Cold Comfort

4 Comfort Food Spots for a Cold Winter's Night

Cold, dark winter weather that persists for months on end leads many to seek warmth in food; the kind of satisfaction that comes from ingesting lots of calories under the pretense that there are still months left before your weekends will be spent on beaches, pretending you know how to surf. There are now a plethora of restaurants that specialize in dressed-up, high-class versions of American comfort food; serving fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, burgers and gravy-soaked dishes that are at best delectable, and at worst diner or roadhouse food served at three times the normal price. In the midst of the on-going comfort food craze, a couple of restaurants have decided to differentiate themselves from the pack by focusing on one item, made perfectly, in 32 different flavors.

The Meatball Shop

When this restaurant opened in the Lower East Side last year, it was declared to be part of a coming meatball craze that would be on the level of burgers, bacon or gelato. You see, given the logic of modern dieting, balls of cooked meat are simultaneously a delicious indulgence and the perfect diet food (at least in theory—most meatballs worth eating use bread as a binding agent). The meatball craze did not spread like wildfire, but serving high-quality comfort food in a neighborhood of crowded bars and nightly revelry has helped The Meatball Shop do enough business in its first year to open up second and third locations in Williamsburg and the West Village (both open later this year). Although this restaurant’s owners opened it out of nostalgia for the foods of their youth, most people who hang out on the Lower East Side and in the West Village did not grow up eating meatballs. Thus, The Meatball Shop is so popular in part because it has revived a dying art. Thousands of pizza shops in New York City may have a meatball hero on the menu, but at 99 percent of these restaurants meatballs are rarely ordered, and so are usually made without much skill or care. The Meatball Shop, on the other hand, uses excellent ingredients and cooks them with great skill. A carelessly made meatball is usually a heavy, bland piece of ground meat, while those made at the The Meatball Shop can be light—almost fluffy—and perfectly spiced. These people know the importance of having flavor within the meatballs and not just in the sauce that surrounds it. The Meatball Shop offers a choice of five meatballs and five sauces, served alone or as sliders, heros, or on a brioche bun (try spicy pork with classic tomato sauce on a brioche); along with small and thoughtful lists of sides, beer and wine.







Although high-class macaroni and cheese may be developing a reputation alongside cupcakes and ice cream as a comfort food that specializes in the care of upset women, there is absolutely no shame in scarfing down some of this stuff when it is excellent, as it is at S’Mac in the East Village. While more upscale venues have a mac ‘n’ cheese on the menu that takes the easy road to excellence—truffle oil and an excess of butter—S’Mac does it with creativity and skill. They serve mac ‘n’ cheese in a dozen flavors and with various other options, including vegan and gluten-free (a problem at both S’Mac and The Meatball Shop can be an excess of options–ask for advice if you need it). If you like any spice, try the Buffalo chicken variety. Ignore the bright yellow and orange kitschy decor here and dig into your lovely, warm meal.




Of course, the idea of a single-item comfort food restaurant is hardly groundbreaking—after all, what was McDonald’s when it started? However, using the type of culinary thought and skill that is usually reserved for much more expensive meals at such a restaurant is new, and something about it is very New York, where only the best will do. There are certainly many restaurants around the U.S. serving excellent traditionally-prepared comfort foods: fried chicken and barbecue throughout the South, sandwiches in Philadelphia, pizza in New York and Chicago, and noodle shops and Korean chicken places in Los Angeles; but one has to get away from these traditions in order to bring a gourmet perspective to a comfort food without offending its purists


Poutini’s House of Poutine 

That’s why you will find an excellent take on the Montreal staple, poutine, at Poutini’s House of Poutine in Toronto. This is a place that understands the importance of using good potatoes and not over-greasing them, even when they are about to be doused in cheese and gravy (vegan and gluten-free options are available).




Ken’s Artisan Pizza 

It is also why you will find some incredibly well-made thin crust pizza in Portland, Ore. at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. For years, the standout Ken’s Artisan Bakery stayed open on Monday nights to serve pizza, and after awhile, they were forced to open a separate restaurant to feed the pizza-hungry crowds. They do this by adding seasonal and local ingredients to their excellent crust in a cute sit-down restaurant with an excellent wine list.




The Meatball Shop


84 Stanton Street


New York, NY 10002







345 East 12th Street


New York, NY 10003





Poutini’s House of Poutine


1112 Queen Street West


Toronto, ON M6J 1H9, Canada





Ken’s Artisan Pizza


304 Southeast 28th Avenue


Portland, OR 97214