The Definition of Comfort Food
Ballyhoo's mac & cheese and draft beer
Photo by Syrie Roman
The dictionary defines comfort food as a food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone, provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, may be characterized by its high caloric nature, and is associated with childhood or home cooking. We think that the bigger and heartier, the better. Certain foods are said to provide as much comfort as they do fuel, but do they deliver on that promise? Is that the feeling of our soul being soothed, or just the start of a carbohydrate-induced coma? Whatever it may be, we just can’t get enough, especially in the winter months when the weather calls for cozy evenings by a fire and belly-warming foods. Buffalo does comfort food well, and we eat it up. Here are some of our favorites:
Eckl’s: Lobster Bisque
There are no surprises at this well respected, classic Buffalo eatery. The menu has been greatly unchanged for the past few decades. It’s gained a cult following for its beef on ‘weck, German potato salad, and Lobster Bisque. Tradition is at the core of this restaurant, from its original location, then a move to Orchard Park, and now in Larkin, the recipes have stayed the same. Which, in this case, is a good thing. The bisque comes to you hot and fragrant in a generously sized bowl. You have the option of adding sherry to make it even more traditional. This soup is creamy, richly pink hued, with a satisfying lobster flavor and plenty of lobster meat throughout.
Ballyhoo: Mac & Cheese
The sign says, “Links & Drinks,” but the one item not to miss on this bar’s menu is the habit-forming mac & cheese. Its made to order in the tiny kitchen that puts out big flavors; the noodles are cooked just right, and the cheese is creamy and well seasoned with a hint of spice. It’s definitely better eaten piping hot with a cold drink as it loses some of its creaminess once reheated. If you’re looking for the mac & cheese fix somewhere further downtown, Ballyhoo’s sister restaurant Lucky Day Whiskey Bar serves the same recipe.
Shango Bistro Meatloaf
There is something so comforting about knowing what to expect when going to certain restaurants. Shango Bistro is one of those places that we seek out. We know it will always deliver,; the menu has been perfectly the same for a while now and, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? With classics like shrimp and grits, catfish po’ boy, jambalaya, and fried chicken it’s easy to understand why this Buffalo staple has stood the test of time. When it comes to comfort, Shango’s meatloaf is king. Made with local beef, pork, veal, and andouille sausage, this fan favorite delivers all the nostalgia of your mom’s meatloaf without having to do the dishes after.
Oliver’s Cuisine: Spinach Loaf
To say that Oliver’s Cuisine is an institution in this town is as big an understatement as it is to say it’s spinach loaf is “just bread.” The fresh baguette gets buttered up, and we mean buttered up inside and out, packed with cooked chopped spinach, garlic, cheese, and baked to golden crisp perfection. We guarantee you’ve never tasted such perfectly soft buttered bread filled with so much flavor. It’s the perfect holiday appetizer or host gift, as the kind folks at Oliver’s allow you to order one to go and uncooked. Stick it in the oven at 350 degrees for eight minutes and voilà. Your friends will be so impressed.
The Black Sheep: Sticky Toffee Pudding
We believe that this dessert alone has the power to end arguments and win wars. Admittedly, dessert menus are often overlooked as the food coma has almost always set in by the end of the second course. We strongly advise you to leave room for this one. The English style cake is made with toffee, topped with house whipped cream, sprinkled with toffee crumbles, and will change your life. Ellen Gedra has such a gift with sweet/savory combinations, her desserts are always impeccably balanced and beautifully presented. It's served warm in a footed bowl, with a sauce of rich butter and warm brown sugar: salty, sweet perfection. We can’t think of more perfect ending for a cold winter night.
Syrie Roman is a frequent contributor to Spree and Forever Young and is the owner of socialmavenbuffalo.com