. I started working with him, doing butchering, when I was 14. We raised our own ducks and chickens, and we always made the trimmings and organ meats [from them and other meats] into food for our dogs.”

These days, creating their own charcuterie (sausages and cured meats) is the latest rage with many of America’s best chefs. But for Mrozowski, it’s simply what he’s always done. His meat, procured from local sources whenever possible, is cut on the premises. His bacon and hams are cured and smoked in-house. And he’s still making the trimmings into delectable dishes for dogs.

That’s at Augie’s Front Burner,105 S. Fifth St., Springfield. 217-544-6979.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

Etiquette tips for dogs at outdoor restaurants

Find out more about outdoor dining with dogs at the website, www.dogfriendly.com. It lists dog-friendly outdoor dining establishments by state, though it’s far from comprehensive. As it says, your best bet is to call or ask ahead. There’s information on state regulations and variances. The website also lists hotels/motels, parks and other places that welcome dogs. Below are their tips for doggie dining:

- Make sure your pooch is well-behaved around other people and especially children.

- Leash your four-legged friend and keep him or her from socializing with other diners or employees, unless welcomed.

- Try to keep your dog close to your table or chair so he or she is not in the waiter’s path. Dogs are not allowed on the chairs or tables.

- Bring your own doggie bowl or ask the waiter for a paper or plastic bowl or cup for water if necessary. Pets are not permitted to eat or drink out of restaurant glasses or dishes, unless they are disposable.

- Remember to tie your dog to your chair and not a table. A dog tied to a table can result in spilled drinks or food if he or she is strong enough to make the table move.

- Always call ahead or ask first to make sure an establishment allows dogs at their outdoor tables.

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