According to Jenny and Adam Teague, the proprietors of Poughkeepsie’s Soul Dog eatery, everybody loves a hot dog—and everybody should be able to feast on one. No one should be denied the gastronomic pleasure of a good dog, they say, including people with food allergies or dietary restrictions.
For those who can chow down on anything, great. The menu at Soul Dog features all-beef, chicken, and veggie hot dogs. The usual white buns are available. The list of toppings is long, from the standard ketchup, mustard, relish, and sauerkraut to the more unusual roasted poblano pepper salsa and chipotle cream. In addition to hot dogs, there are other items: sloppy joe sandwiches (made with ground turkey), two to three different kinds of chili, various soups, and hand-cut fries seasoned with different rubs (including barbecue, Cajun, and Jamaican jerk).
A person without any food restrictions can stroll off the city’s Main Street and into a hip and cozy cafe to have a casual meal at a paper-covered table (with crayons provided) with eclectic music (classic Jamaican ska, Natalie Merchant, Sinatra) playing in the background. But so can folks who are allergic to dairy or soy, are gluten-intolerant, or have celiac disease. The latter can order their dog on a gluten-free (GF) bun baked on the premises, as well as a GF beer, brewed in Milwaukee without malted barley or any gluten-containing products. Non-GF beers are available, too—such as Sam Adams, Brooklyn Pennant, and Killian’s—but Lakefront Brewery’s New Grist is a boon for adults with celiac.
The proprietors opened Soul Dog out of frustration and need, along with a desire to help others with similar food challenges. The Teagues liked to eat out, but their dietary restrictions prevented them from dining at most restaurants. Jenny and Adam have three children, two of which have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and, in some cases, oats. While one out of 133 Americans may be affected by celiac disease, only a small percentage of people living with the illness have been diagnosed. The Hudson Valley Celiac Support Group, which held its first meetings at Soul Dog in fall 2005, has grown so large that it now meets at Vassar Hospital at 6:30pm on the third Tuesday of every month.
When Jenny and Adam’s youngest child, Desmond, was five weeks old, his face and arms erupted in rashes. Jenny was nursing, and from her previous experience as a mother, she knew that eliminating items from her diet might help Desmond’s skin condition. “I started with the big ones,” she says. “I eliminated dairy and wheat and chocolate. I don’t usually eat a lot of chocolate, but it can be a big offender for the little ones. But we didn’t get the soy part of it. We didn’t get the spelt part. I was eating spelt as a substitute, not fully understanding that spelt has gluten. He was much, much better, incredibly improved, but he still had chronic eczema and asthma.”
When Jenny discovered that two of her uncles had been diagnosed with celiac disease, she had all three children tested. Desmond and one sibling tested positive. Around the same time, Desmond had a RAST (radioallergosorbent test). It indicated that he was allergic to dairy, soy, and peanuts, as well as to wheat, oats, and rye, which coincided with the celiac results.
While Adam and Jenny have not been tested for celiac, they have discovered that when they eliminate gluten from their own diets, they feel much better. Adam says, “I used to get joint pains. I was misdiagnosed with everything from Lyme disease to gout. Since I’ve been off gluten, my distance running has doubled, since my cardiovascular system is back where it should be. My joint pain is gone. My asthma is almost nonexistent. And I don’t have near as many digestive issues.” People with celiac disease often suffer from gastrointestinal afflictions such as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Nonintestinal complications include, but are not limited to, anemia, joint pain, breathlessness, bruising, muscle cramps, dental enamel defects, depression, and fatigue. According to the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health website, “When untreated, the disease can cause life-threatening complications. A delayed diagnosis or noncompliance with the diet places you at risk for developing associated conditions such as infertility, miscarriage, osteoporosis, fractures, certain types of intestinal cancer, or other autoimmune disorders.”
Regarding Desmond, Jenny says, “There is a chance that the allergens will drop off, and not be a problem for him at some point. But celiac disease is celiac disease. Nobody outgrows that.”
