On the corner of Henry and Water Street, where string lights brighten up Downtown Binghamton and colorful picnic tables line the sidewalk, sits the beloved Lost Dog Cafe & Lounge. At the first mention of Restaurant Week, my photographer, Kai, and I jumped at the opportunity to dine at this Binghamton classic.
The restaurant’s upbringing is extremely cinematic. Cofounders Marie McKenna and Elizabeth Hughes were once dedicated band members who moved to New York City to pursue their dreams of music careers. What started as a couple of restaurant jobs to keep up with rent soon turned into a mutual love for food and making people happy. These passions were the impetus for establishing the Lost Dog Cafe, and 29 years down the line, it’s still known and loved for the very reasons it was founded in the first place — good eats and good company.
The musicians-turned-foodies plot of the Lost Dog’s backstory still translates today with the restaurant’s trendy and welcoming ambience. Even though the Lost Dog rarely has a slow day, visiting on a Friday night at 6:45 was definitely one of the more lively times we could’ve chosen. Tables were filled with students elated with that Friday glow and families winding down to enjoy a sit-down meal.
With a three-course dinner for just $25, Lost Dog’s Restaurant Week menu caters to both those with an appetite and those with a chronic student budget.
Kai and I fell into both those categories, making us doubly committed to the meal that awaited us.
For our first course, we were excited to see wine as an option as opposed to having to refer to the cocktail menu. We chose to indulge in a glass of J.W. Morris chardonnay each, a very autumnal, crisp drink to complement our upcoming dishes.
After elegantly sipping on our glasses of chardonnay, we were dealt the task of selecting our main course meals. This called for some heavy contemplation given the four mouth-watering options we had to choose from. Eventually, we narrowed down our final two contenders to the sausage and broccoli rabe gemelli or the rigatoni ala vodka.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever been to Lost Dog and not gotten the rigatoni, but a dish that can simultaneously cure my hunger, stress and quarter-life crisis simply cannot be passed up. So, at risk of being deemed a traditionalist, I gave way to my usual, trusty order.
What made dinner that much more eventful was the pure fact that Kai had never been to the Lost Dog before that night. While the decision was ultimately hers, I couldn’t help but express my devotion to the rigatoni and I think that eventually rubbed off on her.
We both opted for the Lost Dog classic.
When our food was presented to us (promptly, I should add), we looked down at two sizable bowls filled with creamy pasta embellished with basil and grated cheese. The look of the dish itself was enough to rave over, but the taste was of course what really solidified the pasta’s fame.
The tables to our left and right also had at least one order of the rigatoni, so it was clear that I was not alone in my enthusiasm for the meal.
Kai, too, was sold.
The sauce was a perfect ratio of rich and satiating, leaving us filled from a hardy main course, yet still able to muster in our third and final course.
While the food would be enough to do McKenna and Hughes’s restaurant aspirations justice, the service made our dining experience truly all that it was. Our waitress, Ja-Aey, made conscious efforts to make friendly conversation and ensure our satisfaction. Her dedication to the job and patrons certainly reflected the founders’ goals for the restaurant from the start, making us feel seen and welcomed as students in the Binghamton community.
Last, but definitely not least, we finished off strongly with an order of maple cake and a chocolate cream puff. Kai’s maple cake was delicately sliced and adorned with bourbon cream cheese frosting, and my chocolate cream puff was light and dusted with cocoa powder. The pastry was filled with whipped, buttery, chocolate cream — exactly the sweet flavor I needed to balance the meal. And fittingly, the maple cake was like biting into a cinnamon-y mid-fall harvest, a delicious ending to the fall 2023 Restaurant Week.