The Dog’s Dinner

When you and your dog enter PJ’s Pet Café, at Broadway and Linden in the old Passport Coffeehouse location, the aromas of stews and pastries will have you drooling, slobbering and begging along with your pet. PJ’s is a pet boutique and eatery that’s unique in a number of ways: all the menu items are cooked fresh daily by pet chef and co-owner Rossana Estravides; the food is made from all-natural ingredients; and there’s no silly overpriced frou-frou—no puppy massages, no French toenail manicures, no filet mignon on china. The café fits into the East Village Arts District like a spaniel in a basket of clean laundry. Guests sit below café tables either indoors or al fresco and enjoy such dishes as Turkey Pug Pie or Preciosa’s Carob Chews out of a bowl that adjusts to height from teacup Chihuahua to Great Dane while their human companions sip free lemonade or lattes. Humans aren’t supposed to beg at table, but the goodies are tasty enough for people palates and don’t contain anything harmful to man or dog.

“People [who visit] always have in mind the health of their pets,” Estravides said.

Estravides and her longtime friend, David Hitchings, opened PJ’s on April 25. Devastated by the reports of the melamine-tainted pet food catastrophe out of China in 2007, Hitchings approached Estravides about opening a pet boutique in which animals and their human companions could sit and relax over an affordable, tasty meal. Estravides had owned a Peruvian restaurant in Santa Fe Springs and was familiar with food and health regulations as well as how to make good meals.

The inspiration for the café’s name was Fiorella Rios’s dog, PJ. The little guy’s mother had had a difficult surgical birthing and passed away six days after the litter was born. PJ, unable to nurse, sustained a weak immune system and an incurable brain condition, and Rios’s vet told her that PJ was lucky if he was able to live more than 10 days.

PJ was lucky—Rios is Estravides’s sister, and Tía Rossana is a health-conscious cook. Together, she and Rios made meals especially cooked for the little dog’s delicate system; today, at 5 years old, he’s as healthy and sassy as he can possibly be. With all the recipes that she’d developed over the years for the little dog, and more bubbling away in her mental Dutch oven, Estravides was prepared to join Hitchings in his business venture. When she discovered the vacated Passport site, she knew she’d found the right spot for a cafe.

When we went to visit PJ’s, we found Chef Estravides very busy, cooking like Julia Child and sending customers off with fancy beribboned boxes full of doggie delish and boutique items, so Rios did most of the talking and showing. PJ’s is part café, part bakery and part boutique, with many of the items handmade by Estravides. Tiny hand-knit sweaters and sporty outfits hang from little clothes hangers. Against the window is a cabinet containing tiny pairs of paw shoes, and larger items like beds, tents and strollers are suspended from the ceiling or lined up on the floor, all fashioned by Estravides. Judy had brought her rescue pup, Razi, and was eyeing a bed for her, but Razi had her mind on other things, especially when Estravides brought her out a dish of Ginger Chicken Pie, made with chicken, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, green and red peppers, and milk, served on a silvery salver. Razi has exactly one tooth, but she practically leaped into the bowl and cleaned it out in less than two minutes.

“That’s my favorite,” Rios said. “Rossana makes me a whole one for my birthday.”

Rios said that human clients often taste the food and find it delicious. We sat up and begged, and received a PJ’s Potato Loves, which tasted like Bronx knishes (that’s a good thing). All the menu items are named for the owners’ or regular customers’ pets, and all the ingredients are listed on the menu. There is nothing is harmful to dogs: no sugar, no salt, no raisins, no grapes. Carob is used instead of chocolate, honey and molasses are used as sweeteners. This is comfort food for four feet, Fido Ann, hon: there’s Labrador Lasagna, Gia’s Crazy Cobbler, Candy’s Apple Nips and Kilina’s Square Meal. Be still, my wagging tail.

Even with all the care toward the health and enjoyment of canines, the prices aren’t Rodeo Drive ridiculous. The most expensive item on the menu is Rebelde’s Training Treats, $4.99 for a quarter-pound.

“We want our people to be able to afford our stuff, too,” Estravides said.

Business is good so far, and Estravides and Hitchings plan to add party-catering packages and more handmade clothing. Cat treats are also in the plans if Estravides can find a way to appeal to their varied finicky tastes. (Hint: Include catnip; so far, it’s legal.) PJ’s staff, not surprisingly, advocates animal rescue; they accept donations that they’ll deliver to rescue organizations.

“All my customers have rescue dogs,” Estravides said. “I respect that.”

PJ’s is a perfect stopover during a walk, a day at the Dog Zone or the soon-to-be-dedicated K-9 Corner at Pacific Avenue and Ninth Street, and for picking up a takeout meal or treat for a deserving friend. We hate to dig up a well-chewed pun, but—bone appétit!

PJ’s Pet Café is located at 449 E. Broadway in Long Beach. Hours are 7:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., and noon–6 p.m. Sun.

“Why have you got those roses in your hair? You look like the dog’s dinner.”
– Playwright C.L. Anthony, “Touch Wood”

Random Clawings
Your Pooch—in Print
Author Kyla Duffy raises awareness about puppy mills and supports dog rescue groups by publishing breed-specific and region-specific short-story collections about adopted dogs. The books give proud owners of rescued dogs a chance to showcase them, raise awareness about dog adoption and breed characteristics, and generate funding for dog rescue through the donation of a portion of each sale. Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspirational Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers and Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers are available on Amazon.com, and Duffy is working on other breeds. Duffy is currently collecting stories on all breeds and mixed breeds and would love to hear from anyone who has a great story about his or her adopted dog. Visit http://happytailsbooks.com for information.

Aug. 22, Low-cost Spay/Neuter and Microchip Clinic

Help stem pet overpopulation and ensure your own pet a safe return if lost. The clinic will offer rabies vaccinations and microchipping for cats and dogs; DHPP and bordatella vaccinations for dogs; and FVRCP and leukemia vaccinations for cats. The fee for microchips at the clinic is $25 for cats and dogs. Rabies vaccinations are $5 for cats and dogs. DHPP, FVRCP and leukemia vaccinations are $15, and bordetella vaccinations are $10. SPCla, 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach

Ongoing—Pet Literacy at ACS
Pet Literacy is a City of Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS) program at the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village. The program promotes humane treatment, socialization of animals, creating a connection between animals and humans, and literacy through reading aloud to the animals. Wednesdays–Sundays, 2–3 p.m., 7700 E. Spring St., Long Beach

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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