Comfort Food Dishes to Combat the Polar Vortex
Real talk: the term "polar vortex" is worse to me than most swear words. It's a threatening phrase that strikes fear in Chicagoans with its promise of frigid temperatures and merciless wind chill. Screw the polar vortex. Obviously, there's no better way to flip off the polar vortex than by eating hearty, hefty, rib-adhering comfort food. Barbecue, pie, and fried things are the best defense against a vindictive forecast. Here are some of the best vortex-fighting dishes in Chicago worth braving the wind for.
Beef brisket at Blackwood BBQ: I'm gonna get real for a minute. Over the holidays, I was in Orlando, Florida, and New Orleans. It was warm. My blood thinned. Then I came back to Chicago on January 4 and I could literally hear the Celine Dion song from Titanic echoing through my frigid blood stream. It hurt. On January 5, I was downtown working remotely in the warm confines of a coffee shop when lunchtime struck. It became a dire situation because I didn't want to leave the cozy cafe to face the blustery cold. It would have to be something real worthwhile; like, worth potential frostbite. I remembered that Blackwood BBQ was a few blocks away in the Loop, a beefy bastion of expertly crafted pulled pork, brisket, and smoky chicken. And so I was off, clad in three layers of scarves and coats. It was only a few blocks away, but those blocks hurt and made me question my life. The wind was a stabbing pain likely akin to being murdered in Scream. Despite the brutal wind pains, I finally made it to Blackwood and everything was OK. I relished in its warm embrace, my nose following the aroma of succulent brisket. When glazed in sweet Memphis BBQ sauce and piled high on a doughy bun, paired with treacly sweet lemonade, this is the stuff of winter wonderland dreams. It epitomizes polar vortex food. There isn't much I'd be willing to venture a few blocks in subzero temps for, but this brisket is the perfect exception.
Shiitake frites at Eataly: Fried food is essential to winter survival in Chicago. You don't bother venturing out of the house for salad. You do, however, put the effort in when the carrot dangling at the end of the stick is a Jenga-like tower of fried shiitake mushrooms at Eataly's Birreria restaurant/brewery. "They're like mushroom doughnuts!" I moronically cooed aloud after inhaling roughly six within the first minute of their arrival to my table. Plain and simple, these things are just good quality mushrooms delicately breaded and quickly fried, so as to ensure a crispy mushroom fritter low on grease, high on shiitake flavor, and even higher on the comfort scale.
Nando sandwich at Reno: The quintessential formula for winter breakfast success goes like this: take a housemade bagel, slice it in half, and sandwich it around eggs and chorizo. Holla. Reno does it right with really any of their breakfast sandwiches, but this is especially true of their Nando bagel'wich. Maybe it's just because I'm a slut for chorizo, but this thing is second to absolutely none. You get to pick your bagel of choice — I like Old Bay. Then it all gets striated with housemade, well spiced chorizo morsels, white cheddar, and scrambled eggs, which binds everything together like some sort of savorous hug.
Baked potato bing bread at Parachute: Let's be honest, loaded baked potatoes are pretty much the definition of trashy comfort food. Thanks a lot, T.G.I. Friday's. But due to its chain-y tendencies and bottom-of-the-barrel ingredients, these aren't foods most of probably typically eat. But then along came Parachute, gracefully bridging the gap between sleazy comfort food pastimes and modern, wholesome sentiments. The baked potato bing bread at this contemporary Korean-American restaurant is a stunner of an appetizer, rich with all the familiar flavors of loaded baked potatoes — bacon, sour cream, potato — with the added bonus of not being T.G.I. Friday's.
Horchata pie at Dove's Luncheonette: When it comes to winter dessert, pie is king. This is pie time. There's just something about a pastry crust filled to the brim with custard that nourishes the soul on a soulless winter day. One of the best recent iterations to enter Chicago's pie pantheon is the horchata pie at Dove's Luncheonette, a genius creation custom made by Hoosier Mama Pie Co. Like the best horchata, it's silky-smooth, lightly spiced, and abundant with nutty, toasty rice flavor.
- Matt Kirouac