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Comfort food — trendy or timeless?

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

The phrase “comfort food” conjures up something different in each of us and often has as much to do with warm memories as it does with the actual ingredients in a dish, whether it’s the drive-through burger and fries that take you back to your best childhood road trip or the mashed potatoes with plenty of lumps just like mom used to make. Talk of a comfort-food trend seems to pop up whenever times get tough and humans yearn for better days — we saw it in the days after 9/11 and again after Hurricane Katrina, when restaurants worked quickly to regroup and provide patrons with dishes designed to help create a semblance of normalcy and home. Most recently, the recession has launched a new round of comfort-food buzz, this time with the word “upscale” attached. From the tavernas of Athens to business lunches in Boston, chefs are creating new versions of comfort food using healthier and higher-end ingredients.

Phoenix chef and restaurateur Mark Tarbell launched his fourth restaurant, Tarbell’s SouthGlenn, near Denver last year, with a menu that’s half childhood comfort food including PB&Js and even Fluffernutters and half healthy upscale offerings such as kale salad and pasta made with omega 3s. This week, Tarbell shared some thoughts on food and its power to comfort.

Do you call the menu upscale comfort food, or how is the cuisine best defined?

I would call it food I like to eat. My couch is comfortable, my food is comforting. But then again I like beans and they give you gas. Hasn’t comfort food gone way beyond the realm of reason?

Do you think people are craving comfort food more now than in years past?

I think people always seek comfort in food. It’s used for celebrations and sorrow, to calm the nerves and to wake you up! It’s the best drug yet!

One side of the menu offers dishes that hark back to childhood while the other contains grown-up healthy items — are consumers seeking a balance between the two? Are you seeing people combine the two menu sides in unexpected ways?

Not really unexpected, but interesting. People love The Wedge, and the Mussels and Fries, which are both classics, and then they’ll order the “Omega 3” Fettuccine which we make in house with wild mushrooms or the Pan-Seared Halibut which has wheat berries and grapefruit vinaigrette. Both of those are very modern interpretations.

On local sourcing:

Sourcing locally is a dream that we work to make reality every day. I’ve been doing it since I opened my first restaurant 15 years ago. It’s gotten a little easier through the years as the potential sources have expanded. It’s important to me to support all aspects of the community I’m doing business in, and I like knowing the people I’m doing business with.

On social media:

We do put a lot of emphasis on social media. It fits really well with the restaurant business. We don’t want to use it just to promote ourselves, so while we do mention what the chefs are working on, menu additions, promotions, etc., we also focus on what’s going on in the community, recommend different places to eat, drink and play. We ask our staffs to contribute their ideas and suggestions to keep the info fresh and current.

Everyone has a go-to comfort food. What’s the one dish you crave when life gets out of control? Leave a comment.

Image credit, diane555, via