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Comfort Food


Posted on December 3

eat & drink

Photography by Rachel Valley

We all need a dose of comfort from time to time, and when winter’s blustery weather chills your fingers and batters your windows, it’s time to seek out food that makes you feel nourished and cozy. Comfort food means something different to everyone. Some reach for a bowl of chili or a mound of mashed potatoes when they’re feeling low; others re-energize with a slice of apple pie or a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Here are 25 local dishes that are sure to warm your bellies and lift your spirits this season.

MEATLOAF (above)
CAFETERIA 15L
Ravenously hungry? Dig into a slab of Cafeteria 15L’s dense, hearty ground beef and pork meatloaf. Served on top of a crunchy jumble of green beans and a heap of dreamily soft mashed potatoes, the meatloaf is drenched in a savory gravy that just might be better than your mom’s. This is a nurturing, home-style dish that will warm you from the inside out. 1116 15th St., Sacramento; (916) 492-1960; cafeteria15l.com

HOUSEMADE OATMEAL
CAFE BERNARDO

It’s often the simplest foods that provide the most comfort. When you’re battling the blues or simply need a pick-me-up, you’ll appreciate the appealing texture of this homey dish. It’s not overly soft and baby foodish (like some commercial packaged varieties), and it’s topped with slices of ripe banana, toasted pecans and a generous sprinkling of brown sugar. Multiple locations; paragarys.com

BACON-WRAPPED CORN DOG
CAPITOL DAWG

C’mon, you know you want it. Capitol Dawg takes a perfectly respectable corn dog and elevates it to serious comfort-food status by cooking a big piece of bacon around the outside, adding a crispy-salty edge to the dog that makes it the perfect partner for one of the restaurant’s craft beers (and, of course, a side of the kitchen’s popular cheesy fries). 1226 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 444-1226; capitoldawg.com

ROASTED DUCK RED CURRY
THAI CHILI
Heat things up with this luscious and fragrant dish: chunks of roasted duck in a complex and spicy red curry and coconut milk broth, punctuated with bamboo shoots, carrots, bell pepper and sprightly Thai basil leaves. Still hungry? Don’t miss the restaurant’s exotic and sweetly pleasing tamarind shrimp. 8696 Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 714-3519; thaichilielkgrove.net

BREAKFAST CHIMICHANGA
SHADY LADY SALOON
Shady Lady cranks out a terrific brunch, and one of its star dishes is the breakfast chimichanga, a crispy flour tortilla packed with scrambled eggs, black beans and Jack cheese, and doused with spicy ranchero salsa and crème fraîche. Hefty and nourishing, it’s a nice alternative to bacon and eggs, especially when paired with one of the saloon’s zesty Bloody Marys. 1409 R St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9121; shadyladybar.com

VEGGIE SANDWICH
BAAGAN
You can’t help but bounce out of Baagan after dining, whatever you order—this cheery restaurant serves up wonderfully fresh vegan cuisine. (All dishes are dairy-free, lactose-free, casein-free, refined-sugar-free, and free of artificial colors and flavors.) I especially like the veggie sandwich, abundantly filled with seasonal produce (a recent one contained super-ripe tomato slices, grated carrots, cucumbers, red onion and sprouts) on warm grilled bread enlivened with your choice of housemade spread. I’m partial to the plain hummus, but other selections include olive tapenade, pesto and jalapeño hummus. 910 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville; (916) 771-2117; baagan.com

SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
MICHELANGELO’S
This lusty dish is the perfect antidote to Sacramento’s shivery winter weather. A generous pile of pasta is submerged in Michelangelo’s vivacious tomato sauce, and an enormous, Parmesan-sprinkled handmade meatball is plunked on top. It’s hard not to think about Disney’s Lady and the Tramp when you slurp up the long, saucy noodles. My advice? Share with your sweetie. 1725 I St., Sacramento; (916) 446-5012; sacartz.com

GARLIC CHICKEN PITA
OPA! OPA!
I’m a big fan of Opa! Opa!’s exuberantly fresh, flavorful Greek fare. My favorite dish is the garlic chicken pita, featuring the garlickiest garlic sauce I have ever encountered. Your breath will suffer, but never mind: Sink your teeth into this plump pita sandwich, crammed full of moist chicken, ripe tomato slices and lettuce (and make sure to have lots of napkins nearby). 5644 J St., Sacramento; (916) 451-4000; eatatopa.com

TWICE-BAKED POTATO
SACRAMENTO NATURAL FOODS CO-OP
Who cares about calories? Try out a couple of the co-op’s delectable twice-baked potatoes for your next dinner party or family celebration. Loaded with (what else?) sour cream, butter and Asiago cheese, these carbohydrated lovelies are crusty on top, creamy and decadent inside. Pair the potatoes with prime rib, leg of lamb or a big glass of your favorite red wine. 1900 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 455-2667; sacfoodcoop.com

