You see them all over Miami: pampered pups riding in pastel strollers or walking on Louis Vuitton leashes. Pooches dine on freshly baked doggie biscuits at tony restaurants.
Heck, there's even a special South Beach Wine & Food Festival event, Yappy Hour, that caters to dogs. To these pooches and their owners, picking up a bag of kibble at the market just won't do.
Enter Dishes for Dogs, a Wynwood market that offers handcrafted, nutritionally sound meals and treats for the fur babies in your life.
Step inside the shop, located at 2561 N. Miami Ave., and you'll notice two things at once: the most spotless kitchen you've ever seen and the most adorable shopkeeper you will ever encounter. The greeter, by the way, is Ripley (named for Sigourney Weaver's badass alien-fighter). She's both the cutest mascot in Miami and the reason Dishes for Dogs exists.
When Ripley was a puppy, her owner, Michael O'Rourke, noticed her fur wasn't as shiny as it could be and she had extreme tear stains on her face. Those are, by the way, common signs of food allergy or nutritional deficit in dogs. O'Rourke decided to do some research on canine nutrition and began cooking for the tiny pup at home. Almost immediately, her skin and breath improved. The self-taught doggie chef then started cooking for friends and family, and a business was born. O'Rourke, with the help of his parents, began making the food to sell at local farmers' markets.
After positive results, the entrepreneur decided to go further with his idea. He consulted Dr. Justin Shmalberg, a faculty member at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, to make sure the meals were nutritionally sound. According to O'Rourke, Dr. Shmalberg can also design a food to your dog's specific needs.
He then found the space in Wynwood, which serves as both prep kitchen and retail facility. On any given day, you can watch the meals being cooked in the spic-and-span kitchen. O'Rourke says the open concept is to provide transparency.
The meals are also prepared with human-grade ingredients. "Everything is edible. We can't sell to humans, permitting-wise, and it probably wouldn't taste great because we don't use spices, but it's all the exact same ingredients that a restaurant would use," O'Rourke says. A quick trip into the walk-in refrigerator proves O'Rourke is telling the truth. Inside are fresh apples, carrots, and blueberries. Chicken and turkey is packaged and freshness-dated. And there's a stockpile of Kerrygold Irish butter. "Nothing but the best," O'Rourke quips.
The meals are cooked in large batches, packaged, and flash-frozen in eight varieties. Prices range from $4 for an eight-ounce basil-beef or chicken-and-rice meal (that could be mistaken for Abuela's arroz con pollo) to $52 for a five-pound package of braised buffalo. If you think that's pricey, take into consideration the new designer dog foods available at your local pet superstore. A 5.5-pound package of FreshPet, available at Whole Foods Market and Target, costs about $26. A five-pound bag of Dishes for Dogs' chicken and rice sells for $26.75, and it's made locally with fresh ingredients.
If you're into gifting, Dishes for Dogs also offers chicken jerky (with chicken being the only ingredient), assorted treats, and a small variety of toys.
The most important part of a meal is flavor. How, exactly, does Dishes for Dogs stand up when it comes to taste? O'Rourke sent me home with a few sample packages and a bag of jerky. My three Chihuahuas relished the chicken, turkey, and bison. The beef, however, turned them into wild beasts. Never have I seen these three picky eaters (one of whom I sometimes have to spoon-feed) go after something with such gusto.
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I tried the jerky (yes, I ate it as a test). Dehydrated longer for crunchiness, it tasted like a chicken-flavored potato chip. Once again, the girls loved them. At $10.75 for a small bag, this treat would be a welcome gift for any dog.
If you still think Dishes for Dogs is expensive, consider the fact that after you dropped $200 at the club last weekend, the only one who cared about your hangover the next morning was your dog — whom you forgot to walk. That kind of loyalty deserves more than dog chow.
Dishes for Dogs is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dogs are welcome. The shop also delivers locally and sells online at dishesfordogs.com. If you visit the Wynwood location, allow extra time to gush over Ripley.