May 5th, 2014

Upscale Comfort Food

Posted in Locally Grown, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

According to Forbes Magazine, one of the top trends for 2014 is upscale comfort food.

We all wistfully dream of those uncomplicated childhood days, filled with gooey grilled cheese, stick-to-the-roof-of your-mouth peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and Oreos dunked in milk (do you eat the whole thing? Or do you like the crème better than the cookie? These are serious questions!). These simple foods transport us back to the summers of our youth, where our only concern was being home before the streetlights went dark. The neighborhood was your family and looked out for you; you drank straight from the garden hose; and ran with careless abandon until you fell over in exhaustion, only to wake, dazed, with grass in your hair.

This food trend encompasses the feelings and memories of our childhood, while appealing to our need for more sophisticated food. All over the country simple dishes are being reimagined to appeal to the more refined palette of today’s adults.

At Bubby’s in New York it’s all about the ingredients. Considered one of the best comfort food joints in the city, they even have 3 outposts in Japan. Their motto: “Defending the American table (Also, we steal recipes from grandmas)” speaks to their belief in good old-fashioned comfort food.

They manage to interweave this trend with the locally sourced food trend beautifully, calling out their vendor sources very clearly on their website: Wild Hive Farm (Flour) and Heritage Meat Shop (heirloom pig, turkey, and other meats) to name a few. They buy only whole steers from local farms and grind the burger meat in-house. Add house-made sodas with cane sugar and a culture started in 1890 by a local family, and you have the perfect recipe for upscale quality and authentic fare. These examples are just a few of the partnerships that Bubby’s has formed in the local community.

Items on the menu you can’t miss? The house-made bacon, key lime and Michigan sour cherry pies, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and cherry wood smoked BBQ ribs, brisket and pulled pork.

At Marco’s of Brooklyn, NY, the focus is on traditional Italian dishes, synonymous with the term comfort food. Recently opened late last year, and helmed by Daniel Amend, the brunch menu includes several upscale sandwiches and breakfast dishes that are sure to make your head spin:

The spiedino alla Romana reimagines everything you know about grilled cheese. Thick pillowy white bread first gets soaked in a Parmesan-laced egg and milk batter, then beautifully crisped up in butter. Fillings include creamy rich buffalo mozzarella and minced anchovy, with a salad of parsley, lemon and capers.

And don’t forget to try the Italian version of breakfast eggs: brown butter eggs with Piave cheese and wood-grilled bread. What can I say? You had me at brown butter.

One chain that focuses on comfort food, Noodles and Company, showcases comfort food from around the world, centering on pasta dishes (of course!). They recently added bacon mac n’ cheese as a permanent offering to their menu. It’s a riff on the comfort classic: the bacon cheeseburger. With bacon, tomatoes, onions, and crumbled meatballs, it’s the best of both worlds.

They also feature such premium ingredients as MontAmore® cheese, and naturally raised braised pork on their menu.

Burger 21’s menu centers on its 21-burger menu. Upscale burgers are one of the hottest trends in fast casual right now, with Burger 21 touting itself as a “beyond-the-better-burger” concept. Certified Angus beef, chicken, turkey, shrimp and veggie burgers give customers a variety of proteins from which to choose. The chicken Marsala burger is hand-formed and Panko-crusted. After it’s fried, it is served with Marsala wine and mushroom sauce.

As part of my voyage into the comfort food craze, I decided to take a trip to Haymaker, a local Austin restaurant that focuses on “regionally-inspired comfort”. They opened last fall on Austin’s East side and showcase craft beer in addition to their comfort food menu.

We started with the poutine, that marvel of Canadian culinary innovation. Haymaker puts a southern twist on this specialty with white pepper gravy. The cheese curds were squeaky fresh, and overall the dish was everything you want in comfort food, although a few more cheese curds wouldn’t hurt.

In the “A La Plancha” category, we choose the Nutty Grilled Cheese. Think sweet pecans, Grand Cru Gruyere, sliced apples and mixed greens. I really liked this sandwich, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a true grilled cheese. It appeared that the bread was toasted rather than grilled. I think the greens would have held up to grilling since they were predominantly arugula and radicchio.

We chose the Haymaker from the “Big and Burly” category. This is the namesake of the restaurant and a gigantic open -aced sandwich fit to feed a king (and ½ of his court). Served on Texas toast, it has rare roast beef, French fries, Gruyere sauce, coleslaw, fresh tomato and a fried egg. I really liked the flavor combination, and it was just as good cold the next day for breakfast as it was served hot.

And we really couldn’t leave without trying the dessert sandwich, the Fluffernutty Cristo. The Fluffernutter was invented in Massachusetts somewhere around World War I but did not get its namesake until 1960, as part of a marketing campaign by Durkee-Mower. Stuffed with peanut butter and marshmallow crème, the sandwich is battered and fried until crispy. It is served with chocolate sauce. I have to admit by the time the dessert rolled around I was too full to enjoy the dessert except for a bite.

Overall, if you are looking for comfort food, Haymaker delivers. So bring an empty belly and a couple of your best friends, because you’re going to need both.