We’re spoiled here in Vero. If you lived in the Washington, DC area, or in Chicago, or Los Angeles, you would think nothing of driving an hour to dinner. Here, we are quick to dismiss restaurants that are a 30-minute drive as "too far."
But if, by chance, you happen to be returning to Vero Beach from the Orlando airport – or have other occasion to be up in that direction – you really ought to make it a point to visit the Yellow Dog Café on US 1 in Malabar a half a dozen miles south of Melbourne. This restaurant, while close to a 30- mile trip each way for most beachside readers, really is that good. And as we noted last year, it is one of those rare restaurants that combines excellent food with a drop-dead view of the Indian River Lagoon.
Totally redone following the 2004 hurricanes, the restaurant – which from the road misleadingly looks like just another highway hangout – inside consists of three charming dining areas: a cozy room overlooking the lagoon and an open kitchen; a more traditional room filled with antiques; and a large downstairs that opens onto an outdoor seating area leading to a dock (yes, you can come by boat).
On our most recent visit, we dined for the first time in the antique-filled room just behind the entrance, and were shown to a very nice table overlooking the water.
On this visit, my husband started with the escargot ($11), a delicious preparation of snails sautéed with garlic, lemon and white wine and topped with a puff pastry bone.
I opted for the chef’s soup of the evening – a cup of crab bisque with chunks of crab floating in the creamy base. Very smooth and nice.
Following our appetizers, I had the house salad – a tasty mix of mesclun, red beans, roasted pumpkin seeds and feta cheese tossed in a citrus balsamic vinaigrette. My husband upgraded (an additional $3) to an old blue spinach salad -- spinach leaves lightly tossed with bleu cheese, blue blueberries, toasted pecans and blueberry vinaigrette. Well worth it, he said.
For my entrée, I had the half-rack of lamb ($26 for the half, $32 for a full rack). The herb rubbed lamb is always wonderful here, and true to form, it was grilled perfectly, and finished with a natural lamb au jus.
My husband selected one of the evening’s specials, beer-braised beef short ribs ($38), which he said could not have been tastier or more tender.
On a previous visit, my husband selected the evening’s seafood special, a pecan crusted snapper. A splendid piece of fish, very nicely prepared.
I had the shrimp Louisiana – sautéed shrimp tossed in garlic, butter and Creole seasoning, served over crawfish grits and vegetable succotash. This was one of our rare disappointments. The shrimp were plump and tasty, but the coarse-ground grits were missing the creamy texture that would have made this dish perfection.
On other occasions, we have enjoyed seafood entrees including grouper served in a light citrus glaze; lobster mornay, Maine Lobster, steamed, removed from the shell and served over puff pastry, finished with a lemon saffron mornay sauce; and fresh swordfish, broiled perfectly, and served in a light citrus Asian glaze over a bed of noodles and bok choy.
Meat entrees which we have sampled and can highly recommend include the mixed grill – a dish that varies from night to night – as well as the filet mignon.
We accompanied our dinners with very drinkable wine selections from the Yellow Dog’s quite reasonably priced wine list.
For dessert on the most recent occasion, we tried a sinfully rich layered chocolate cake. On our previous visit, we had the Profiteroles – a single Profiterole on steroids which had more of the consistency of a cookie than Pate a Choux.
Dinner for two is not cheap, most recently running about $140 for two before tip. But the Yellow Dog is no more expensive than some of our island restaurants – and it compares favorably with the best.
We would also note that the Yellow Dog Café is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch – giving beachside residents who do not fancy a lengthy drive home after dark another option for sampling this Best in Breed winner of a restaurant.