Because whether it warms you up with something hearty, takes you back to your carefree childhood, or soothes you with melted cheese, creamy gravy or something soft and sweet, comfort food is good for what ails you. Here are a few delicious comfort dishes that'll help ease you through this upcoming season of brutally short days.
Recklessly bastardizing the immortal intro to Moby Dick, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself pausing before coffin warehouses, I seek out comfort food."
Because whether it warms you up with something hearty, takes you back to your carefree childhood, or soothes you with melted cheese, creamy gravy or something soft and sweet, comfort food is good for what ails you.
Here are a few delicious comfort dishes that'll help ease you through this upcoming season of brutally short days.
On a Roll
Cinnamon Roll, $4
Fox in the Snow Cafe
Except for a wordless depiction of its namesake critter, this brilliant Italian Village coffee shop and bakery has no signage. Based on the enthusiastic crowds that have flocked into its industrial-chic space since Fox opened last year, I suppose it doesn't need it.
Word is obviously out that this fashionable place makes artful coffee drinks, beautiful pastries and superlative breakfast sandwiches. They are terrific, but Fox's softball-sized cinnamon rolls offer the kind of soothing textures and unfussy flavors that flutter the eyes above a working mouth, and therefore better qualify as true comfort food. Their icing is exceptional - a smooth, lush and lovely frosting with a cream cheese-type tang. Underneath is a pillowy yet dense and thick, bready bun with a yeasty allure enhanced by gooey cinnamon swirls. Unlike so many others, these cinnamon rolls taste as good as they look.
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Breakfast Bake, $4
Luck Bros' Coffee House
Think of these irresistibly cheesy and salty potato-and-egg blocks with nuggets of smoky sausage and pockets of black pepper as "breakfast-food lasagna." And think of yourself as a little lucky to grab a slab of this all-in-one, morning-meal casserole because it's one of those sought-after delights offered "until we run out." That's all part of the charm of Luck Bros', a popular Grandview hangout with a wealth of great coffee drinks, well-curated local bakery goods and this daily homemade, feel-good-again hunk o' hangover cure.
Related to the family of brunch dishes that includes quiches and frittatas, the Breakfast Bake is fashioned similar to egg stratas and comprises hash browns layered with cheddar and kielbasa bound together with an egg-and-milk slurry cooked until it's oozy in the starchy center and creates a dark and wonderful-to-munch exterior crust.
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Green Chili, $13
101 Beer Kitchen
Green is the color of renewal, of early spring and of this wonderful chili that will bring you back to your happy place when crappy weather - or life in general - darkens your mood. It's no surprise the stew comes from 101 Beer Kitchen - which might sound like the best college course ever, but is actually a restaurant that should conduct seminars on how to run an establishment as long on style as it is on mass appeal.
The verdant chili arrives in a big bowl garnished with cilantro, cotija cheese and a dollop of sour cream. On the side are grilled lime and attractively brown-spotted, soft warm corn tortillas. Even slow-on-the-uptake types should understand from that description that this is Mexican in spirit. In fact, with its large and soothing lumps of luscious pork, piquant tomatillo broth and shallow layer of yellow rice, the winter-warmer channels that south-of-the-border classic carnitas con salsa verde. Pro tip: Consume it taco-style and spoon up the leftovers.
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Pot of Gold
Cornbread Crusted Chicken Casserole, $12
This fun, friendly and funky Hilliard stalwart sporting a decor that conjures up a hip thrift store hasn't changed much since opening two decades ago - that's a good thing. Because you can still toss a dart at reliable old Starliner's menu while blindfolded and be guaranteed to land on something deeply comforting and reassuringly inexpensive.
Among the many beloved mainstays is this folksy dish, which tastes like Thanksgiving-style fixins rearranged into a pot pie flaunting Latin twists. Beneath a golden-brown crust of sweet, could-be-stuffing, just-baked cornbread lies a medley of tender chicken chunks and peas plus chopped potatoes, corn, celery and carrots. Tying the whole soulful shebang together is creamy chicken gravy jazzed up with herbs and lots of garlic. In a nice touch, the gravy dramatically bubbles up along the pot pie's edges in a come-hither gesture. Follow that gravy.
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Baked Mac and Cheese, $6
Flatiron Bar and Diner
Occupying a handsome and quirky space inside a wedge-shaped, 101-year-old building with a marble bar, checkerboard floor, vintage-looking windows and a soundtrack as likely to play Courtney Barnett as John Coltrane, Flatiron's vibe resembles its cuisine: fun yet serious, diverse yet consistent, classically informed yet unconventional.
That cuisine has recently received a makeover, adding a lotta playful and edgy dishes to a core of Southern-influenced, old favorites. One new favorite fits this comfort food list like a chilly hand slipped into warm mitten: the mac and cheese made by gently tweaking the beloved recipe of the mother of co-chef Matthew Heaggans. Underneath a just-broiled, bubbly, golden-brown, I-must-eat-that-now cheese cap are small pasta elbows caressed by a super-creamy yet tangy, custard-based sauce that stands out in an era when so many lesser macs lack any evidence of sauce at all. To eat this is to coo "Mmmmmm."
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Gabba Gabba ... Hey, That's Good!
Beat on the Brat Dip, $11
Big Room Bar
Open since August, the Big Room calls itself "The bar with a radio problem." Translation: This quirky and cool establishment - the restaurant and live music arm of CD 102.5 - is attached to the "alternative" radio station inhabiting the Brewery District building that once contained the quaint old Swiss Chalet party space. Given this affiliation, rock 'n' roll naturally informs the Big Room's instantly likeable identity. Comforting flavors, local sources and giggly titles derived from songs and bands inform its menu.
