Winter temps and comfort food: They go together. Technically, the combination isn’t trendy. Trends ebb and flow, and although they tend to repeat themselves, they do bow out for longer periods of time. Something that is consistently popular and beloved doesn’t fall into the same category as, say, mock turtlenecks, tribal tattoos, or oversized SUVs.
What we will see stand the test of time, as has been evidenced by its staying power, is comfort food — especially during the colder months. Comfort foods conjure a sense of nostalgia and warmth. They appeal to the emotions, stir fond memories, and are often associated with childhood, happy times, and love. An easy way to determine whether something could potentially fall into the category of comfort food is if, quite simply, it was something you could see your mother making for dinner for the family when you were a child.
“To me, comfort food is something that has to cook for a long time and requires a lot of love,” says Rock City Eatery
’s owner and head chef Nikita Sanches
. “For example, braised or slow-roasted meats.”
The Hamtramck restaurant is just the type of establishment whose menu bulges with comfort food. Sanches’ suggestion that slow-roasted meats fit the description really rings true: Who hasn’t enjoyed the goodness of a traditional stew cooked in its own juices for several hours in a crock pot? “I feel like poutine fits into that category as well, because we confit duck legs, and that takes a long time,” Sanches adds. “Also, the pork shoulder for our Asian pulled pork sandwich takes four hours to cook. I love pot roast, roasted duck, braised short ribs.”
The restaurant’s pulled pork sandwich, as Sanches points out, requires many continuous hours of cooking to achieve the required tenderness. Another telling characteristic of comfort food is that high carb count. Consuming filling food in the dead of winter is not a tough sell. That’s why barbecue and soul food are considered comfort foods (as well as their rich cultural history).
Macaroni and cheese is yet another classic example of a household dish that is both filling and nostalgic, and it’s one that that Rock City has taken and run with. Their version goes a step further in that they serve their medley of cheesed noodles in a crispy, edible cheese bowl. It may not be exactly how grandma used to make it, but it’s certainly memorable all the same.
Cheese is absolutely a common thread throughout the category of comfort food, as well. For instance, chef and owner Petro Drakopoulos of Berkley gastropub Republica
has drawn from his Greek roots to build a menu suited for those who want their food created with love and attention. For instance, Republica’s take on a traditional grilled cheese and tomato soup that isn’t a radical departure from the good ol’ standby, but it certainly has ramped up expectations. Using artisan cheeses and bacon, and served on grilled Asiago bread, the sandwich is crusty, crunch, cheesy, and delightful. The accompanying tomato fennel soup isn’t the runny, depressing version from a can, either; it’s thick, chunky, tangy, and provides the ideal complement to the grilled sandwich.
New kid on the block Gold Cash Gold
in Corktown also offers stimulating interpretations of comforting dishes. Chef Josh Stockton’s unpretentious menu includes fried chicken, and it’s a relief to find that the kitchen has not toyed with the formula too much. The restaurant’s pickle brine fried chicken has just the right amount of saltiness to keep things interesting, and it comes with a side of cornbread and hot sauce gravy. Symbolic of the vast majority of the menu items on their menu, this entrée is a fun dive into a familiar plate.
Comfort food has stood the test of time, and will continue to. Because nostalgia, love, and warmth are all especially important during the winter.
And don’t worry about those extra calories — you’ll be needing them for Michigan winters.