Music may soothe the savage breast, but we’d choose a nice bowl of buttered noodles over Mozart any day. The therapeutic effects of food are real, and “comfort food” has become a category in its own right ever since savvy restaurateurs noticed that the mac ’n’ cheese outsold the filet mignon. Comfort food may not be health food, but we believe that an act of indulgence is also an act of self-care. Food that evokes family, tradition and warmth offsets the stress of daily life, and makes us feel cozy and cared for. As we soldier through these dark, short days, there is pleasure to be had at the table. Here are some of the coziest dishes to soothe your soul.
Biscuits and Gravy
There’s something about breakfast that’s comforting—maybe because it’s a meal we loved as kids but rarely indulge in as adults. Keys is a favorite breakfast joint in this town, offering a drool-worthy array of gratifying options. Biscuits and gravy make short work of consoling body and soul, and the portion at Keys is typically ginormous. One order consists of two big buttermilk biscuits smothered with mild, sage-kissed homemade pork sausage gravy. It’s served with two eggs cooked to your liking, and a pile of wonderfully greasy, crispy hash browns. $9.50.
Valhalla Nordic Smoke & Ale House
Our region’s Scandinavian heritage triggers primordial cravings for Nordic fare, and the new Valhalla Nordic Smoke & Ale House feeds the need. Brought to us by the same fellas who thrill us with Italian chow at Roman Market, the menu is simple and enticing. Swedish meatballs are the first order of business here; they are smaller and milder than their Mediterranean cousins, a mixture of beef and pork, flavored with nutmeg and cardamom, and covered with a rich, dark ale and sour cream gravy. They sit on pappardelle (wide) noodles, mild-mannered and prettily flecked with parsley. $16.
Chicken Wild Rice Soup
A good Minnesotan yearns for the taste of a chicken wild rice soup because it’s simultaneously grounding and uplifting, which may be the ultimate goal of our hibernal cuisine. The indigenous Ojibwe people hold wild rice sacred; we still cherish it for its nutty, chewy goodness. This delectable soup contains chicken chunks, celery, potatoes, onion, mushrooms, cream and lots of wild rice. $6; bread bowl, $9.
Molten Chocolate Cake
To some, chocolate is the only thing that can help when things get hairy. When the need hits, promptly administer the molten chocolate cake at Ingredients. It’s as warm and gooey as the doctor ordered; Ingredients improvises a fresh take on the classic by wrapping it in a flaky, golden phyllo dough purse that is also pretty as heck. It’s served with housemade malted milk ice cream, a sweet dream from the movie theater of kidhood. $7.
Grandma & Grandpa Yanz’s Homemade Chili
Bierstube Steakhouse and Grill
Grandma and Grandpa are the poster people of comfort food, and chili is one of the top 10 comforting dishes. Get both in one, courtesy of Gertrude and Frank, the grandparents of owners Jim and Mike. It’s deeply warming, filling and mild enough for the shy Minnesotan. Bowl, $5.50.
Twisted Mac ’n’ Cheese
Macaroni and cheese was a favorite growing up as kids, even if we preferred the neon-orange stuff that came in the box. We still crave mac ’n’ cheese, but our taste buds have gotten more sophisticated. Enter the twisted mac ’n’ cheese at Donatelli’s. Corkscrew-shaped cavatappi are highly efficient sauce vehicles, and you’ll want to catch every bit of the silky Velveeta, cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella melted with cream, andouille sausage, butter and Rotel tomatoes. The menu cheekily announces, “Surgeon General of Donatelli’s Warning: not Weight Watchers approved.” $17.99.