White Dog Bistro: The total dining experience
by Tom Hardin
History, eye-catching decor, good service, and delicious food were all part of my recent dining experience at the White Dog Bistro in Mathews Court House.
The restaurant building is a Georgian mansion that opened as the Lane Hotel in 1840. It later served as a private home and as a bed and breakfast. MGM movie star Toby Wing once owned the building and lived there until 2001. Several framed photos of her adorn the walls. Wing performed in 34 movies and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The current owners, Mac and JC Casale, purchased the building in 2012 and turned what was the White Dog Inn into the White Dog Bistro.
My wife Bev and I especially enjoyed the art and other decor throughout the restaurant. If you like dogs, you’ll see dog paintings on the walls, especially white dogs. In fact, it seems everywhere you look you see dog art, dog sculptures or dog figures.
We were seated in the main dining room by our waiter Mike. The dining room was old-fashioned in a beautiful way—marble top tables, cloth-covered chairs, a decorated mantel, and large crystal chandelier. We could imagine Toby Wing sitting there with her blonde hair, striking a “movie star” pose.
Mike thoroughly explained the menu, which is changed weekly by the bistro’s award-winning executive chef Walter Wilkes.
Compliments of Chef Wilkes, we started our meal with a large tortilla chip topped with pineapple and green tomato salsa. A tasty start to the evening.
For an appetizer, Bev and I shared an order of “White Dog Puppies,” deep-fried cornmeal hush puppies with crab meat and fresh fish inside. They came with a delicious creamy pimento and cave-aged cheddar dip.
Several items on the entree menu appealed to us and choosing was difficult. Bev had “Islander Crab Cakes” seared and broiled with a light panko crust, and topped with fresh herb butter and a lime and sweet pepper aioli sauce. The crab cakes also came with chive-whipped potatoes and crispy mixed vegetables.
Ordering crab cakes is always risky because one never knows how much filler will be used. Bev and I both agreed, the White Dog’s crab cakes were among the best we’ve ever had. In fact, White Dog’s crab cakes won first place in Chesapeake Bay Magazine’s 2015 “Best of the Bay” awards.
I love Cajun, so I ordered the “Whol-otta Seafood Gumbo,” a steamed medley of jumbo shrimp and scallops, blackened grouper, Andouille sausage and crispy vegetables. It was mixed with a mildly-spiced smokehouse gumbo sauce and a limey roasted garlic rice pilaf. I’d order it again.
For dessert we shared Mike’s recommendation, the Peach “Shumacher,” warm peaches in buttery praline syrup topped with nut-filled oat granola and vanilla ice cream. It had plenty of sweet crunch.
Around us, patrons were dining on delicious-looking filet mignon, baja-style cobia, Carribean pork loin, a “Huntsman’s Mixed Grill” with quail, duck and venison, scallops, shrimp, and much more.
“In this area, crab cakes and filet mignon are a couple of staples you can’t do without,” said Mac.
The servings were generous. “Here we are about both presentation and great portions,” said Mike.
Both Mike and Mac raved about the talents of Chef Wilkes and the new culinary creations he presents each week.
Mac explained that Chef Wilkes will add and take away menu items depending on the season. “It all depends on what’s fresh at that time of year and what we can buy locally. We try to offer dishes that other restaurants don’t have.”
I looked at a sample menu on the restaurant’s website and noticed such items as grouper, shrimp jambalaya, and seafood manicotti.
Inside, there is table seating for about 66 in the two dining areas. There are two bars (20 total stools), one of which is a spacious enclosed bar adjacent to an outdoor event deck that can accommodate up to 75. In this outdoor area the White Dog Bistro hosts concerts every other Saturday evening from mid-April through mid-September. There also is a large grassy area that can accomodate 250 for wedding receptions and other large gatherings. In 2015 the White Dog held 17 wedding receptions there, and catered another 20 weddings off-site.
The Casales bought a vacation home in Mathews about eight years ago, which led them to opening the White Dog Bistro. Originally from Brooklyn, they have lived in Pennsylvania for the past 20 years.