This enormous appetizer is as catchy as the ridiculously funny Ramones tune that supplied its name. The dip is fashioned with crumbled house bratwurst, cheese, beer, cream, mustard plus caramelized onions and garlic. Served with toasted-crisp pieces of Auddino's French bread, the warm and blanketing stuff looks and tastes like a cheese ball melted into sausage gravy - which, come to think of it, sounds like the kind of snack that might've inspired a Ramones track.
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Adult Grilled Cheese served with Tomato Soup, $10
The Whitney House
One of the best new restaurants to premiere last year is the kind of casually sophisticated, contemporary American bistro with relatively inexpensive prices that every neighborhood deserves. And the Whitney's take on what much-admired cookbook author and TV chef Ina Garten called "the ultimate comfort meal" is a steal of a deal (but only available at lunch).
Don't expect Wonder bread, cheese singles and canned soup. As its name suggests, Whitney dresses up the kiddie classic so it also attracts more mature palates. Crusty honey-wheat toast holds the creamy and nutty duo of melted brie and fontina cheeses. Those rich dairy slabs play yin and yang with a tangy and zingy tomato jam sweetened by caramelized onion strands. On the side, practically begging you to dip that sandwich into it, is slightly pulpy soup sporting deep flavors from roasted tomatoes plus garnishes of shaved parmesan, homemade croutons and splashes of balsamic vinegar.
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Use Your Noodle
Athens County Chicken and Egg Noodles, $9
Although lately shadowed by the renovation projects and attendant rubble of its soon-to-be-refurbished neighbors, plucky Wildflower refuses to wilt. It continues to be popular for breakfast and brunch with in-the-know Clintonvillians, but the cheffy little diner that could also whips up great dinner specials. One, the glorious homemade chicken and noodles served on Wednesdays, is so comforting that it makes "Humpday" seem more like "Smoothday."
It stars thick and fantastic noodles - think linguine clad in winter jackets - that elicit pure joy when bitten into and offer an appealing hint of eggy flavor. They await, like gentle stubby waves, in a pool of steaming hot chicken gravy that tastes like intensified chicken soup enriched by the culinary equivalent of hugs. Adding to the warmth - both temperature and existential - are strands of Amish-raised chicken, carrots, celery, parsley and the comforting accomplice of buttery-not-heavy mashed potatoes.
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Kitchen Little at North Market Poultry and Game
Though made with vaguely similar ingredients, Kitchen Little's cassoulet - a powerhouse riff on the renowned, French-invented soupy casserole - is to franks and beans as a shiny new race car is to a dusty skateboard with a busted wheel. Seriously, this rib-sticking, dynamic dish is special. Kitchen Little is the comfort-bombing, prepared foods side of North Market Poultry and Game, a superlative butcher and grocer specializing in all those grass-fed, local, organic and super-high-quality products everyone says they use, but few do.
Pork and duck stocks and Great Northern beans form the rich foundation of the cassoulet. A veritable artisanal butcher's case - which includes smoked turkey, garlic-scented homemade wild boar sausage, kielbasa, roast duck and Hungarian-style hot dogs - lend immense flavor to the long-cooked white beans. Caramelized onions, carrots, bay leaf, herbs, black pepper and tomatoes add nuance and sweetness, and somewhat lighten this hearty and smoky cure for the common cold-weather blahs.
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Blue Ribbon Pot Roast, $11
Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails
Putting this on a comfort food list is a no-brainer - not only is it positioned directly under the "Ohio comfort entrees" menu header, but Tip Top's pot roast has been damn near iconic in Columbus since the still-fun and still-cheap Downtowner loaded with old-timey Ohio references opened.
Whisked out in a fry pan server, it's a heaving mound of slow-cooked beef surrounded by cool-weather-soothing roasted vegetables - potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips and celery. The veggies surrender a lotta flavor to a pool of herb-scented, deep-flavored meat juice I once saw a tipsy friend sip through a straw. OK, that might've been me. Anyway, this smile-generating dinner starring tender hunks and strands of beef might be called "Blue Ribbon" on the menu, but after eating it, the blues will just be a memory.
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Shake It Up
Biscoff Milkshake, $6; with bourbon, $9
Stack City Burger Bar
This newest creation from the Hyde Park Restaurant Group - the first of a potential chain - recently replaced Mojoe Lounge in The Cap. Called Stack City, it's a burger-based sports pub specializing in familiar flavors with upgraded ingredients. That means patties are made with leaner, grass-fed, Ohio-raised meat, fries are hand-cut, and lotsa beers are of the locally brewed, craft variety.
For cool comfort, the rich and thick Biscoff Milkshake takes you back to being a kid blissfully dunking cookies into milk again - but with a few twists. For one, Biscoff cookies - think ginger snaps meet graham crackers - have a fancy, Belgian-made gourmet cachet. For another, the cookies are primarily used in "butter" form, meaning in a cookie-dough-batter-like spread that ups the kiddie factor. But because I'm an adult who's comforted by bourbon at least as much as I am by cookies, I invariably spring for the sweetness-balancing hooch option. Then I sip, sit back, relax and think about how the good days could've always been a little better.
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Find Comfort Here
Where to enjoy all the dishes in this week's cover story:
101 Beer Kitchen
7509 Sawmill Road, Dublin
Big Room Bar
1036 S. Front St., Brewery District
Flatiron Bar & Diner
129 E. Nationwide Blvd., Downtown
Fox in the Snow Cafe
1031 N. Fourth St., Italian Village
North Market Poultry and Game
59 Spruce Street, Arena District
Luck Bros' Coffeehouse
1101 W. First Ave., Grandview Heights
Stack City Burger
600 N. High St., Arena District
5240 Cemetery Road, Hilliard
Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails
73 E. Gay St., Downtown
The Whitney House
666 High St., Worthington
3420 Indianola Ave., Clintonville