Finding solace in tough times with comfort food
Don’t tell Mom you prefer Cabin’s Black Angus meatloaf to hers
Whether it’s your mom’s lasagna, or heaping portions of salty fries, we all have favorite eats that give us more than just nutrients and calories—they awaken our senses and take us back to our youth. And so, with the Dow sliding into an abyss and 401(k)s following suit, the best antidote is diving into a sizzling stew or a spoonful of something decadently cheesy. Yes, we mean hearty chili, bubbling macaroni and cheese, and thick, juicy burgers, among other childhood favorites. We stressed-out Westchesterites need a dose of comfort, especially during recessionary, is-our-house-still-worth-something moments. And so to honor this excuse to soothe our aching souls, we offer a tasting of some of our favorite guilty-pleasure comfort foods.
The décor at the rustically decorated Café of Love (38 E Main St, Mount Kisco 914-242-1002) space screams “cozy,” with the kind of dining room you wish you had at home. Pick a table, any table—each one is different: a knobbed rectangle, a hand-painted square, an antique square, all with different chairs and eclectic lighting fixtures. There’s also a large tasting table by the bar, laden with hunks of cheeses, dips, and olives, where you’re invited to help yourself. But what makes this café memorable is the food: welcoming spins on old-time favorites, most with a locally grown, farm-fresh touch. Tops on our list: the macaroni-and-cheese crock—classic elbow-shaped macaroni married to sharp, aged Vermont cheddar in a nutmeg-infused béchamel sauce topped with crunchy, Parmesan-panko crumbs. Enjoy it for only $12. Either way, you’ll leave happy.
Never was a place so aptly named: Cabin Restaurant (ll72 Knollwood Rd, Greenburgh 914-592-6682). Built in l937, the Cabin is decorated like an Adirondack lodge, and feels like it was plucked from a rural New England corner and deposited onto Route l00. The twinkling lights outside are your first indication you’re entering someplace homey. The second? The cheerful, woodsy interior, featuring a huge fieldstone fireplace. This “oldie but goodie” prides itself on its comfort food: homemade chicken soup, a half-pound Kobe-style hot dog, and ultra-thin pizzas (including one topped with fresh clams). But the hands-down standout is the Black Angus meatloaf, described on the menu as “better than Mom’s with a brown sugar, tomato, and hot-sauce glaze.” Served with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, at $12.95, it’s hard not to argue. Sorry, Mom.
Talk about hearty. The “Sunday Gravy” at River City Grille (6 S Broadway, Irvington 914-591-2033)—mezze rigatoni, meatballs, sausage, and a dollop of ricotta cheese—is like a large portion of slow-cooked love in a bowl ($22). The traditional recipe, made with plum tomatoes and sweet Italian fennel sausage, has been passed down from father to son. Co-owner Bobby Manzi grew up with the aromas of meatballs and sauce simmering for hours in preparation for the Sunday meal, and continues the tradition with this rich entrée made in true Southern Italian fashion, even trekking to Arthur Avenue for some of the ingredients. In the past, the pasta was served on the fall and winter menus only, but, in honor of Manzi’s dad, who passed away last November, it will continue to be offered throughout the spring and summer.
How can you not love Emma’s Ale House (68 Gedney Way, White Plains, 914-683-3662), a place that serves a large chunk of iceberg lettuce with blue-cheese dressing ($8)? Or a creamy chicken potpie boasting chunks of sweet carrots and a baked-to-perfection crust of puff pastry ($15)? This newcomer, which opened in December and features sliders and a Guinness-braised beef stew, feels like an old friend that’s been there forever. Part pub, part family restaurant, this eatery, decorated with the portraits of a yellow Lab named Emma, has something to please everyone. If you’re in the mood for some revelry and a cold pint of Captain Lawrence, have a seat at the bar or at the wide tables, where you can munch on crispy home-baked potato chips or soft pretzel sticks served with mustard. Or, if a more sedate dinner is what you had in mind, head to the dining room, though be warned: with most selections below $24, this comfortably priced restaurant is perpetually crowded.
What’s great about Solano’s Lincoln Lounge (209 Stevens Ave, Mount Vernon 914-664-9747) is that it hasn’t changed in 59 years. For those who grew up in the area, it’s a great place to relive your memories. And if you didn’t, you’ll still enjoy it because of its no-frills, kitschy, throwback-to-the ’60s feel. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a regular or a newcomer, patriarch Bob Solano and daughters Carolyn Rossetti and Donna Rossell will treat you like family. You can’t order a slice (pies only; $11 for a large), but you can indulge in one of the best pizzas in all of Westchester: a thin- crusted pie with a perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio and the right combination of crunch and tenderness. Solano’s signature pie is the pan pizza ($13.75), made with fresh tomatoes and garlic; sausage or peppers can be added. The restaurant also serves an array of homemade lasagna, pastas, chicken, and fish entrées, though surprisingly, next to the pizza, we prefer the porterhouse steak made with a special ingredient. You can ask Solano what it is, but he probably won’t tell.
Nothing warms the soul like a bowl of chili. It’s the perfect balm after a breakup or a breakdown: regressive, yet satisfying. And Smokehouse Chili-Grill’s (606 North Ave, New Rochelle 914-813-8686) $4 cup is one of the most affordable and delicious meals around. Which is partly why this Iona College hangout, with its blackboard menu and no-frills counter featuring stacks of paper towels, is such a winner. Owners Michael Hofer and Justin Zeytoonian traveled the country attending chili cook-offs, contests, and countless tailgating parties, all in an effort to perfect their “original” flavor: a blend of spices, sausage, bacon, and beef, topped with shredded Monterey Jack and yellow cheddar. In addition, you’ll find home-style chicken fritters, chili pizza ($5), and “the dirty dawg” ($9), four flat-grilled hot dogs shoved into a wedge and smothered with chili and cheese. Outdoor seating at picnic tables caps the shack-like atmosphere. The owners hope—by early this month—finally to be able to serve beer and wine. After all, a frosty brew definitely helps the chili go down.
When you’re in the mood for a simple, unpretentious burger, head to Squires (94 N State Rd, Briarcliff Manor 914-762-3376) where you’ll find this perfectly cooked American favorite ($7.75) on a sesame-seed bun with a slice of sour pickle and crisp, perfectly salted fries. Like Lincoln Lounge, this place is a bit of a time warp (and proud of it!) with a dark wood-paneling decor. Burgers are a specialty: charcoal-grilled and meaty, with just the right amount of pink inside. And though they have several variations, and a wide variety of toppings (think mushrooms, onions and Worcestershire sauce, or jalapeño and salsa, as well as a Kobe beef or buffalo chipotle burger), their classic is still the ultimate winner. The only downside? Cash or American Express only, though there is an ATM on-site.
A Place Called Comfort
We can’t write about feel-good meals without including Comfort (598 Warburton Ave, Hastings 914-478-4677), the small eat-in/take-away Hastings café that specializes in healthy comfort food (yes, there is such a thing): organic and vegetarian delights such as antibiotic-free roasted chicken, gluten-free chicken fingers, and bean tacos.
Larchmont resident Jeanne Muchnick has been published in a variety of national and local publications. And though she hates to give away her “secrets”—Lincoln Lounge being one—she says comfort food is too special not to share.