Loyal Hound is so fresh on the scene that there’s no sign to announce it when I arrive at the space on St. Michael’s Drive that previously housed the Hidden Chicken. Rows of wine glasses hang suspended above a brand new corrugated metal bar. The walls have been painted and the flooring replaced. Black and white photographs of Lola the hound dog (for whom the restaurant is named) decorate the dining room. A dartboard and cozy lounge chairs enclose a space for socializing at the back of the restaurant. Although it’s only been open since the first week of June, word is already out. Walking in the front door I see some folks I know from the wine business at the bar enjoying homemade beignets. Some friends from the gym are having dinner in the dining room. Renee Fox and Dave Readyhough, the couple behind Santa Fe’s new gastro pub, are veterans of the local restaurant scene and, although this is the first time they’ve owned their own place, it seems they’ve already found success with the locals.
Folks in the restaurant business are talking about Loyal Hound, and that’s because the restaurant community is loyal to Renee and Dave. The couple has been involved in the Santa Fe restaurant scene for many years. Renee works for Fiasco Fine Wine, a wine distributor, and she’s a familiar face at wine tastings and trade events. Before becoming involved in the wine business, she went to school to be a chef and earned a culinary degree. Dave worked for 14 years at Santa Fe Dining and was the general manager at Rio Chama before leaving to pursue his own restaurant. The couple originally wanted to open a food truck, but felt that mobile food vendors haven’t had the success they deserve in Santa Fe. They came across the old Hidden Chicken space and took the plunge.
“We got the keys in March,” Renee tells me. “It happened really fast, finding this place and making the decision.” The transition from chicken to hound took quite a bit of work and since the couple had limited funds, they did everything themselves. With some help from friends and family, the two ripped up the old carpet and put down new tile. They built and installed the bar, including sanding, staining and sealing the eight-foot butcher block bar top. Even the tall table in the bar area that seats six to eight guests is a Renee and Dave original. Hard work is something the couple doesn’t shy away from. Renee is at the Hound every morning by 5 a.m., baking the day’s bread, beignets and biscuits before leaving for work at Fiasco. Dave is at the restaurant all day in her absence, working with the kitchen manager, helping servers and playing around with recipes.
So why did they choose a location in midtown? Living on the south side, they wanted the restaurant to be nearer to where they live. “We’ve been in the restaurant business a long time,” Renee explained. “We didn’t want to be downtown. We wanted to be nearer to our community.” They also found that this part of town lacked a place for casual, inexpensive pub fare. Both Renee and Dave have a strong background in fine dining and they wanted to do something different. “When you’re in that environment,” Renee says, “the food you crave is home cooked food. So when we traveled, we looked for the gastro pub-type places. We wanted that kind of comfort food.”
Loyal Hound will be a great compliment to the other eateries in midtown, an area that’s really taking on a unique culinary identity. Places like Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen have been great additions to the restaurant scene here. Loyal Hound brings even more diversity, serving high quality pub fare in a social setting. There’s nothing quite like it so far in this area. The clientele will also pull from the midtown area, as Renee and Dave hope for a lot of business from locals. “The location is so accessible,” Renee explains. It’s not far off the beaten track for someone from the east side or from the south side. “We don’t expect to be a tourist destination,” she says. “By design, it’s a neighborhood locals’ place.” The couple has had a lot of support from folks in the restaurant business. “We’re getting a lot of good response from industry people, which means a lot to both of us,” Renee says. “It’s a huge compliment.”
From the beginning, food has been the main focus. “For me, the definition is a place to socialize,” Renee says. “But on top of that, it’s a place where you have comfort food or what people might consider bar food, but more upscale. Better quality ingredients, a little more creative.” The couple is using as much organic produce as possible and working to make connections with local vendors so they can serve more locally sourced food. “It’s comfort food that’s satiating, in a social environment with great beer and wine,” Renee sums up.
Renee is the mastermind behind most of the recipes, but she and Dave both spend time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes and flavors. The menu is small on purpose, focused on a few dishes that can be executed quickly using the freshest ingredients, with a good mix of items that are ready to serve and items that are made to order. The pork and waffles is a great example. The barbecue braised Heritage pork is made and ready by the time the doors open for the day, but the savory Belgian waffles are each made to order. Above all, Renee and Dave want the food at Loyal Hound to be fresh. They also envisioned a small menu of fun items you can eat any time of the day. People can come in for a beer and a snack, or have a full meal in the dining room.
I had a fabulous meal at the bar, where I chatted with Dave and his super friendly staff and watched a bit of soccer, which played without sound on the TV in the bar area. I’m a southern girl at heart (from North Carolina) and I just had to try the spicy fried chicken and biscuits. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a proper homemade biscuit and Renee’s baking didn’t disappoint. The sriracha buttermilk marinated fried chicken with honey butter and crumbly, fresh biscuits were served with a light apple and fennel coleslaw that balanced the dish and kept it from feeling too heavy. The white chili stew with chicken, green chile, white beans, jack cheese and sour cream was divine. Dave’s secret ingredient (hint: it’s a holiday spice) really complimented the savory stew. Between plates, I snacked on Marcona almonds with fresh rosemary and fried Castelvetrano olives. The Bert’s Burger was also delicious and exactly what you want in a hamburger: local grass-fed beef topped with Hatch green chile and cheddar, with homemade fries on the side.
Beer and wine at Loyal Hound are also high quality. Dave handpicks all the craft beers, six of which are on tap. I enjoyed the Scrimshaw Pilsner, and when the cold weather rolls in I’ll switch to the Old Rasputin, an imperial stout from California. Loyal Hound is also the second restaurant in New Mexico to carry wine on tap. Renee has chosen some great food-friendly wines to go with the menu. The Baileyana rosé on tap was crisp, fruity and delightfully drinkable. I also really enjoyed the Zocker Grüner Veltliner on tap, which was juicy and clean with citrus and mineral, an ideal pairing to cut through some of the heavier items on the menu. All the wines on tap are SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. “The wine on tap was really important for us,” Renee says. “It’s an investment up front, but it’s really about being fresh, whether it’s the food or the wine.”
With Santa Fe in the midst of another busy summer, Loyal Hound will be a great spot for locals to relax and enjoy fun, delicious comfort food. The prices are some of the best in town, despite the labor and the quality of the ingredients that go into the menu. For Renee and Dave, it’s a labor of love. “Chefs cook because they like to make people feel good,” Renee says, smiling. “That’s what we do.”
The Loyal Hound is located at 730 St. Michael’s Drive in Santa Fe. 505.471.0440. loyalhoundpub.com.
Story by Erin Brooks