Phoenix seems to have a growing enthusiasm for dog parks. The new facility in Hance Park is popular, and a development proposed for Central Station shows a dog park in its preliminary renderings. Even those who don’t care for dogs can endorse this trend because it creates a zone for canine recreation and makes dogs more likely to stay leashed elsewhere. On Roosevelt Row in Downtown Phoenix, near a site proposed and ultimately rejected for yet another dog park, Short Leash Sit Stay has established its own haven for a different type of dog, the hot dog.
The restaurant is descended from the ubiquitous Short Leash truck. Chances are you’ve seen Short Leash at any of the numerous food truck clusters and special events around town. Just as Short Leash was one of the earliest entrants in the contemporary Phoenix food truck scene, it has also become one of the first food trucks to establish a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. While the truck and its trailer counterpart continue to make appearances all over, the fixed location restaurant is well situated just two blocks east of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station.
The restaurant’s signs are small, so look for the eatery in the space next to the Nash jazz club. When the Short Leash truck is parked behind the patio, that’s another obvious clue that you’ve found the restaurant. Diners can “sit…stay” on that patio during mild weather or eat inside the small dining room or at the L-shaped bar. Bike racks are located right outside along Roosevelt. The decor has a canine theme, with pictures of beloved dogs, as well as a social media twist in the restrooms where actual tweets related to the food are painted on the walls.
As with the food truck, the menu emphasizes the simple hot dog in myriad forms with inventive topping combinations. The signature of Short Leash, however, begins with the bread. Here, the familiar squishy hot dog bun is replaced with a piece of naan, the leavened, teardrop-shaped flatbread best known from Indian and Pakistani restaurants. The naan is wrapped around the meat and its accompaniments. Naan is not only more flavorful than a standard bun, but it also has the structural integrity to hold the copious toppings that characterize a Short Leash dog.
The hot dogs themselves take the form of “regular,” all beef, bratwurst, Polish, beer hot, chicken, and vegetarian. Some like, the brats and the chicken dogs, are more like sausage than classic hot dogs in both taste and texture. They’re a bit longer and thinner and have less snap but more flavor than a traditional frankfurter. Any of them can be paired with any assortment of toppings, whether a custom choice from 30 options or a signature preparation listed on the menu. Regardless of the dog and topping, potato chips or a mesclun salad are offered as sides.
Featured topping combinations include tropical touches such as the Aoki with mango chutney and mayonnaise, Southwestern influences like the Moki with green chiles and pinto beans, and All-American dogs along the lines of the Bear with peanut butter and cracker jacks. For a dollar more, premium dogs include the Sunny, with seasonal fruit such as peaches or pears inside the naan with some salad, prosciutto, and goat cheese. The bratwurst stuffed pretzel is exactly as the name suggests: a brat inside a pretzel bun, one of the rare exceptions to the use of naan.
These signature hot dogs, along with customers’ build-your-own choices, are available at all times, but it’s during evening dinner and weekend brunch hours that the Short Leash restaurant goes off leash and offers some items not available via its food truck. For supper, the pig in a blanket is much more than the familiar hors-d’oeuvre. Instead, it’s a lively Sicilian sausage redolent of fennel served inside pastry alongside hearty mashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable, The polka dot casserole is creamy mac-and-cheese dappled with sliced hot dog.
Midday on Saturdays and Sundays, Short Leash pours mimosas and coffee and serves brunch items such as a breakfast scramble adorned, of course, with sliced hot dogs, and its own interpretation of chicken and waffles in which a chicken habanero sausage stands in for the usual fried poultry. The mild heat of the sausage, combine with the sharpness of the cheddar cheese in the waffles, makes this dish an energetic meeting of flavors that might be improved only via the addition of some fresh fruit, perhaps in place of just one piece of the filling waffles.
Given the liberal use of hot dogs and sausages throughout the menu, Short Leash might seem unappealing for diners who don’t enjoy either, even in their meatless forms. Fortunately, the restaurant does offer some items without cured, cased meats. As an appetizer, the fried pickles work by mixing the tartness of the brined cucumbers with a buttermilk batter that yields a light, tempura-like texture. The fried green tomato stack and the goat cheese salad, offered with or without chicken sausage, are both substantial entrees in themselves.
For dessert, slices of pie from Mama Toledo’s, another food truck operator, are available. In fact, whole pies can be purchased from a small retail operation within the restaurant. Drinks emphasize craft beers, including a pleasing, all-purpose house brew; keg wines by the glass such as District 7 pinot noir; and a small selection of creative cocktails. In Central Phoenix, dogs can run around more than ever in their own dedicated parks, but Short Leash’s fixed presence on Roosevelt Row means that humans can sit and stay for a while enjoying another type of dog.
December 17, 2015 update: Short Leash no longer serves slices of pie from Mama Toledo’s, which has relocated to another site. Instead, Short Leash offers donuts from its new Rollover venture as dessert.
110 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station