Restaurants around the region are elevating comfort food to a whole new level, with authentic family recipes and the freshest ingredients available.
The Restaurant: Nancy’s Main Street Diner, Grafton
The Dish: Biscuits & Gravy, $4.99
Maybe it’s that famous hospitality, but there’s something about dishes from down South that make us feel comfortable. That’s why so many people clamor for this dish, an old West Virgina recipe passed down from original owner Nancy McCarrick’s own mother.
“It’s unbelievable how much we sell,” says Nancy’s daughter Denise Shutek, who took over the restaurant a few years ago. “It’s made fresh every day.” Regulars order the special-recipe sausage gravy, navy gravy (with chipped beef) or hamburger gravy on the side with just about any meal on the menu, but traditionalists can order two biscuits with gravy all day long. Even McCarrick can still be found in the kitchen on most days, whipping up one more batch for the hungry crowds.
The Restaurant: Wolfey’s Bistro & Pub, Elyria
The Dish: Buffalo Chicken Soup, $3 cup/$4 bowl
Wolfey’s Buffalo Chicken Soup has been warming patrons since the pub opened in 2010. “That’s the No. 1 seller,” explains head chef Sammy Gonzalez.
Celery, onions and carrots are sautéed with butter and garlic and then combined with chicken base, milk and heavy cream. But the key to the soup’s flavor is the blend of thyme, salt, pepper and good old Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
“It’s got a little kick to it. Just the right amount,” says Gonzalez. “It’s different than other soups. A lot of people come in just to get it.”
The signature soup is available yearn round, and Gonzalez says it’s best enjoyed in a regular bowl with crackers. Sorry, bread bowls.
The Restaurant: Bubba’s Q, Avon
The Dish: Southern Fried Chicken, $11.99 for a half, $15.99 for a whole
“Southern fried chicken — oh my gosh,” says Al “Bubba” Baker. “I’m from the South. It has a couple prerequisites. It’s crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. And therein lies what makes it a specialty item — you just can’t get it from anywhere.” Baker’s recipe is the result of five generations of Baker family southern fried chicken dishes. No one ever wrote down the exact recipe, he explains, until he finally wringed it out of his mother, whose name graces the menu as the recipe creator.
“It takes 15 minutes to bring it to plate,” Baker notes. “Our chicken gets a whole lot of conversation here because we double-batter it. We only make it to order. We’re not trying to hurry it up. We want to make sure it’s crisp.” Baker estimates it’s the third most popular dish on the menu.
The Restaurant: Cork’s Wine Bar & Bistro, Amherst
The Dish: Cork’s Mac ’n’ Cheese, $9 for a small taste, $17 for an entrée
A key foundation of comfort food is fantastic ingredients. Combine lush tastes such as pumpkin and sage with decadent elements such as goat cheese and bacon, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
“A lot of our dishes are comfort food with a twist, because that’s what I like to eat,” explains chef John Cafarelli. His take on mac-and-cheese combines Ohio City Pasta pumpkin-sage gnocchi with a creamy leek fondue (the restaurant’s most popular dish on its own), goat cheese, almonds and bacon. “It’s a very rich, comforting dish,” he says.
Cafarelli cures his own bacon in-house, a process that takes more then a week of effort. “I buy locally raised pork bellies, and we cure them for seven days, hang them for a day and hot smoke them over hickory,” he says.