My mom’s potato soup was the easy answer.
In the middle of January as I removed snow from my driveway, I asked myself what sounded good right then. What would be the perfect belly-warming, comforting dish to drive away the winter blues?
Mom’s soup with its generous amount of dill and butter from the sautéed onions skimming the surface touching every spoonful; yep, that is what I wanted. I did not get any, sadly, but with that disappointment, a story idea was born.
So, if I can’t have mom’s soup, what would I get to warm me up?
More soup, of course
Nothing beats the cold like soup, and no other soup hits the spot in the Midwest like chili. There are a lot of places to get it, but the first place to come to mind specializes in something else.
Coney Island, 131 W. Main St., is the perfect place in the Summit City to escape the cold. Just looking at that fogged-up front window masking the hot dogs grilling away just behind it tells you it is a wonderful respite.
The dogs are great, and so is the loose, bean-free chili. And if you want some beans, go for the baked beans, which come in a piping-hot mini crock and warm the belly just as well.
For a soup that really provides heat, head over to Seoul Garden, 1820 Coliseum Blvd. W., and try the kimchee soup. This fiery-red concoction is made with the super-spicy Korean pickled cabbage, and the broth does little to tame the red chiles used to make it.
Although I usually get the pho noodles at Saigon, 2006 S. Calhoun St., I discovered another gem there last winter – the No. 27 Chicken Fresh Noodle. Curly Ramen noodles are used in this soup, which arrives in the same big bowl as the pho. It is made with rich chicken broth and chunks of tender chicken breast, but the exotic vegetables and fresh herbs that are used in pho give way to carrot, onion, cauliflower and broccoli. The result is a big bowl of steaming homemade chicken soup that your grandmother would approve of. And you get it for about $5.
Other great soups to battle the winter blues: French onion and chicken-lemon-rice at Liberty Diner, 2929 Goshen Road and 1040 Coliseum Blvd. N.; hot and sour at New China Garden, 5745 St. Joe Road; black bean at El Azteca, 535 E. State Blvd.
Warmth from a cup
There is probably no other consumed product more associated with winter than hot chocolate.
You can find tasty cups of the hot creamy chocolate beverage at about every coffee shop in town. But to really indulge yourself with the finest cocoa money can buy, you need to head to DeBrand Fine Chocolates, 10105 Auburn Park Drive, 5608 Coldwater Road or 4110 W. Jefferson Blvd. Nobody takes hot chocolate more seriously.
Ten varieties of the drink are available, from the mild regular version made with pieces of the store’s 52 percent cocoa dark chocolate and skim milk, to the serious made with 71 percent dark chocolate, to the exotic, such as the Mayan, which incorporates chili powder.
You can even get more extreme than the serious by ordering a sipping chocolate, the 71 percent chocolate in a tiny demitasse cup with just a shot of hot milk. And if you don’t like chocolate, how good does a hot caramel drink made with DeBrand’s gooey, silky caramel sound?
The drinks are garnished with either whipped cream or some of DeBrand’s gourmet marshmallows, which come in vanilla, cocoa, berry and cinnamon flavors. My drink is the serious with three vanilla marshmallows, which tame the bittersweet chocolate perfectly.
If it is coffee I want, there is no better place to escape the cold than Firefly Coffee House, 3523 N. Anthony Blvd. Its cozy, artsy atmosphere just entices you to lounge around there on one of the couches or big comfy chairs for hours with a book, sipping a vanilla and cinnamon-spiked Viennese latte or maybe a steamy pumpkin chai. The drinks are always perfectly prepared, and the staff’s warm welcome will also help take away any chills.
My drink of choice there is a grande zebra mocha (half dark and half white chocolate) with – be careful, now – a quadruple shot of espresso. It is really strong, but not so strong it isn’t luscious.
The most comforting of Italian dishes has to be lasagna. But I chose another pasta favorite that has a little lasagna influence in it.
Salvatori’s in New Haven uses lasagna noodles to make its manicotti. The hefty noodles are stuffed with the restaurant’s velvety ricotta blend, which includes mozzarella and parmesan cheese and fresh parsley and other Italian herbs. It is topped with marinara or meat sauce and more parsley and grated parmesan. A half order will fill up anyone; a full order will cover lunch the next day.
Macaroni and cheese isn’t Italian, but this unctuous pasta dish made with cream, butter and, of course, cheese is another many folks rattled off as one of their comfort food favorites.
My favorite mac and cheese is served at Moosewood Smokehouse, 5775 St Joe Road, and The Lucky Moose, 622 E. Dupont Road. House-smoked cheddar is what makes this side so good, and it is perfect with some of the other smoked barbecued goodies at these places.
And back to Italian, every one of the Casa restaurants features the Cavetelli con Quattro Formaggi, which is its version of macaroni and cheese. The pasta is enrobed in a cream sauce made from a blend of Parmesan, provolone, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheeses. It will stick to your ribs, as will one of my Casa favorites – the Rigatoni Bianco, which includes Italian sausage, mushrooms, spinach and red pepper flakes baked with rigatoni in a Parmesan cream sauce with provolone and mozzarella cheeses.