The chill has really, truly arrived. The days, well, they be dark and dreary, foggy and soggy. But dining need not be. Here are six spots for some comfort food and drink, and perhaps more than a few solid pre-hibernation meals.
Pastries overburden the antique case up front—big almond–orange blossom–blueberry buttermilk cakes, triple chocolate chip cookies, biscuits filled with raspberry freezer jam—and yes, they taste as moist and sumptuous as they look. This laid-back breakfast-lunch spot on 15th is a teensy shot of the Carolinas, by way of owner-baker Heather Earnhardt’s Southern heritage. If close tables and drafty quarters sometimes compromise comfort, her food sure doesn’t: Biscuits, the rightful specialty of the house, crackle thickly at the edges and surrender to fluffy interiors that melt away on the tongue—pure pleasure when piled with soft egg and cheese and Benton’s chewy bacon, or with fat chunks of expert fried chicken, sharpened with aged cheddar and flooded over with fiery sausage gravy. Dinners happen family style, Friday nights only: four courses that roam across Dixie. Hope for Creole anything.
Vegans come in two flavors: Those who want to avoid any semblance of meat and dairy, and those who want to pretend they’re eating it. Plum Bistro is for the latter. In the lofty, fir-floored Piston and Ring Building, Makini Howell (who gave us the vegan sandwich houses Hillside Quickies) cooks up feisty-flavored renditions of classic comfort foods in her open kitchen: spicy Cajun Mac ‘n’ Yease (pasta with yeast substance), a jerk tofu “burger,” Cajun-fried seitan (wheat gluten) “steak” with wild-mushroom gravy. Vegans of the second camp will relish Howell’s bold flavors and plate-filling portions of decidedly nonvegetal textures. And if vegans of the first camp might wish for a greater selection of salads that don’t come topped with things like tempeh bacon—they’ll still like it better than the carnivores, who are likely to leave Plum pondering whether any human in the history of civilization has ever actually liked soy mozzarella.
At first glance, the former auto-body shop with the raw-timbered, barrel-vaulted ceilings telegraphs old-school Americana—diner counter with barstools, TVs with the game on, a free parking lot in downtown Columbia City—but a glance at the menu shows that the kitchen is actually a lab for inventive Asian fusion, heavy on the aloha. This is the biggest and most restauranty of the laudable local Marination chain, with a menu spanning dishes from sriracha-kimchi shimp poke to terrific five-spice walnut and herb-chicken salad to intelligent comfort foods like, sigh, fries topped with kalua pork, kimchi mayo, and a fried egg. Open breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and the fried dough balls known as malasadas, thank heaven, are available at all of ’em.
The lived-in ease of this cozy brick-walled boite not only makes Belltown feel like a neighborhood, it leaves you quite unprepared for the exacting food. Chef Ba Culbert’s savory appetizer tarts are rich with delectables like bacon and fine Gruyere, and meltingly crusted; her celeriac soup a fathomless marvel topped with smoky paprika and caramelized pear. Dinners are comforting affairs—perhaps a moist, charry pork chop with polenta cake and greens and grilled fig—and lunches casual and precise. Everything, including the long, luscious list of housemade desserts, tastes more careful and authentic than it ought to at prices this low. And weekend brunch, with its rotating lineup of Dutch babies, is legendary.
Like its siblings (Purple Cafe, Barrio, Meet the Moon, Lot No. 3), this warm and windowy Stone Way sprawler extends an outstretched arm to everyone—vegans and burger lovers, fans of Middle Eastern muhammara dip and fans of french fries, you get the idea. And though it’s nobody’s high-end spot, that’s its appeal—food with just enough interest (and virtually no challenge) to please everyone but the snobs. Servers are endlessly welcoming, the booze program is too, and chop salads and fried chicken define comfort food for a new era. Bring the team; the place is huge.
My big fat Greek deli: A festive family room of a spot importing all the community and color of the Greek marketplace to the St. Joe’s neighborhood of North Capitol Hill and the Ravenna commercial strip. Walls drenched in the hues of olive trees and the wine-dark sea, lilting bouzouki music, long communal tables, a generously stocked play area for the kids, a deli counter, imported olive oils and pastas for sale, a staff of large-hearted employees—it all adds up to an ambience of irresistible warmth, against which the sandwiches, meze plates, vegetable salads, and meat dishes simply shine. The grilled and pita-wrapped chicken souvlaki, draped in bright tzatziki, is notable, as are the more upmarket dinners. This owner founded Broadway’s El Greco; here as there, he manages to infuse Greek classics with his own distinctive flourishes and consistently make it all taste inevitable and comforting. All that…and retsina too.