12 Madison restaurants’ recommendations for warm, comfort dishes
Soups, hearty dishes, spicy foods and more provide that culinary comfort we crave in the winter.
When it comes to dining in the winter, many of us crave cozy, comfort foods. Soups, hearty dishes, spicy foods and more provide that culinary comfort we crave. We asked some members of Madison’s culinary community to identify some of their favorite dishes for the season.
Spanky’s Meatloaf and short rib pot roast | Buck and Honey’s
Before the full inception of Buck and Honey’s, former partner Chris Franks had one request for its menu: create a unique meatloaf. Since opening, it has become a household staple on the Buck and Honey’s menu. “When you combine meat, potatoes and veggies, it screams Wisconsin comfort meal. Guests are always surprised when they see ‘meatloaf’ on our menu but the usual response is, ‘it’s the best meatloaf I’ve ever had!’” owner Tom Anderson says. While the meatloaf can be ordered year-round, the pot roast is a noteworthy seasonal special. The locally sourced short ribs, slow-braised for three hours in a red wine-beef stock with heirloom carrots and celery, come drizzled in a mushroom-burgundy gravy. 800 W. Broadway, Monona; 804 Liberty Blvd., Sun Prairie; 1370 Water Wheel Drive, Waunakee
Beef, spicy beef or braised beef hand pulled noodles | Ruyi Hand Pulled Noodles
“Hand-pulled noodles might seem like something new, but it actually has centuries of history behind it. We want to spread authentic Chinese hand-pulled noodles to more people,” says Chaofu Lin, chef at Ruyi. He recommends the spicy beef option, adding that the spicy foods heat up your body faster. For its noodle soups, Lin says they cook beef, beef bones and up to 20 different spices for at least 6 hours to bring out all of the flavor. The broth will provide warmth to the core. 334 State St.
Braised short ribs, French onion and broccoli cheddar soups | The Harvey House
Rich, flavorful and eaten with a spoon — these may be the three most important components for any comfort dish. It’s how Joe Papach and Shaina Robbins Papach describe their braised short rib at The Harvey House, a new supper club restaurant that opened in Madison this summer. They say the dish is a riff on a potpie with its large, tender pieces of meat topped with puff pastry. The Papaches say comfort was top of mind in the design of the restaurant. They incorporated dark woods, marble and warm lighting to create a cozy vibe. A couple other warm and hearty alternative dishes are the French onion and broccoli cheddar soups. 644 W. Washington Ave.
Chicken jhol momo | Little Tibet Madison
Namgyal Ponsar of Little Tibet recommends the chicken jhol momo. The momo, which are dumplings, comes in tomato, chili and sesame soup, what she deems the “perfect comfort meal for the winter.” The chicken, beef and vegetable thukpa, a soup with homemade noodles, is another warm favorite dish. This restaurant may have “little” in its name, but the menu is big on flavor. 827 E. Johnson St.
Pasta patata and provola | Bar Corallini
If there’s any person to trust when it comes to homemade pasta, it’s Chef Giovanni Novella. His whole restaurant is inspired by his time growing up in Torres del Greco in Naples, Italy. Pasta patata and provola, a warm, creamy potato and cheese pasta, is not a menu regular, but as Novella says, “maybe it should be.” The dish is typically made in Italy during the winter with pasta mista, leftover mixed pasta of all shapes. Novella explains it is cooked in oil with celery, onion, cubed potatoes and cherry tomatoes. As for current menu items, Novella says the fried calzone is a seasonal special served on cold days. The spring menu may also come with surprises and new specials. “The spring menu is always exciting,” he says. “It’s nice to incorporate new ingredients that are fresh as the seasons change.” 2004 Atwood Ave.
Mifflin burger | The Cooper’s Tavern
As the owner of The Cooper’s Tavern, Peter McElvanna knows the menu inside and out. The “Mifflin Burger,” recently introduced over the summer at The Cooper’s Tavern, “is finger-licking good,” he says. With a new menu launching in early January, McElvanna is excited to reintroduce some old-time favorites. Come early January, expect to see the return of mussels du jour and sweet potato chili. For vegetarians, he says the curry with jasmine rice is another tasty option. 20 W. Mifflin St.
Spaghetti and meatballs | D’Vino
“As a little boy I can remember the smell of onions sautéing early Sunday mornings at my nana’s house,” says D’Vino chef and owner Dino Maniaci. “Heading downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen and the pot of simmering ‘sugo’ was just the beginning of a Sunday filled with family and food.” He says his Nana always had a saucer with a meatball, rich red sauce and a crust of Italian bread for his family to taste. Everyone spent hours at the big dining table, enjoying bowls of long spaghetti — or in his case, penne — for dinner followed by roasted chicken, potatoes, salad, homemade dessert and wine. Family and friends shared stories, “reveling in the comfort of the day, the meal and our shared family history.” 116 King St.
Athenian moussaka and roti chicken | Mediterranean Cafe
Mediterranean Cafe prepares its dishes in honor of founder Faycal Belakhdar, his memories from his hometown and experiences as an immigrant in the U.S. These dishes, described as “homey” and reminiscent of family, “are also a medley of familiar and simple flavors, something that one might look forward to this holiday season,” according to head chef Jason Xia. For a sweet dessert, the pistachio baklava is a crowd favorite, but Xia says most customers end their meals with a cup of Algerian tea. “Our signature mint tea is combined with Earl Grey to create a comforting and warming experience,” he says. 625 State St.
20-ounce, dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye | Johnny Delmonico’s
As compelling as the Wisconsin mac ’n cheese side dish here may be, the 20-ounce, bone-in rib-eye — which is dry-aged for about 60 days to enhance the flavor — is a classic at Johnny Delmonico’s. The mushroom risotto is another warm comfort food the team recommends. 130 S. Pinckney St.
Chicken tikka masala | Swagat Indian Restaurant
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the chicken tikka masala remains a favorite in Indian comfort food, even for Swagat Indian Restaurant Chef Manjinder Singh. He says Swagat’s quality of the sauce and meat that distinguish their rendition from other Indian restaurants. Paired with naan, it’s a winner. 707 N. High Point Road
Stir-fried spicy ginger beef with jalapeño noodles | Taigu Noodles
Choosing one comfort food dish was challenging for Hong Gao, owner of Taigu Noodles, but she had to go with the stir-fried spicy ginger beef with jalapeño noodles. “Fresh ginger is a key condiment in Chinese cooking, and ginger is known for enhancing blood circulation and promoting digestion,” she says. “This dish is perfect for the cold winter season. With every bite you get a little spice, making you want to eat it again and again.” 7610 Elmwood Ave., Middleton
Châteaux Blancs | Cadre
Evan Dannell could have chosen his top few comfort meals from a number of items on the Cadre menu, but the one dish he wanted to hone in on is the châteaux blancs, beef sliders, a twist on a White Castle hamburger. The meat is locally sourced and the patties are steamed on a bed of sliced shallot and served in a brioche bun, smothered in Mornay sauce. “It’s a fun fusion of French and American, and I think [it] represents a more playful and comforting side of our menu. In winter, I find comfort in heavy warm foods with deep umami flavor and hamburgers definitely check all those boxes,” he says. The sliders have been on the menu since the restaurant reopened its dining room in April 2020. “It’s been a strange couple of years but this is a dish that keeps people coming back for comfort and conversation,” he says. 2540 University Ave.
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