CARNITAS
LA ESPERANZA
This little hole-in-the-wall market on Franklin Boulevard sells all the Mexican food items you love. Walk in and take a place in line (there will be a line) and you’ll be mesmerized by the enormous piles of hot carnitas steaming in the display case. Buy a pound or two of this fabulous meat, along with big containers of house-prepared beans, rice and salsa, then go home and make a batch of guacamole. Put it all on the table with warm corn tortillas (and some cold Tecates) and watch how fast it all disappears. 5028 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 455-0234

 

 

PORK CHIVE DUMPLINGS
THE DUMPLING HOUSE

These dumplings are a heady pleasure: Bite into them and you’re rewarded with a gush of meaty juices. The large dumplings are handmade on the premises (show up at the right time and you’ll can see them being carefully constructed in the back), and their quality is evident: super fresh, packed with garlicky flavor and even more scrumptious when dunked in the restaurant’s chili-flecked dipping sauce. 129 E St., Davis; (530) 753-7210

GLADIATORE PIZZA
GIRASOLE PIZZA
You can always find an excuse to eat pizza, regardless of the season. But pizza can be particularly satisfying in the wintertime, especially when it’s piled with substantial, tummy-warming ingredients. The Gladiatore is a thin-crusted marvel topped with scads of meaty nuggets: chorizo, fennel sausage, pancetta and pepperoni. A thick layer of tomato sauce and lots of sliced black olives (plus a generous sprinkling of mushrooms) add another dimension of tastiness to this appetizing pizza. 2700 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 984-7179; girasole-pizza.com

TRADITIONAL IRISH STEW
DE VERE’S IRISH PUB
De Vere’s fragrant bowl of stew is food for your soul. The meaty broth, swimming with tender pieces of flavorful beef, celery, carrots and sweet pearl onions, is a dazzling dunking liquid for the pub’s oat-flecked, rustic Irish brown bread. Chase it down with a gulp or two of fresh draft ale. 1521 L St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9947; and 217 E St., Davis; (530) 204-5533; deverespub.com

KIMCHI TOFU SOUP
ELK GROVE TOFU HOUSE
If I get a cold this season, I’m making a beeline to Elk Grove Tofu House. The restaurant’s kimchi tofu soup is not only comforting—crammed full of custardy, floaty chunks of tofu—but the orange-colored broth also packs a wallop of spicy heat that’s guaranteed to chase away anything nasty that ails you. The portion is generous (think two full meals) and costs less than $8—more economical (and far tastier) than visiting your doctor. 8821 Sheldon Road, Elk Grove; (916) 688-4100

BLUEBERRY CORNMEAL PANCAKES
ORPHAN BREAKFAST HOUSE
This popular neighborhood dining gem does a terrific job with breakfast, and one of its best dishes is its thick blueberry cornmeal pancakes. These wonderfully textural, plate-covering goodies are dotted with sweet berries, then garnished with a smattering of powdered sugar and a ripe red strawberry. Swirly fruit purée designs decorate the edge of the plate. It’s almost too pretty to eat, but dive in: These cakes will please your tummy and start your day just right. 3440 C St., Sacramento; (916) 442-7370; orphanbreakfast.com

LOBSTER MACARONI AND CHEESE
SUEDE BLUE

Suede Blue has taken mac ’n’ cheese—the quintessential classic American comfort food— and upgraded it to a sophisticated side dish dotted with big chunks of Maine lobster and cloaked in a tangy, cheesy sauce. Fancy enough to enjoy with a glass of sparkling wine, this pasta offers a dose of sheer enjoyment. 1400 Eureka Road, Roseville; (916) 782-5525; suede-blue.com

BEEF STROGANOFF
FIREBIRD RUSSIAN RESTAURANT
If you were lucky enough to have a Russian grandmother, I like to imagine that this is what she would whip up for you to help mend a broken heart or warm you on a chilly day. This bowl of goodness features al dente egg noodles and chewy, flavorful strips of beef swimming in a seriously yummy sour cream sauce. The portion is grandma-sized, so plan to devour it with a friend. 4715 Manzanita Ave., Carmichael; (916) 485-7747

LUNCH BUFFET
MEHFIL INDIAN RESTAURANT
The tantalizing aromas that swirl around you when you walk through the door are enough to make you swoon. The lunch buffet (also offered Tuesday nights) allows you to sample multiple dishes instead of limiting yourself to just one. Not to miss: the richly flavored butter chicken, the zingy gobi makhani (cauliflower in a creamy tomato sauce) and the Punjabi bakra (fork-tender goat meat in onion gravy—watch out for bones). 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 791-1199; mehfilindianrestaurant.net

PORK RIBS
D’MILLER’S FAMOUS BBQ
Sometimes, nothing will satisfy but a big pile of ribs. When you get that carnivorous hankering, head to Carmichael for these fall-off-the-bone pork ribs. Messy and moist, tender and meaty, they’re slathered in D’Miller’s housemade barbecue sauce. (Hint: Ask for a mixture of hot and mild sauces.) Mop it all up with the restaurant’s sturdy corn muffins, and request a container of the chunky potato salad. 7305 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 974-1881

