What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Who Let the Dogs Out
Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.
They say that dogs are a man's best friend. I didn't have a dog growing up, due to my mom's fur allergies, so I never quite understood the sense of passion that dog-owners have for their canine companions. But over the years, after seeing how intensely loyal and loving they are to their dogs, even moreso than people in many cases, I've wondered why there aren't more businesses that cater to dogs and the people that love them.
The Park Bench Cafe in Huntington Beach is one of the few restaurants that I've been to which completely embraces this dog-friendly mentality. An outdoor cafe located in Huntington Beach's Central Park, Park Bench is a haven for dog-lovers that want a good meal while taking their furry loved ones out for a little recreation. Serving breakfast and lunch, the café can stand alone as a quality eatery, but truly differentiates itself by virtue of its dog-friendly atmosphere.
The first thing you notice when you see the café is that there are two separate dining areas, a regular dining area on the blacktop and a specific “doggie dining area” (see photo above) on the lawn so that dogs can actually sit down and eat with their owners. What do you mean sit down and eat with their owners? I mean, Park Bench has a separate dog menu that can be ordered off of, like a kid’s menu. Dishes include ‘Rover Easy’ (two scrambled eggs), ‘Hot Diggity Dog’ (sliced all-beef hot dog), and ‘Wrangler Roundup’ (which the menu describes as “lean ground turkey patty for those doggies on a low-fat diet”). There’s even peanut butter churro bites. And the wait staff relishes in getting to pet the dogs and learning a little more about them.
For us humans, especially those of us without dogs, that care about the dining experience, Park Bench Café is also a nice place to have a morning meal. The picturesque park setting surrounded by trees creates the impression of being deep in nature, though the restaurant is just removed from a main drag. And the menu is chock full of comfort food items that you would find at a casual diner, from breakfast foods like omelettes, pancakes, and French toast, to lunch items like burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Most everything on the menu is priced between $7 and $10, or what you’d pay for a meal at Denny’s.
I was in a breakfasty mood, but needed a heavier meal, so I went for one of the specials, the behemoth Farm Breakfast. The dish is a mouthful just to describe, let alone eat, but it is essentially a skillet dish that consists of an egg scramble with onions, mushrooms, BACON, and cheddar and jack cheese. It’s served on top of a bed on sliced potatoes (which they term home fries, though they were marginally fried), and for the million-dollar twist, topped with sliced avocado. Although bad Ryan would have preferred hash-brown style potatoes for that extra layer of grease and a better contrast of textures with some additional crunch, good Ryan noted that I was getting all four food groups and several kinds of vegetables.
I generally love skillet dishes, so this one was not spectacularly better than any that I’ve had at other good breakfast places. Still, the addition of the avocadoes definitely enhanced the flavor combination (I mean, BACON, cheese, onions, mushrooms plus avocadoes - seriously, that’s almost always going to be tasty). Despite the respective heaviness of those ingredients, I found the dish was considerably lighter than expected (or maybe I wolfed it down too fast). The eggs were cooked to a medium firmness and the potatoes (skins on) were unseasoned, providing the reliable base starch but not adding any savoriness to the dish. I would have loved some peppers or some seasoned salt to give it more kick, but I’m also the guy that will drown his food in spices so what do I know? All in all, a satisfying start to the day, and I even got to dog-watch as well.
Park Bench Café has been run by a dog-loving husband and wife team, Mike and Christie Bartusick, for the last 19 years. When I was there, they were out casually small-talking with all of the guests, and most enjoyably for them, getting to know all of their canine customers. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from Fall through late Spring.
I always place a premium on the quality of service and attentiveness that a restaurant provides because I believe it truly does make a difference when food is prepared with love. (There’s that Top Chef mantra again) In the case of Park Bench Café, you’re not just going to get a lovingly-prepared meal for you. You’ll also get deep, genuine love for that other four-legged member of your family that you love just as dearly.
The Park Bench Café
17732 Goldenwest St.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
All photos by Ryan Young for LAist