When that wisp of a chill hits the morning air, the shorts are packed away along with the swimsuits, and the sweaters are safely out of storage, it’s time for some good old-fashioned (and new-fangled) comfort food. As the days grow shorter and the clothes bulkier, New York City restaurant menus are skewing heartier much to the delight of comfort food enthusiasts everywhere. Here are 16 amazing comfort food dishes to try this season, eight in tried-and-traditional form and eight with a trendy, only-in-New-York twist. Bon appetite!
Crunchy Comfort: Fried Chicken
This quintessential Southern classic has plenty of fans far north of the Mason-Dixon line. There’s nothing like the taste sensation you get when biting through perfectly-crusted skin into the juicy meat of a breast or drumstick – using your hands, of course. It’s soul food at its finest.
Classic: Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken
Blue Ribbon’s version is so popular that the empire branched out with an East Village offshoot devoted to the bird. Fans appreciate the simple preparation — just a flour and spice coating — immersed in the fryer and served as “dinners” or by the piece. Bonus: BRFC goes beyond the conventional wings, drums and breast: necks and backs are available, too. 28 E. First St., 212-228-0404, blueribbonfriedchicken.com
Creative: Perry St
A little technology goes a long way for taste in Cedric Vongerichten’s modernist version of fried chicken. The executive chef at West Village’s Perry St aerates the batter with a soda charger for an ethereally light, super-crunchy crust; the D’artagnan meat is slow-cooked for maximum moisture; and a Scotch-bonnet sauce adds pizzazz to the entire package. 176 Perry St., 212-352-1900, perrystrestaurant.com
Cheesy Comfort: Mac and cheese
The most basic of dishes, easy to prepare, and fed to us from a box since we were old enough to eat solid food, it’s not just the childhood memories that makes mac and cheese a reassuring favorite. Just about any combo of cheese, cream, pasta and breadcrumbs make everything in the world seem right.
This Brooklyn take is likely to make your childhood flash before your eyes. Extra creaminess equals extra soothing, and a mix of Gruyere, parmesan and cheddar yields a pungent, sharp and smooth flavor balance. Replacing slippery elbow macaroni with ridged, radiatore pasta is a genius touch — it literally clings on to the good stuff. 432 Union Ave., 718-486-7717, dumontrestaurant.com
As if just plain ol’ mac and cheese wasn’t decadent enough, Chelsea’s Cafeteria stuffs it in a spring roll wrapper, deep-fries it, and serves it with a Gouda dipping sauce. 119 Seventh Ave., 212-414-1717, cafeteriagroup.com
Salty Comfort: Pastrami Sandwich
Born in the delis of the Lower East Side, a delicious pastrami sandwich brings back the good old days (real or imagined). You don’t need to be bar mitzvahed to appreciate the nostalgic, salty, meaty, old-world flavor. Made by soaking beef in brine, then smoking, and steaming it, it’s the only deli meat that gets a full Russian bathhouse treatment before serving.
Classic: Katz’s Delicatessen
Famous for its cold cuts, and as the setting for the “I’ll have what she’s having,” scene from When Harry Met Sally, the owners of this 125-year-old Lower East Side landmark like to say that Sally wasn’t faking it — it was their pastrami on rye that brought her to orgasm. 205 East Houston St., 212-254-2246, katzsdelicatessen.com
Creative: Empellon and Empellon Cocina
Chef Alex Stupak celebrates two of America’s great immigrant cultures in his short rib pastrami taco with pickled cabbage and mustard seed salsa — a Jew-Mex powerhouse so popular it’s the only taco he serves at both the East Village and West Village branches. Empellon Cocina 105 First Ave., 212-780-0999; Empellon Taqueria 230 W. Fourth St., 212-367-0999, empellon.com
Hangover Comfort: Egg Sandwich
It’s a must for breakfast after a night of boozing. The bread sops up all remnants of a previous night’s revelry, while the protein punch provides an eye-opener. The only thing that makes the classic egg sandwich a better hangover cure is a Bloody Mary on the side.
