By Stephanie Arsenault, Dan Clapson, Stephanie Eddy, Vincci Tsui
Rich, creamy pasta dishes, warming bowls of soups, tender braised meats,and grilled cheese sandwiches can keep us feeling warm and cosy more than a pair of mitts or a toque ever could.
To find out whether you will find your ultimate comfort in one of the four dishes listed, answer these eight questions. No matter what food you end up with, you’re going to feel like a winner.
1. When it’s cold and snowy outside, I hate the fact that I have to…
a) scrap the ice off my car windows.
b) walk to work for about 20 minutes. Better bundle up!
c) leave my bed. I probably won’t.
2. The amount of guilt I want to feel after having some sort of comfort food is…
c) extremely high. I find that satisfies me for longer.
3. My table-to-mouth vessel of choice is…
a) a spoon.
b) a knife and fork.
c) my hands as long as it’s not soup, obviously!
4. In terms of my diet, I identify as…
b) an eat-everything-vore with carnal tendencies.
c) mostly vegetarian.
5. Would you rather make a comforting meal for yourself at home or go out to a restaurant?
a) if it’s really cold out? Definitely at home!
b) I’m not a great cook, so I’m willing to trek through arctic tundra for some good food.
c) it depends. If my fridge is looking a little sparse, I’ll seek out comfort food.
6. Which one of the following would you eat first…
a) bone broth.
b) a big piece of pork belly.
c) baked brie.
7. When I go out to eat, I usually am…
a) alone, but not in a sad way!
b) with a few friends at a fairly nice restaurant.
c) with my kids, and they need something simple to handle.
8. True or false: It’s possible to have delicious comfort food that is reasonably healthy.
c) I don’t want to think about that kind of thing.
If there’s one comfort dish that fits the bill for any type of appetite, diet or picky eater persona, it’s a bowl of soup. A simple tomato soup just like mom used to make, spooning into a cream of mushroom soup while the snow falls outside; those types of homemade simple meals always hit the spot.
Almost every Calgary restaurant serves up a bowl of soup, but making a batch of one that stands out is a lot harder to do. Oak Tree Tavern’s dill pickle soup is creamy, briny and unique, not unlike Pig and Duke executive chef, Evan Robertson’s gourmet take on everyone’s favourite, chicken noodle.Then there’s those big bowls of fragrant sate broths and noodles at Nho Saigon in Marda Loop or Pho Dau Bo on 17th Avenue SE, and Thai Sa-on’s tom yum loaded with prawns with that sweet-sour taste of lime leaves and lemongrass. And we can’t talk about soup without mentioning the sumptuous signature mushroom soups at Escoba and Cilantro.
There really are as many kinds of soup as there are fish in the sea, which keeps things interesting, but most importantly really comforting.
Braised Meat Dishes
There is something about a tender, fall-apart-with-the-poke-of-a-fork piece of meat that just screams comfort to me. Maybe it’s the red wine rich recipe of Julia Child’s famous beef bourguignon, a simple coq au vin simmering away on my friend Ksenia’s stove when I’m invited over for dinner in Montreal, or the pork shoulder my roommate has had in the slow cooker all day, with the smell wafting out of the kitchen and around my home… there’s a real thoughtfulness and care that goes along with braising.
You’ll find slow braised elements in most of our city’s top-notch restaurants. There’s the no-need-for-a-knife beef short ribs at Blink and at One18 Empire; the eternally comforting braised oxtail French onion soup (I know, I’m blurring comfort food categories here) at Yellow Door Bistro; Vero Bistro’s Milk Fed Osso Buco with saffron risotto and porcini mushroom sauce; Anju’s robust and spicy ramen with melt-in-your-mouth pork belly; Whitehall’s tender pork cheek with apple and barley… the list can go on and on.
With the world-class quality Alberta offers in terms of beef, lamb, bison and pork, it’s only natural that restaurants here have so much to offer a diner when it comes to slow braised dishes.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
For many of us, a grilled cheese sandwich brings us back to atime when two pieces of golden buttery bread with a slice of melted processed cheese was the ultimate treat. Now that our tastes have evolved we still crave that classic combo, but we’re ready for something more.
We’re branching out to different types of cheeses, broader bread selections, and even savoury, spicy or sweet add-ins for an interesting twist. Luckily, there are a plethora of chefs serving up unique grilled cheese to comfort-craving Calgarians.
Stop by Taste for their trio of blue, brie, and aged cheddar cheese topped with a slice of house cured ham. Or pay a visit to Janice Beaton’s grilled cheese bar on 17th Avenue SW, to sample their sophisticated offerings like the ham and gruyere, featuring Valbella maple pepper ham, Brassica mustard, and arugula. Blue Star Diner offer four choices of Sylvan Star grilled cheese sandwiches, from the Sourdough Bison Stacker with bison chili and cheddar, to Granny Smith, which, as it sounds, comes with apple slices, sautéed onions, and gruyere, on linseed rye. And then there’s pesto with peppered gouda, and mortadella with gruyere – you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Mac ‘n’ Cheese
(Mix of As, Bs and Cs)
Whether it invokes memories of squirting ketchup over a steaming bowl as a kid, or eating it straight out of the pot in college, mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Its name may be deceivingly simple, but who can say no to a bowl of hot, bubbly, melty, gooey, cheesy pasta?
While mom’s recipe was probably pretty straightforward, restaurants are taking mac and cheese to the next level, and we don’t mean simply baking it with breadcrumbs, or using pasta other than macaroni. Take everyone’s favourite downtown live music spot, The Palomino, who opt for a mix of white and smoked cheddars, and a healthy amount of blue cheese. You can add smoky barbecued meats for a few extra dollars too, making it an ultimate comfort food combination.
If you fancy yourself a true gourmet, try the lobster mac and cheese with truffle oil at Vintage Chophouse, or the mac and cheese with butter-poached lobster, crab, bacon and truffle-scented breadcrumbs from MONKI Breakfast Club & Bistro.
For something completely different, Naina’s Kitchen will even stuff their five-cheese mac and cheese into a burger for you! Now that’s a mash-up I can really get behind!