One of the most desirable urban amenities right now seems to be dog parks. Hance Park’s canine area is popular, and several development proposals in and around central Phoenix have included dog parks in their preliminary renderings. Even those who don’t particularly care for dogs can endorse a defined zone for canine recreation if it makes dogs more likely to be kept on their leashes in other locations. On Roosevelt Row in Downtown Phoenix, Short Leash maintains a haven for a different type of dog, the hot dog, and its dessert companion, Rollover Doughnuts.
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 was also one of the first food trucks to establish a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. While the vehicles in the restaurant’s fleet continue to make appearances all over town, the fixed location is conveniently 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. The Short Leash trucks parked on the side are another clue. After ordering at the counter, diners are given a card from the Uno game (Full sets are available for those who wish to play a round.) and then choose a seat inside the small dining room, out on the patio, or at the small bar. Bike racks are located just a bit to the east along Roosevelt. The decor has a playful theme, with pictures of beloved dogs, signs full of wordplay, and a foosball table accenting the space.
As with the food truck, the menu emphasizes the simple hot dog in myriad forms with inventive topping combinations. Short Leash’s distinctive approach 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, 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. The restaurant offers original creations known as “signature dogs”, all of which emphasize high-quality ingredients, often in inventive, non-traditional combinations. Customer can also build their own dogs with a la carte toppings.
The Chicago Dog is the most familiar with relish, yellow mustard, diced onions and tomatoes, pepperoncinis, and a shake of celery salt. The Bear is the most avant-garde. It tops the dog with peanut butter, gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce, and Cracker Jacks. In between those two extremes lie combinations that play with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, legumes, and condiments. The Moki is an energetic Southwestern mix of pinto beans, cheddar cheese, sauteed onions, green chiles, and chopped tomatoes, all mellowed with just a touch of mayonnaise.
The Devil Dog is a take-no-prisoners celebration of spice made with red peppers, green chiles, slices jalapenos, shredded cheddar, sauteed onions, and a squirt of sriracha sauce. The Igby is a smooth combination of bleu cheese, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce. 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.
Side dishes include fries with a bit of skin on the potatoes, a simple green salad, creamy mac-and-cheese, medium hot vegetable chili, and the restaurant’s distinctive accompaniment, fried pickles. These slices of brined cucumbers are breaded with a buttermilk batter that yields a light, tempura-like texture. The fries also come “loaded” in shareable appetizer sizes with myriad toppings in all sorts of poutine-like concoctions. Other starters include a pretzel with cheese sauce, jalapeno poppers, cheese curds, pimento cheese dip, and mini corn-dog bites.
The fried green tomato stack, the arugula salad, and the Southwest salad, offered with or without chicken sausage, are all substantial entrees in themselves. They can provide an alternative for anyone wishing to avoid bread, meat, or both. Dessert is where the Rollover part of the restaurant comes into play. The doughnuts here are made with a supple brioche batter, and the flavor combinations can be as bold as those found on the hot dogs. Maple bacon and Spicy Thai Coconut can be enjoyed by all ages, but bourbon-filled doughnuts are adults-only.
The restaurant’s bar offers wine and a selection of cocktails, but its greatest strength is the selection of local draft brews such as State 48 Brewery’s Lost Dutchman Golden Ale and Wren House Brewing Company’s Wrenovation Unfiltered IPA. More choices are available in bottles and cans — not only beer, but also specialty sodas for those who prefer a choice without alcohol. From its food truck beginnings to its current home on Roosevelt, Short Leash has come a long way with its canine theme and plays on words, but like a good dog, has never ventured far from home.
110 E. Roosevelt Rd., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station