Calling chow hounds

There are not many restaurants on the fringes of Orlando that are worth the travel, but Yellow Dog Eats is at least one exception. Although you'd never guess it from the name, Yellow Dog Eats is a chic, charming, family-owned restaurant in the Windermere area that looks more like a Vermont country inn.

A couple of years ago, the restaurant was briefly located in a too-tiny shop on Park Avenue in Winter Park. Some people wondered if the name denoted a pet-food store, but nothing could be further from reality. The chef in the kitchen is Fish Morgan, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America -- the Harvard of cooking schools, who brought his skills back to the area where he grew up.

To call Yellow Dog Eats a sandwich shop is like referring to Julia Child as a lady who cooks. So while the menu offers primarily a selection of sandwiches and wraps, the results resemble something out of the pages of Gourmet magazine. Think along the lines of the "retriever's roast" beef sandwich, layered with sun-dried-tomato/rosemary cream cheese, Creole mustard and caramelized onions on herb-onion rye bread ($6.95). Or a "Yellow Dog club," served on fresh "pioneer" bread. It's glazed with orange-Cointreau mayonnaise and stacked with layers of honey-mesquite turkey, smoked Gouda, crunchy bacon and red-leaf lettuce.

If you want something more eclectic, try the "milk bone" ($6.95), a curried chicken-salad sandwich with coconut, dried cherries, sunflower sprouts and mango-ginger vinaigrette, wrapped in an apple-cinnamon wrap. Then pick one of the side items from behind the counter, like mozzarella/tomato salad with pesto vinaigrette, and team it with a sweet, homemade finish hand-picked from the glass case. The strawberry-kiwi tart or the peanut butter-chocolate pie are two I can vouch for.

While Yellow Dog motivates dozens of people to line up and wait (and wait) on busy Saturdays, the setting is a pleasant distraction. The restaurant is located in a 93-year-old landmark home that used to be the site of a convenience store where Morgan bought candy as a kid. Now he shares the rambling property with his mother's business, Lee Morgan Interiors. The store is packed with home accessories, cookbooks and hundreds of bottles of wine, with dining tables scattered throughout. The effect is completely charming: Billie Holiday on the stereo, sampling trays of crackers and gourmet relishes, customers milling about.

And for those who live or work nearby, there's another attraction: Morgan prepares daily dinner specials, which are packaged and sold for takeout (in the $10-$15 range) between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., after the regular restaurant closes down.

Combined with periodic wine tastings and plans for fall hayrides and a "Dress Your Dog" Halloween fund raiser for the Humane Society, Yellow Dog Eats has become a center of activity in the Windermere area. And no matter the distance, Yellow Dog Eats is worth the drive, but do come prepared to wait -- the word is spreading fast and furious beyond the neighborhood enclave.