Drooling over Knoxville’s newest gourmet bakery
by Caesar Lyons
I am adventurous and willing to at least sniff at anything edible, so when I was offered the chance to review River Dog Bakery, Knoxville’s newest gourmet bakery, I eagerly accepted the job and invited my buddy Kikoman “Kiko” Von Schnoodledor to accompany me.
River Dog Bakery, which opened four months ago, is strictly a take-out place. There are some beautiful bowls and comfortable looking loungers, but these are only for display. I’d like to have seen a small eat-in café section and maybe a water bar with wireless access, but the environmentally-friendly take-out brown cartons are snazzy, and the vitamin-enhanced bottled water comes in cherry, orange and passion fruit flavors.
Before selecting our treats, Kiko and I looked at the amazing display of objects for sale. The cat section is small, but some of the items were very tempting. I’d like to try the kitty caviar, catnip bouquets and paw breakers. Santa, take note: these would make great stocking stuffers! I especially admired the scratching post. This plush brown and green model, resembling two toadstools, really put my plain beige carpeted one to shame. I prefer upholstered furniture to scratching posts anyway, but I’d certainly be proud to pass by such an awesome scratching post on my way to the couch leg I’m currently working on.
Over in the much larger dog accessory department, Kiko loved the colorful ceramic bowls on graceful iron stands. We both agreed he is a little large and rambunctious for such delicate bowls, but we admired them all the same. In addition to an impressive array of collars and leads, scrapbook kits and designer pet beds with more than 60 fabric swatches, there were some prepared foods: “Hound Sauces” in several flavors to perk up plain old dried dog food and salsa in two flavors, mailman flavor and UPS driver flavor. Yum.
But it’s the bakery case that commanded the most attention. We drooled over the birthday cake, a bone-shaped cake made of dried apples, whole-wheat flour and honey, thickly frosted with icing made of low-fat cream cheese and honey. As if that weren’t enough, “Happy Birthday” is written in peanut butter, and a miniature Nicholas Nibble Bone, one of the bakery’s signature items, is added to the top of the cake as a special touch. Neither Kiko nor I have been invited to don a party hat and help blow out the candles on one of these magnificent creations, but bakery owners Brian and Pam Trainor told us that several cakes are purchased each week, so we’re optimistic. Kiko loves peanut butter. I’m partial to cream cheese. And River Dog should start a gift registry.
We had a hard time deciding what to take with us, so we decided to try one of everything, along with a bottle of passion fruit water to wash it down. In addition to the dog treats, we grabbed a small bag of each of the two freshly-baked cat treats, too. We didn’t expect to pay Milk Bone prices for these gourmet items, but the prices are not prohibitive, especially if these are consumed in moderation, which is sound advice for anyone. Most of the small treats cost around 49 cents each ($5.59 per dozen) with most large treats selling for 89 cents each ($9.99 per dozen).
When we had our picnic, I discovered that I have a more discriminating palate than I thought. I did not like the Cheese Puff, but Kiko loved his. We both thought the Tuna Puff was edible, but neither of us would have ordered seconds of this. We both liked the cat treats. Kiko’s favorite was the River Kitty Tuna Puffs. He ate the little beige fish-shaped treats whole and begged for more. I licked mine, batted it around and slowly ate it, but one was enough. I preferred the Alley Cat Bites. I don’t know what’s in these little green squares, but I could have eaten the whole bag. Kiko loved the passion fruit water. I found it interesting, but a little went a long way. I guess I’m a purist with regard to water.
I didn’t care for the rest of the treats, but Kiko loved them all. The Nicholas Nibble Bone, Peanut Butter Puff and Bowzer Brownie were huge hits. The Funfetti Bone, dipped in chocolate and finished with sprinkles, was fun but a little dry, requiring an extra sip of passion fruit water. The Snickerpoodle was tasty but too crumbly. The Trail Bar was too large at first, but Kiko enjoyed it after it was broken into smaller pieces. The “treat of the month,” a salmon-flavored, green shamrock-shaped treat, was attractive, but Kiko found the taste fishy. He was glad he had saved the fortune cookie for last, a nice palate cleanser along with the last of the passion fruit water.
Baked in honor of the Chinese “Year of the Dog,” the thin, crunchy fortune cookie was the perfect finish to the meal—though the fortune “Beware of cats bearing gifts” was troubling, considering I’d just generously treated Kiko to a delicious lunch.