The act of eating food for comfort is a means to an end—gaining strength and hope or finding relief, solace or well-being. That’s a lot to ask from a slice of Grandma’s apple pie. Yet, we crave certain foods in moments of need or when we want to recapture a feeling or memory.

Comfort food is often associated with Midwest staples such as meatloaf or mashed potatoes with gravy. Being half-Thai, I realize that comfort food holds different meanings for people in various cultures. Accordingly, I compiled a list of dishes served locally that give comfort, invoke nostalgia or simply appease hunger in a moment of need.

Beth Barden, chef and owner of Succotash (2601 Holmes St.), features honest-to-goodness comfort food on her menu and winter specials. The Cake and a Smile, a large buttermilk pancake with two sunny-side up “eyes” and a bacon “smile” ($6.25), is a pleasing treat any time of the day. Psst, the mighty BLT ($7.50) is not to be overlooked.

The Brick’s (1727 McGee St.) go-to comfort food is definitely the spicy meatloaf sandwich. Featuring meatloaf, pepper jack cheese and owner Sheri Parr’s homemade chipotle ketchup served on wheatberry bread ($8.45), it’s a house favorite. Elvis would have found solace in Parr’s Fluffernutter sandwich ($5.75) with creamy peanut butter and gobs of marshmallow fluff on toasted wheatberry bread. Make sure to ask them to add bacon, hound dog. Opt for sweet potato fries, cooked to perfection, as a side dish.

The savory pot pies (beef and mushroom, chicken and vegetable; $8 for lunch, $12 for dinner) served at Potpie (904 Westport Road) will stick to your ribs. Owners Sarah and John Williams named their homespun restaurant after this hearty dish topped with a flaky puff pastry crust. Pierce the crust with a fork, watch curls of steam rise and don’t burn your mouth on the first bite.

At Le Fou Frog (400 E. Fifith St.), Chef Mano Rafael’s French onion soup ($6.75) is a classic bistro staple. Rich veal stock sweetened with Port wine and onion is covered with a canopy of melted Gruyère, a crouton and grated Parmesan cheese. This soothing soup rekindles the flame in the soul.

Speaking of soul food, Papa Lew’s Restaurant (2128 E. 12th St.) is the consummate purveyor of comfort food from catfish to Salisbury steak. A daily variety of main dishes stock the lunch and dinner buffet ($9.99). Load up on Southern fried chicken, meatloaf and spare ribs. No extra charge for owner Dorris Lyman’s hospitality.

Sung Son a Vietnamese Bistro (4116 Pennsylvania Ave.) in Westport prepares delicious pho ($7.99 lunch, $8.99 dinner). Star anise, ginger and other spices flavor the aromatic broth of this noodle soup. I prefer flank steak in the pho, which also comes with Thai basil, bean sprouts, cilantro and lime.

When I can’t visit my mom’s dinner table for homemade Thai food, I head to Hot Basil in Overland Park (7528 W. 119th St.). Try fragrant thom yum soup ($7.95) or laab (9.95), a salad with sliced beef, fresh mint, cilantro, onion, herbs and spices. Blue Koi (1803 W. 39th St.; 10581 Mission Road, Leawood) serves Chinese-style pot roast ($12) with a hearty broth over rice or noodles. The Hot Basil Chinese five-spice version of the Midwest classic makes my belly happy.

Vegetarians need comfort food, too. McCoy’s Public House (4057 Pennsylvania Ave.) makes a black bean veggie burger ($9.99) from scratch. This savory sandwich holds together well and tastes mighty fine with a pint of ginger shandy. Carnivore’s confession: I order the veggie burger with bacon on it.

Out south, Martin City Brewing Company (500 E. 135th St.) boasts an impressive menu. Every Kansas Citian needs to try the broiled mac ‘n’ cheese ($8) made with a creamy four-cheese sauce and elbow noodles, the slow-roasted pork sandwich ($8) or AJ’s grilled cheese under a brick ($5). That cheesy sandwich has sharp white cheddar, smoked Gouda and Gruyère that gets smooshed together, grilled and served on sourdough.

For authentic flavor, I highly recommend the zesty chicken and vegetable caldo (tomato-based soup, $3.99 bowl), soft-shell tacos de adovada (marinated pork, $8.95) and fajita burritos ($8.49) from Dos de Oros (13029 Holmes Road) in south KC near Martin City.

With the sterotype of women finding solace in a carton of ice cream or a box of chocolates, you can’t tell me there isn’t some comfort to be found in something sugary. The Upper Crust in Pryde’s Old Westport (115 Westport Road; 7943 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park) sells pies with comfort baked into the crust and fillings such as all-American apple, cherry, coconut cream meringue and my favorite, German chocolate. They run $7–$8 for the Cutie Pie (serves 1–2) and $20–$22 for a 9-inch pie (serves 6–8).

Comfort food comes in many forms, and these suggestions barely scratch the surface. For some, it’s breakfast or a family recipe. For others, the dish is a passport tied to another time, place and tradition. Each serving becomes a touchstone, an emotional retreat via food that evokes memories and transports us to a cozy place away from the rough-and-tumble moments in life.

DRINK UP
Comfort comes in many forms. Cozy up to these delicious drinks if you venture out of the house in search of cold (or hot) comfort.

At Manifesto, located below The Rieger (1924 Main St.), Ryan Maybee’s Winter in Buenos Aires is a popular cocktail antidote to winter blues made with cachaca, honey-cinnamon syrup, lemon and roasted butternut squash purée.

Potpie’s espresso martini provides a coffee-fueled boost.

The Teahouse and Coffeepot (4309 Jefferson St.), next to Temple Slug, serves aromatic green mint chai and loose leaf teas that invigorate the senses, especially paired with homemade scones.

Christopher Elbow’s (1819 McGee St.) drinking chocolate blended into Shatto milk makes for an unbeatable combination.

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Originally published in KC Magazine, January 2012.

Read more: http://www.kcmag.com/food/kcm-food/5872-kcmagcom-comfort-food

Best Thing I Ever Ate in KC
For the annual food issue in January, I contributed 1 of 13 entries in this feature. I wrote about the lobster bisque served at Le Fou Frog.