Once the children were diagnosed, the Teagues set up a gluten-free household, but dining away from home was difficult. “Try going out anywhere that’s making all of its food from scratch,” says Adam. “Probably 95 percent of restaurants just open a bag labeled SYSCO and heat it up for you. You go out, and you’ve got to ask what’s in the food. The people working there go back to the kitchen and read the box. They don’t really know. No one’s going to call the company. So it’s very frustrating. People don’t really know what’s going on with gluten and how it affects those with celiac. They don’t understand the seriousness of it.”
In 2000, the Teagues moved to Poughkeepsie from Brooklyn, where Jenny had run a mail-order bookstore and Adam worked in TV and film. At first, Adam drove his “little Jetta into the ground” commuting to New York for his job at PBS affiliate WNET. The long drive and time away from his family got to him, and he began thinking about making a change.
“The one thing we could see doing was to own something, but we couldn’t figure out what that could be,” he says. “Jenny had started a catering company here with a friend of hers, and that was really taking off and growing.”
“Everyone likes to eat,” says Jenny. “They like different things. Yet our children have food allergies. And there’s so much bad, premade, expensive, gluten-free food, that when you find out that you can’t have all those things that really send you, you feel at a loss. You feel deprived.”
Opening the restaurant would assure that they, and others, could enjoy good-tasting food that wouldn’t negatively affect their health. About 90 percent of the food at Soul Dog is made from scratch: the soups, chilis, fries, sandwiches, desserts, gluten-free breads, and the majority of toppings. The hot dogs and non-GF buns are purchased for the cafe, as are the beverages and condiments (ketchup, mustard, onion sauce, and sauerkraut). According to Jenny, the Teagues decided to feature hot dogs because they’re familiar. “People get emotional about hot dogs,” she explains. “And we could have fun with them.”
They also wanted to offer other comfort-food items that they missed, so they decided to make gluten-free onion rings, macaroni and cheese, and Southern-style hush puppies topped with sausage gravy. “Everything we do, we do because we’re in the same boat,” says Adam. “Often, when you go to a place that has gluten-free stuff, it’s provided as a service by someone who is well-meaning but who doesn’t actually have to eat it. There’s a huge difference. If a restaurant is owned by someone who has gluten intolerance or celiac, or is doing it for someone they know, usually the food is better.”
Other eateries in the area are catching on. “There are folks in the kitchen who love the challenge,” says Jenny. She mentions friends Megan and Charlie Fells Jr., who opened a restaurant farther up Main Street called the Artist’s Palate. The Fells change the menu at their restaurant every two weeks, and while the chefs do not aim to make their contemporary American fare gluten-free, they will happily try to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions. “Now that we’ve had enough experience, we can handle most people on the spot,” says Fells. “We’ve learned a lot from Adam and Jenny. They’ve given us little cheat sheets that we can post in the kitchen for our other chefs. People know we go the extra mile and that nothing goes in the food that will bother them.”
Since Soul Dog opened in 2004, it has attracted customers from the Hudson Valley and New York City, and now that more travelers are using the Web for research, diners from California, England, and Australia have gone out of their way to visit the restaurant. Some have celiac disease. Others bring friends, relatives, or spouses who have celiac disease. And still others—those without a single dietary restriction—also stop by for the food.
The baked-goods side of the business is also taking off, with customers ordering gluten-free bread, dinner rolls, and cornbread. For birthdays and other special occasions, Soul Dog offers both regular and gluten-free layer cakes, sheet cakes, and sandcastle-shaped cakes. Regular and gluten-free pies, such as pumpkin, apple, and pecan, can also be ordered.
“If you look at our menu,” says Jenny, “an asterisk indicates what is gluten-free. But if you’re not looking for that, and you don’t need to know, you have no idea that this is going on. It doesn’t matter. We wanted to provide gluten-free options because we knew the value of it firsthand, and therefore we made sure that we had desserts that were gluten-free and that we had buns [for the dogs] that were gluten-free.”
Adam says, “We have people saying that if you guys weren’t here, we don’t know what we’d do. [Soul Dog] is already more than we thought it would be—the baking aspect, our place in the neighborhood, the community. People who get this place love this place. People who don’t get it still really like it.”
Soul Dog is located at 107 Main Street in Poughkeepsie. (845) 454-3254; www.souldog.biz
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