BURGUNDY BRAISED SHORT RIBS
CRUSH 29

If you can’t stay in on a cold night for your favorite homemade dinner (wearing your rattiest flannel pajamas), head to swanky Crush 29 for the outstanding braised short ribs. These fantastically moist ribs are served on top of chunky whipped potatoes and earthy sautéed braising greens. It’s the next best thing to your very own pot roast. 1480 Eureka Road, Roseville; (916) 773-2929; crush29.com

ONESPEED BURGER
ONESPEED
When you’re smacked with burger lust, head directly to OneSpeed, whose house burger features a fat, juicy patty topped with tangy melted Sierra Nevada cheddar cheese and piled with sautéed onions and bell peppers. Served on a cushy bun and embellished with fragrant rosemary mayonnaise, this is one of the finest—and most satisfying—burgers in the region. 4818 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 706-1748; onespeedpizza.com

ARTISAN CHEESEBOARD
TAYLOR’S KITCHEN
When the cold winds howl outside, you need to pad your stomach with extra goodies, so why not order that extra course you’re craving? Ask for Taylor’s cheeseboard, which you can nibble as you peruse the menu or enjoy after dinner instead of (or heck, in addition to) dessert. The cheeses on the board change frequently, and you’re sure to relish the accompaniments, which range from roasted Marcona almonds and a sticky-sweet chunk of honeycomb to membrillo (quince paste), olives and fresh fruit. 2924 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 443-5154; taylorskitchen.com

GRILLED SHRIMP AND GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
LEMON GRASS
We all need a blast of sunshine on gray days, and if the weather isn’t accommodating, Mai Pham’s vibrant grilled shrimp and green papaya salad will do the job nicely. This brightly flavored dish, drizzled with a palaterousing chili-lime vinaigrette, features a refreshing tangle of grated green papaya and shredded carrots, enlivened with cilantro and fresh basil and scattered with roasted peanuts and warm grilled shrimp. 601 Monroe St., Sacramento; (916) 486-4891; starginger.com/lemon-grass-restaurant

 

 

SWEET COMFORT
Five desserts to warm you right down to your toes.

Snickerdoodle
TreyBcakes Gourmet Bakery and Eatery
Just saying the word “snickerdoodle” can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This humble little cookie gets some serious love at midtown’s TreyBcakes, which makes its version differently from most I’ve seen. With its craggy, sugar- and cinnamon-sprinkled top, chewy texture and endearing, lumpy shape, it’s a cookie that makes people happy. Tuck some into your kids’ school lunches or deliver a plateful to your crabby neighbor. (Just remember to save a few for yourself.) 1801 L St., Sacramento; (916) 442-7270; treybcakes.com

Banana Cream Pie
Tower Cafe
A sturdy graham cracker crust supports the super-creamy custard layer, dotted with lots of banana slices. Piled high with eye-popping amounts of whipped cream and garnished with dried banana slices (which add a fun crunch), this soothing, catapult-you-directly-back-to-childhood treat is pure comfort food. 1518 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 441-0222; towercafe.com

Bread Pudding
Sassy Sweets by Monique

It ain’t fancy, but Sassy Sweets’ airy, cinnamon-kissed bread pudding is the perfect cold-weather dessert nosh. Warm a big chunk in the oven (it will fill your kitchen with a spicy, comforting fragrance) and serve it to someone you love with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cozy hug. (Note: The bread pudding isn’t offered every day, so call ahead for availability.) 604 Sutter St., Folsom; (916) 985-9462

Hot Chocolate
Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates
You won’t find a pedestrian cup of instant cocoa at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates—the hot beverage is taken seriously at this upscale midtown shop. There are three sophisticated versions from which to choose: the European, a thick and intensely flavored cocoa prepared from bittersweet chocolate; the Classic, a more traditional semisweet-chocolate cocoa; and the exotic Oaxacan, infused with vanilla, cinnamon and dried chilies. The hot chocolate is topped with whipped cream or a house-made marshmallow (definitely choose the marshmallow), and a few sips are likely to turn you against the packaged variety for good. 1801 L St., Sacramento; (916) 706-1738; gingerelizabeth.com

Lemon Bar
Selland’s Market-Cafe
It’s hard for bakers to attain that perfect, balanced trifecta (tart/sweet/creamy) that makes a really good lemon bar so darned delicious. Selland’s version is one of the best I’ve tasted anywhere—sparkling with bold citrus flavor, just tangy enough and not overly sweet, the bright yellow, shortbread-bottomed bar is a real delight. Take home a few extra to share with friends and family. 5340 H St., Sacramento; (916) 736-3333; 4370 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 932-5025; sellands.com

 

SNAPSHOTS

Wellspring

Wellspring

The unveiling of the wall mural "Friendship Garden" Thursday, October 30, 2014 during open house ceremonies at the Wellspring Women's Center.

Published: Thursday, October 30, 2014