I had this great idea to write an article on the most romantic restaurants in the Vero Beach vicinity for Valentine’s Day and I had envisioned a list of 8-10 of them. However, after my experience at Yellow Dog Cafe, I knew there could not be any others because THIS IS the most romantic restaurant, not only in my area, but in the entire state of Florida.
My first time at Yellow Dog Cafe was 3 years ago when I was still commuting back and forth between West Virignia and Florida. My husband picked me up at the Melbourne airport and we stopped there for dinner on our drive to Vero Beach. That night’s special was Lobster Newburg and I was blown away by how tremendous everything I ate was. From the appetizers and salad, to dinner and dessert, everything was divine and second to none. 3 years later, I am still telling all my friends about that unique experience.
Back to the present, my friend Michele and I were hosted by Yellow Dog Cafe and arrived on a week night for dinner. Valet parking is free, so we had only walk about 10 steps to get inside the restaurant where a team of friendly staff was waiting to seat us. Michele and I were shown into the Green Room to our table, directly by a window overlooking the waterfront and in plain sight of watching the awesome team of chefs prepare our food. Owners Stuart and Nancy, both chefs as well, greeted us with open arms and made us feel incredibly welcome. Tara was our well-trained server and she rattled off all of the intricate specials of the day with no problem and impressed me with her suggestive selling, a plus in the restaurant business.
Michele ordered her favorite glass of wine and we chose the baked brie to start with. Yellow Dog offers a charcuterie platter, one of my favorite things, but we felt that might be too much food because we were already thinking soup in addition to entrees. Our appetizer arrived with the brie perfectly oozing out as it was cut, and was served with orange slices (we are the in the citrus capital of the world here at Indian River County), granny smith apple slices, crisp handmade crackers, and grapes. It was wrapped in puff pastry and topped with a cranberry-cherry sauce. We basically licked the platter clean. Next up, soup!
The Yellow Dog Cafe is known for their crab bisque so we felt that we must try a cup to see for ourselves. It was served with their signature dog mascot cracker standing in the rich broth. No wonder they are “known” for this bisque, as it is rich, but not too rich, delicate, and packed with bits of crab, delicious, succulent pieces of crab. We were also given a basket of sliced bread and butter. Yellow Dog bakes all their breads in-house, and maybe that is why it is so wonderful.
Our entree choices were difficult to select because everything sounded amazing. When a restaurant is hosting me, I try to pick an item that is somewhat in the middle of the price ranges because I do not want to try the cheapest thing (probably my imagination, but I cannot imagine the cheapest food being their best effort in a fine dining establishment) and also do not want to jab them for the most expensive meal, as they are not making any profit on me. In this case, rather than choose the Steak and Lobster, which sounded heavenly, we chose to share the Crab Cakes and the Pecan Crusted Mahi-Mahi. Our choices were superb!
Something about the Yellow Dog I had totally forgotten, was the most impressive thing to me about my last meal there: the Himalayan red rice. I have never had this side dish anywhere else in the world and it is to die for! Our plates arrived and were almost too pretty to eat. The plating is an art form and as the saying goes, “we eat with your eyes ,” so I was doing really good just looking at these masterpieces.
Yellow Dog’s crab cakes were normal size and drizzled with a yellow sauce. They were served over the Himalayan red rice with a side of tasty haricot vert. The pecan crusted Mahi-Mahi was topped with a, get this, vanilla bean infused praline sauce, and had the same presentation as the crab cakes. We immediately dug in and did not stop until both plates were clean. Sometimes words cannot describe the euphoria you feel when you eat something so wonderful, but the best I can come up with is bliss. The crab cakes were full of crabmeat and very little filler. The sauce was a saffron cream sauce that had a velvety texture and a little kick to it. It was perfect; much better than a typical remoulade or hollandaise. Tara, our server, had cautioned us as we ordered the Mahi that the dish was very sweet, which was fine by us; and fine it was. This fish was maybe the best I have ever had. I loved it! The sweet sauce against the thick piece of fish and the delicious rice was a perfect combination, cutting the sweetness just right. Somebody pinch me because I feel as if I am in a dream from this wonderful food and gorgeous, romantic ambiance.
