Classic American comfort food is our version of Proustian madeleines - maybe crossed with a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. It's the food of childhood, the culinary equivalent of fireflies and baseball, or bicycles and hot sidewalks, or whatever you remember coming out of your mother's or grandmother's kitchen, or maybe your next-door neighbor's kitchen, depending on how good a cook your mom was. It's the stuff we eat when we're happy - or when the Prozac isn't working. It's probably our kids' favorite foods, and ours too, if we're honest.
Should everyone know how to roast a chicken, make a good spaghetti sauce, make a serviceable pie? Yeah, probably. But sometimes part of the comfort is having somebody else do that for you. So we put together a list of 10 of our favorite comfort foods - and some of our favorite places around town to find them.
A great place to find old-school favorites is Joan's on Third, which is kind of like our version of Dean & Deluca crossed with the Platonic ideal of your grandmother's greatest hits. You can get iterations of most classic comfort food at Joan McNamara's place: roast chicken, egg salad, BLTs, meatloaf, awesome individual chicken pot pies and a stellar mac-n-cheese. McNamara's dish is baked, with three kinds of cheese and noodles and no silly bells and whistles. It's served sliced, so you can see the cool interior, like a geological cross-section of your dinner. 8350 W. Third St.; Los Angeles; 323-655-2285.
If you don't feel like roasting your own chicken - although on a cold evening, it is a LOT of fun - you can head over to Barnyard in Venice and let them do it for you. Chef Jesse Barber's is juicy and fragrant and torqued up a bit with the harissa he rubs the bird with. (Do most things taste better with harissa? Yes, indeed.) And you get to eat your dinner with the cool Venice crowd. Invite your grandmother if it'll make you feel better about that. If the Westside is a trek, you can dine-in or pick up a whole Peruvian roast chicken at Pollo a la Brasa in Koreatown, which has stunningly great rotisserie chickens, fired by all the wood from their outdoor wood pile. Barnyard: 1715 Pacific Ave., Venice; (310) 581-1015. Pollo a la Brasa: 764 S. Western Ave., Koreatown; 213-387-1531.
With all the great fish shack seafood places that have recently opened in L.A., you have plenty of excellent chowder options. And we mean truly excellent. Probably best among them is the chowder at Michael Cimarusti's Connie & Ted's in West Hollywood. Not only do Cimarusti and his crew make fantastic old-school chowder, but they make three different kinds of the stuff: Manhattan, New England and Rhode Island, which is where Cimarusti's grandparents (Connie and Ted) lived and where the chef grew up eating chowder in the first place. If you can't decide, order all three on a sampler. All the seafood here is sustainable too. 8171 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; 323-460-4170.
If there's one food kids ask for consistently, and one you routinely crave when you're tired or drunk or watching football, it's pizza. Yes, you can make it yourself, but most people probably get theirs by ordering it from Domino's or some other nearby outlet. Maybe split the difference and go get a pie from Pizzeria Mozza or Sotto, two of the best pizzerias in town. Nancy Silverton makes some pretty great pizza, as do Sotto's Steve Samson and Zach Pollack - even if you're super-opinionated about pizza, you can pick one restaurant or the other, right? Sotto: 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-277-0210. Pizzeria Mozza: 641 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; 323-297-0101.
Most our our mothers made tins of meatloaf on a weekly basis, for better or worse, and it was mostly too bland and served sliced onto a plate with ketchup. Thus meatloaf is serious nostalgia food, and despite the limitations of the version we ate as children, it's still fun to have for dinner - especially if somebody else makes it. Joan's on Third does a mean meatloaf, lightening it up some by using ground turkey and serving it with chili aioli, a sauce that would make anything taste fantastic. (We badly wish aioli had been around in the upper Midwest in the '70s.) Bay Cities also makes a great beef meatloaf and meatloaf sandwich, if turkey isn't your thing. Joan's on Third: 8350 W. Third St.; Los Angeles; 323-655-2285. Bay Cities: 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-395-8279.
Should you know how to make a good pie crust, so that you can make your own apple pie when the Pippins and Arkansas Blacks and Jonathans overwhelm the farmers markets and the trees up at Oak Glen? Yes, you really should. That said, sometimes it's good to pull up a chair, order a coffee and a slice of pie, and read a book instead of spending a few hours in the kitchen. For those times, you could do far worse than head to Philippe the Original in downtown L.A. Other pastry chefs bake a technically better pie (hi Zoe!!). But they can't beat the nostalgia of Philippe's, which has been serving since 1908, or the restaurant's French dip, which you should probably eat first - with one of its 45-cent cups of coffee. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles; 213-628-3781.
If you were making all this stuff yourself, you would by now have a really awesome roast chicken, and you could make a nice soup from the remnants: make stock from the bones, then throw in carrots and celery and onions, a some fresh thyme and black pepper, the leftover chicken meat itself, and some noodles (cook them and add them separately, so they don't turn to mush). But since you're not, head over to Greenblatt's Deli on Sunset, pick up some nice bottles of wine and then sit in a lovely old school booth and order a bowl of their chicken noodle soup. Nothing fancy here - just a classic bowl, served with saltines. The restaurant is just as classic, having not changed overly since it opened in 1926, back when Sunset Boulevard was a DIRT ROAD. If you're not feeling too hot, or you have somebody at home who's not, get your soup to-go (it also comes with matzo balls instead of noodles). And don't forget the wine, of which Greenblatt's has a great supply. 8017 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-656-0606.
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Grilled cheese sandwich
At Zoe Nathan's Huckleberry, the grilled cheese is as good as it gets. Made with thick slices of the place's country loaf and Fiscalin cheddar, these are hefty and deeply satisfying versions of the classic dish. You could also trek over to FarmShop in the Brentwood Country Mart, where the folks on the market side of the restaurant make a mean pressed sandwich on their panini press out of housemade bread and Fiscalini, Gouda or whatever strikes their fancy in the awesome cheese case. In the case of both restaurants, do not forget dessert. Huckelberry: 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-451-2311. FarmShop: 225 26th St., Brentwood; 310-566-2400.
Spaghetti and meatballs
Little Dom's in Los Feliz is a terrific place for comfort food, with diner-ish tables, extremely friendly service, and a to-go deli where you can get a tub of Creole chicken salad and a Nutella panino (!!) after you've had lunch in one of the utterly comfy booths. Chef Brandon Boudet's spaghetti and meatballs is excellent: huge meatballs, a soothing and nicely traditional sauce, and thick noodles cooked nicely al dente. Nothing crazy or fusion-ish, just a bowl of something your mother might have made for you, assuming she was an excellent cook. (Order some extra Parmesan and chili flakes - they'll come in cute little ramekins.) 2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; 323-661-0055.
Ice cream sundae
Sweet Rose Creamery is the kind of place your kids will adore and you will too, even if you pretend not to. The ice cream is predictably fantastic, but it's the old fashioned sundaes that really make the place worth going back to again and again and again, with or without your favorite 12-year-old. It's made with two scoops of ice cream, warm hot fudge sauce, whipped cream and crispy almonds - and, in a genius move, chunks of dark chocolate brownies. You can switch out flavors, add or subtract components, etc. - but you really don't need to. It's an amazing combination, a triumph of excellent ingredients, and a very good reason to eat dessert first, last and maybe always. 225 26th St., Brentwood; 310-260-2663.