The fried egg sandwich at this East Village diner is available 24 hours a day, so it’s a great spot to stop in during the wee hours for hangover prevention purposes. There’s all manner of fatty meats to add — from bacon to kielbasa — to ratchet up the essential grease index. 119 Avenue A, 212-253-1482
This East Village spot’s build-a-biscuit program is served all day. Simply mix-and-match in some scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, avocado, cheese, red eye gravy — or all of the above — then promptly take a nap to sleep off the aftermath. And, yes, it has Bloody Marys. 325 Bowery, 646-602-7015, peelsnyc.com
Pubby Comfort: Pot Pie
Pies: they are homey, conjuring images of apron strings, oven mitts and window sills doubling as cooling racks. They are extra cozy when savory, with a crusty top and something stewy inside.
Sarabeth Levine’s chicken pot pie is a signature, and she smartly knows not to mess with a classic. It’s exactly what you imagine: moist, meaty; chock full of root veggies; and available for lunch at all five Manhattan locations. Various locations, Sarabeth.com
Creative: The Fat Radish
A sweet pea pot pie with mint offers a lighter, veggie-heavy version of a notoriously substantial dish at this Lower East Side gastropub. A touch of crème fraiche inside lends an especially silken texture. 17 Orchard St., 212-300-4053, thefatradishnyc.com
All-American Comfort: Burger
It’s as red, white and blue as apple pie and baseball; a good burger is like a hug to any red-blooded American. Ground meat, between a bun, with the fixings of your choice? It’s the go-to food whenever you’re feeling homesick.
Classic: Shake Shack
Whether you’re strolling through Manhattan, hanging by the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, cheering on the Mets at CitiField, or stranded at JFK Airport — Danny Meyer’s brilliant burger joints are always within reach. The 100 percent all-natural Angus beef patties strike the perfect balance between fast food and home-grilled. Various locations, shakeshack.com
Creative: Little Prince
There are two reasons why The Little Prince’s French onion soup burger hits the right comfort chord. First, it cleverly winks to those days when dried Lipton soup mix passed for ground beef seasoning; second, the SoHo creation borrows all the flavor elements from the cheesy-topped crock — caramelized onions, béchamel, Dijon and Emmenthal. 199 Prince St., 212-335-0566, littleprincesoho.com
Explosive Comfort: Soup dumplings
Dim sum means comfort food in Chinese — just kidding, but it should! Put a hot, soupy filling in a little package, and you’ve got a double-whammy of pleasure, served up in a darling bamboo basket.
Classic: Joe’s Shanghai
Sit yourself down at a lazy-Susan table with a bunch of strangers and dive in to the divine dim sum yumminess that is Joe’s Shanghai signature and a Chinatown benchmark. Rich pork (or pork-and-crab) broth fill the delicate wrappers with a gingery/salty dab of pork inside. 9 Pell St., 212-233-8888, joeshanghairestaurants.com
Chef Anita Lo’s haute homage to her father’s Shanghai roots has been on the menu since she opened her West Village restaurant 13 years ago. An intense pork broth and foie gras mousse wait within a half-moon wrapper. They are steamed, served with a slab of foie gras, and finished with a swirl of balsamic vinegar. 13 Barrow St., 212-741-6699, annisarestaurant.com
Combo Comfort: Chili dogs
One evokes images of ballparks. The other, football games. Put them both together — sausage and chunky stew — and you have a sports lover’s dream match-up in a bun.
Classic: Nathan’s Famous Coney Island
Since 1916, Nathan’s endures amid a rapidly changing boardwalk scene. A rite of passage for many Brooklynites, the basic, beef dog is pre-smoked before being griddle cooked. The result is a toasty, snappy tubesteak. When slathered with the tangy chili, it’s like a good old pat on the back. 1310 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, 718-946-2202, Nathansfamous.com
Creative: Los Perros Locos
This hip Lower East Side bar-hopper’s hang offers a hipster take on a favorite with the Amerro-Perro. The chili is infused with dark beer and cocoa while Vermont cheddar, chipotle kraut and hot sauce top the dog. A sprinkle of crushed Fritos makes the combo reminiscent of a Frito pie … but that’s another comfort dish, for another story. 201 Allen St., 212-473-1200, losperroslocos.com
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