Comfort food: food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal, food that provides a pleasant feeling of being relaxed and free from pain, simple, home-style food that brings comforting thoughts of home or childhood.
Great comfort food, can there really be such a thing, certainly if it achieves its primary goal of, providing comfort, then of course it can be great. Comfort food is that which brings the fondest of memories, when Mom made the tastiest food to bring your healing from sickness, hurt or your aching heart, it was the food that she went to great lengths to make just to make you feel so much better. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, Mac & Cheese that didn’t come out of a box, she knew what you wanted when you are down.
Before a morsel touches your taste buds, the aromas have already provided the stage for your happiness which is about to happen, instantaneously, the journey back to a time happens when that particular meal not only fed your tummy, but filled the heart and soul with an everlasting reminiscence of something that was very good. It’s kind of a “ghost” of memory; locked away until just an odor unlocks the door and all the feeling of joy rushes forth, knowing in a few mere moments the taste buds will be rejoicing along with the heart.
On the coldest winter days, a creamy bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup with Dumplings warms the soul, in the heat of summer, coolness of a Greek Salad helps bring down the temperature. Chicken wings for the game, pizza just because “it’s pizza” or, a great burger, too messy for just one napkin. Comfort food brings the family together, stories of days gone by flow like streams of fictional water; every meal becomes a family reunion of delight.
Comfort food is often filled with that which is “high in” that which is not good for the body (calories, sodium, carbohydrates) but should you really care, for they also filled with those things that are “high in” love, peace and happiness, the reason why Comfort Food provides you with a type of high.
Comfort food has the power to move you, people travel many miles for a meal that will bring them back to a time that healed, a time when life was less complicated, a time that helped, a time when that moment in life was so very important. Once while on a driving journey from Branson, Missouri to California, my friends Dick and Leda Bofferding made a 1992 miles detour to my restaurant in Penticton, BC, why, just for a Prime Rib dinner, that is the power of comfort food. When you want something that brings happiness, you will go to, and, do anything to satisfy that need. Comfort food, the Prime Rib dinner, was the medication Dick needed to refresh a good memory of a chef he called friend. It matter to him and Leda, it mattered greatly to the chef (me) it made a memory neither would never forget.
Every individual has a differing view of what comfort food is, we all have had different and various experiences, which at the time of the event a certain food became the culinary delight of the moment, that was the moment it became comforting for them. A rich hearty stew, a curried chicken Masala, pizza, hamburger, French fires or poutine, soup, or stew, something very healthy, something very unhealthy, if it brought the sought after comfort, then that dish becomes a comfort food. From that moment into eternity the person will always seek the same, aroma, same taste and same experience that, that food brought.
Comfort food is the expectation of every diner who enters into a restaurant that reminds them of their moment in time. Whether a diner, café, coffee shop, mall kiosk or a food truck, the diner wants what they had (from their memory) and, no change of any kind is acceptable. So many consider the experience of the past first in choosing the restaurant they want to dine in. So there are a few factors that one must keep in mind, although these are more suggestions than rules, as some can have exceptions, they are still items to be mindful of when selecting the establishment.
Hygiene, is the establishment and staff clean. If your fingers stick to the menu, other things may be sticking to your stomach, making you very ill. No matter what memory you desire, a new one of illness is not worthwhile. Everything in the restaurant must be clean, spotless, or don’t dine there. This is one rule you should never break.
Location, choose the location that is closest to you (generally), can you walk to it, a long drive after the experience may detract from that experience. You want to enjoy the getting there, the being there and the leaving there. There are exceptions of course, a very specific establishment, a spectacular view that cannot be held anywhere else, or an atmosphere unique to the establishment, or, of course a chef who can only recreate the meal you desire. Like Dick and Leda wanted, causing them to drive all of 1992 miles to my restaurant for Prime Rib.
Ambiance, does the décor, music and staff refresh the memory. A diner or cafe that has been redecorated may no longer have that nostalgic look that you are seeking. The pub from thirty years ago may now be the new fusion fine dine, that little ole coffee shop now converted to the trendy hot spot will they actually provide the memory refresh you desire. Remember neighborhoods change, as differing populations move in and out, the neighborhood changes with the demographic, rarely can anyone go back to exactly the same area as it was years gone by, choose the establishment that solidifies the memory, it should match the food you’re desiring. The change could be the music as well, your top 40 songs are most likely no longer playing on the sound system, in fact the sound system in your day was a juke box, today it’s satellite radio and your dime stays in your pocket, forget five songs for a quarter.
Value for money, remember your 0.99 cent burger, you had with that special someone, and she ate the fries when she said she didn’t want anything, well today that burger is likely 13.00 and the fries are extra. The value is in the experience, certainly over time cost of increased and therefore the price you must pay. Set that aside and enjoy the experience from your memory.
Service, makes the difference, the staff know you, not just your face, but know you, call you by name, serve you like you are family, know your likes and dislikes, know what you drink and what you want before you even open the menu. Here the staff are genuinely happy to see you arrive and unhappy when you go. It’s not that food that makes you feel comfortable, but it’s the staff too. You go there because your home, we call certain establishments “locals” why, because everyone knows each other, those who don’t are welcomed just like all others.
Cuisine, simply said, it’s comforting, it is exactly what you desired, the first bite brings the refreshing, and each bite afterward creates a longing for the next time you will return. Just walking in the door gives you a warm fuzzy feeling of being back, and then you know it is going to be a amazing time.
Chef, unless you’re looking for a very specific chef, let the chef now present cook that meal you’re desiring. Judge the experience on the food and not the cook, if it comes to you exactly as you remember then that chef was great. Good chefs know not to mess with what works, not to change what customers come back for year after year. Successful restaurants are consistent restaurants, what your Granddad had fifty years ago, is what they are serving today, it’s that good.
I’ve said all this because I am reminded of one such restaurant just down the street from daughter’s house, and every time I visit her, I only want to eat there. The restaurant is owned and operated by a gentleman named Omid Ghiassi , his establishment is called the Food Box, located at 180 Kenilworth Ave. N, Hamilton, Ontario. Now there are many, many fine restaurants in the city, but this one fits all the categories to provide that comfort meal. Clean, friendly, delicious, and comfortable, come as you are and stay as long as you like, Omid and his staff know the very definition of hospitability and do everything in their power to make you feel the experience of be served. Hospitality is defined as : the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Synonyms: friendliness, hospitableness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighborliness, warmth, warm-heartedness, kindness, kind-heartedness, congeniality, geniality, sociability, conviviality, cordiality, amicability, amenability, generosity, liberality, bountifulness, open-handedness. Omid and staff have proven this each and every time I visit.
The Food Box serves comfort, just way you like it, freshly prepared daily cuisine that taste just like that, fresh. Whatever you desire, if Omid or staff can make then they will. I like to call them “The King of Comfort” because, no matter how you enter the door, they treat you like royalty. Generally I go after working a long hard day, feeling a little down, looking kind of rough, but a friendly, happy to see you, welcoming greeting is always shown.
Omid believes every dish should answer your craving; he and his staff take the time to create it to your specifics likes or dislikes, have a special dietary request, trust them to meet it. Having created a “local” for all in the neighborhood, the Food Box gives every visitor that same desire. If you’re a local, visit often, if your passing through southern Ontario, put the Food Box on your bucket list, it is absolutely a “Go To” comfort food experience.