Big Easy Dog Daze Café

There’s a little slice of Havana right off of Butler Street in Lawrenceville that’s causing a lot of tails to wag.

Located on McCandless Avenue, Big Easy Dog Daze Cuban Café recently opened next door to its namesake animal hospital and doggy daycare facility.

It’s an unexpected combination, but here’s the connection: Owner and veterinarian Aileen Ruiz, who grew up in Miami and started her Pittsburgh pet care practice in 2005, wanted to bring authentic Cuban food and beverages to the ‘burgh.

So during the summer, she opened a café with food and drink for humans and four-legged visitors.

For lunch, customers can order empanadas filled with beef, chicken, ham and cheese or spinach or grab a traditional pressed sandwich of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread.

Pastelitos — baked puff pastries with sweet or savory fillings such as guava, cream cheese or coconut and pineapple — also are available. To wash down your meal, choose from an array of canned and bottled Cuban drinks shipped in from Florida, including the non-alcoholic Ironbeer and various kinds of pop flavored with pineapple, coconut and watermelon.

In need of a caffeine fix? This café makes some of the strongest and tastiest coffee concoctions in town.

Café Manager Tiffany Dixon has worked as a barista at a number of local coffee shops and considers herself a coffee aficionado, but she says Cuban coffee has (literally) opened her eyes to a whole new world.

“It is dark and rich and bitter,” she explains, “but then we add a sugar paste as the espresso is being poured that takes the bitterness away.”

“Cafecito,” which is a small but potent dose served in a shot glass, is enough to power the average person through an entire day. If 48 hours of wakefulness is in order, go for the Colada, which is five shots of espresso sweetened with Cuban cream. For real. This beverage is served with multiple cups to share.

Big Easy Dog Daze Café. Photo by TH Carlisle.

Have a sweet tooth? Order flan, rice pudding, Cuatro Leches (a sponge cake soaked with four kinds of milk) or Tortilla de Azucar, which is a fancy way of saying sugar cookie.

For people who want a jolt with fewer jitters, the café offers tea, hot chocolate, Cuban milkshakes called Baditos and American coffee from Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., a local business that donates 20 percent of its sales to local animal shelters.

Dixon says the café is committed to helping animals. They’ve got “ruff-freshers” for pets, including a Pupsicle made with peanut butter, banana and soy milk available to dogs who are welcome on the large outside porch overlooking the river.

There are also pet-focused events: On Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dog Daze Café will host a Paws for Families adoption event. Activities including face painting, a flea market, raffles, music provided by La Guaracha and pups from local animal shelters that need forever homes.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.