As we concluded our dining experience, Tara arrived at the table with the ever popular dessert tray. Not your average tray, as this one contained 10 items, in normal size and mini’s. Yellow Dog Cafe is known for 3 dessert items especially: bread pudding, berry peach cobbler, and the chocolate dog bone. We ordered a couple mini’s and anxiously awaited these sweet treats. All desserts are prepared by an in-house pastry chef.
Our plates arrived and we feasted; Michele on the dog bone and bread pudding and I on the bread pudding and berry cheesecake. The dog bone is a rich chocolate walnut brownie dipped in ganache and topped with ice cream. Yellow Dog’s bread pudding is truly one of the best I have ever had, and the few chocolate chips and raisins added the perfect sweetness to this rich dish; plus the dog mascot cookie adoring the dish is yummy. I have not eaten cheesecake in 10 years because I always find it mediocre at restaurants, but this cheesecake, though just a tiny portion, was ultra-creamy and wonderful, topped with 3 juicy berries on the top.
I think it is apparent that I am now an even bigger Yellow Dog Cafe fan and was entirely pleased with everything I put in my mouth. Michele felt the same way. The fact that they go to such great lengths to have a beautiful restaurant with top quality ingredients, interesting recipes, and a friendly well-trained staff, adds the polish to this gem that most places this day are lacking. Being a blogger, I have my share of good meals in exotic locations around the world, and compile a post at the end of each year about my best experiences. The only sad part of my visit to Yellow Dog is that I have now had my best meal of 2016 early in February, which leaves a very high measuring stick for the other restaurants that will compete but doubtfully will surpass. My thanks for the entire staff and chefs for my exceptional evening.
Notes about the Yellow Dog Cafe
A bit about the restaurant: Yellow Dog Cafe is a fine dining establishment that consists of 8 separate dining rooms: The library, patio room, room 11, green room, dock, cabana on the river, open covered porch, and new room. They host special events and even weddings, a big hit outside at the gazebo on the waterfront. I recommend the private dock for the ultimate romantic experience as you dine under the stars over the Indian River, 400 feet from land. Reservations are required. At night, sparkling white lights line the river front paths and huge extended pier, a gorgeous place for a romantic stroll. A multi-leveled riverfront covered porch is the perfect place to have lunch while watching the gorgeous views and boats on the Indian River. It is their goal to exceed your expectations. Let them plan your special event such as a wedding or baby shower, retirement party, birthday shindig, holiday party, or corporate event.
Patrons often go downstairs to the bar and have a cocktail while enjoying the views prior to dining. The uber friendly bartenders are eager to serve you one of their many signature cocktails. After meeting a few of the bar staff, it would appear Yellow Dog has a steady group of “regulars” and a nice relationship with all of them.
A small gift shop offers exclusive “Dog” gifts and apparel. The cookbooks were beautiful and had many great recipes and they even offer a kid’s cookbook. Yellow Dog sells bottled dressings, signature wine glasses, and most recently Borton’s new line of packaged seasonings and grains that would make a great gift. All of these wonderful special touches make it no wonder that Trip Advisor gave them the Certificate of Excellence in 2015 and 138 diners ranked them as “excellent”.
Meet the owners: Stuart and Nancy Borton are the friendliest restaurant owners as well as chefs. They are in touch with their audience and current food trends as well as appear to have a great working relationship with their staff. I got the vibe they were one big extended family and it seems they both pour their heart out in a labor of love to growing their business and offering ways to make everyone who enters the doors day special. Stuart has worked in restaurants since he was 21 (at that time in Australia) and owned his first restaurant shortly after. Even celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse has showcased these magnificant chefs.
Yellow Dog Cafe on the Indian River in Malabar
905 US Highway 1, Malabar, FL 32950
Hours of operation: Lunch Tues-Sun 11:30-4
Dinner Tues-Sun 5-9 (late hours on Friday and Saturday until 10 PM)
Want to see a virtual tour? Click here.