We all talk about each exciting new restaurant as it comes along, but in truth, comfort foods dominate the Madison restaurant scene. When old friends and alums come back to visit, where do they want to go? They want a Gritty Burger, a Plaza Burger, a malted milkshake at Mickies Dairy Bar, Friday night fish fry at the Stamm House. Memories. Comfort.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite local restaurant comfort foods:
Meatloaf of the Gods at Monty's Blue Plate Diner. It takes mom's Tuesday night favorite and steps it up just a notch. With mashed potatoes and dark gravy, a winner.
Pot roast at the Old Feed Mill, in Mazomanie. What's more comforting than pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes? Well, maybe roast chicken, but then both are special at the Old Feed Mill, and they are available every day.
French onion soup at Lazy Jane's. I love to pull away the Gruyere cheese cap to expose the rich, dark liquid below.
Spaghetti and meatballs at Rossario's. This is Madison's most comfortable Italian restaurant, and surely its most comforting Italian dish. Rossario's marinara is the best in town.
Any good steak, at any good Madison steakhouse. There's something primal about slicing into a prime piece of beef, something that says, yes, we're at the top of the food chain. Hey, that's comforting. My favorite? The pan-seared tenderloin with chipotle blue cheese butter, at Eldorado Grill.
Chicken pot pie at the Hubbard Avenue Diner. I truly miss this dish at the old Marshall Field's dining room. But Hubbard's version comes close. Chicken. Carrots. Peas. Creamy sauce. Flaky crust.
Lasagna at Bunky's. Teresa Pullara-Ouabel's homemade creation is enough to make me cry, it's so beautiful and full of love.
The fish boil at the Avenue Bar. How long have I been enjoying it? Forever. The cod, the potatoes, the carrots, the onions, the butter. The butter! Comfort itself.
Braised lamb shank and roasted vegetables at Husnu's. Here's another dish I keep returning for, time and time again. More than 25 years now.
My favorite comfort food? You'll never guess. When I'm sitting on the deck of Captain Bill's Seafood, a big plate of fresh, chilled, blue point oysters on the half-shell before me, complete with lemon wedges and a piquant cocktail sauce, a cold gin-and-tonic at the side, the sun just setting over Lake Mendota ' well, that's my idea of total comfort, morphing into pure joy.
And don't forget: Life is short.
Eat dessert first.