Comfort Food

sipping brown liquor at a hotel bar

Omni Hotel's Illume Lounge
On weeknights, this Mediterranean-style bar is quiet and rarely busy—perfect for swapping stories with an old friend over neat glasses of whiskey. The house bourbon is Jim Beam, but it also serves Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, and Woodford Reserve.
132 E. Trade St., 704-377-0400

The Westin's Bar 10
Low lighting and a rushing waterscape lend a relaxing environment to Bar 10. Ditch the barstool for one of the many comfy couches and indulge with a tumbler of Johnny Walker Blue.
601 S. College St., 704-375-2600

Blake Hotel's Vault Bar & Lounge
The swank Vault Lounge has a deep selection. Take a seat at the bar's comfy booths and sip Wild Turkey, Johnny Walker Black, or Heaven Hill.
555 S. McDowell St., 704-372-4100

Hilton Tower's Coastal Kitchen & Bar
In this ultramod watering hole, liquors are displayed on a light-up shelf that changes color. The bar boasts more than ten bourbons and whiskeys, including Gentleman Jack and Booker's Reserve.
222 E. Thirty-second St., 704-377-1500

something retro

something retroSometimes when you can't have Mom's comfort foods, the next best thing is to sample someone else's. Growing up, Frank Scibelli could be found eating at his cousin's traditional Italian restaurant or enjoying a heaping plate of his mom's baked ziti. On Sunday and Monday nights at Mama Ricotta's (601 S. Kings Dr., 704-343-0148), Scibelli pays homage to his childhood favorites with a retro menu boasting hearty dishes like baked sausage and spaghetti carbonara. We love the baked ziti ($8.95), which is made from Scibelli's mother's recipe, stuffed with homemade sausage (made in-house!), meat sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella. To get extra cozy, ask for a seat near the restaurant's open hearth, which keeps you warm all winter long.

a cuppa tea

l Sipping a steamy cup of tea that warms your body inside and out is a simple comfort.
Here are six versions that smell just as lovely as they taste. (From top left, clockwise.)

Earl Grey White
$10 for 2 oz.

Cuppa TeaCinnamon Stix
$5 for 2 oz.
Urbana Cityspa & Teabar
7510 Pineville Matthews Rd.

Swiss Vervaine Melange
$7 for 2 oz.

To Life
$10 for 2 oz.

Calm by Tazo
$3.14 for 0.9 oz.

Peppermint Ginger
$15 for 2 oz.
Urbana Cityspa & Teabar

old-fashioned pastries

Old Fashioned PastriesMaybe your mother had a knack for making pecan pie, or your great-aunt was known for turning out perfect petits fours. Family recipes, handed down from generation to generation, recall the warm kitchens of our past. These local bakeries use tried-and-true recipes to create  desserts so delicious, you'll swear they came straight from grandma's oven.

Croissants at Nova's Bakery
The Novakovic family has been in the bread-making business for decades. At Nova's, flaky croissants ($1.75 each, above) are baked fresh daily and made the old-fashioned way, using slow-rising dough and real butter. Sample a variety of fillings (we like the silky Swiss chocolate) or take it plain.
1511 Central Ave., 704-333-5566

Strawberry Cake at Zada Jane's
When Marcia Hurst was a little girl, her mother taught her to make strawberry cake from scratch. Hurst, the owner of Zada Jane's restaurant, added the cake to the menu, and it became an instant hit. “Both the cake and the icing are made with real pieces of strawberry,” she says. Slices, $6 each, are topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Just like Mama used to do.
1601 Central Ave., 704-332-3663

Cream Puffs at Amelie's French Bakery
Co-owner Lynn St. Laurent believes in keeping tradition. Her recipe for cream puffs ($1.99 each) comes straight from her grandmother's arsenal. They're a true indulgence, filled with smooth vanilla cream and dipped in chocolate. While most bakers whip up large batches of pastry cream and store them in the freezer, St. Laurent sticks with smaller batches, so nothing is ever frozen. And although baker's margarine makes dough more pliable, she shuns it in favor of real butter.
2424 N. Davidson St., 704-376-1781


A warm bowl of soup is the ultimate comfort food, and staffers at Noble's Restaurant (6801 Morrison Blvd., 704-367-9463) swear by the eatery's lobster bisque. Knowing that nothing beats a homemade meal, we asked executive chef Jim Noble to share his recipe. Slip into a worn pair of sweats or comfy slippers and enjoy a generous serving from your own kitchen. Feel free to slurp.

(Yield: 2 quarts)
4 ounces butter, finely chopped
4 ounces carrots, finely chopped
4 ounces onion, finely chopped
2 ounces celery, finely chopped
2 ounces leek (white part)
Thyme, bay leaf, parsley stems to taste
4 washed raw lobster shells,crushed
2 ounces brandy
11/2 tablespoons tomato purée
7 ounces white wine
2 quarts fish stock
8 ounces heavy cream
Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Melt butter in thick-bottomed pot. Add finely chopped vegetables and herbs and cook over medium heat until lightly colored. Add the shells. Pour on the brandy and flambé until the flames go out to burn off the alcohol. Add the tomato purée and mix thoroughly. Deglaze with white wine and fish stock, scooping up the food that's caramelized at the bottom of the pan and blending it into the mixture. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain after 20 to 30 minutes; any longer will result in bitter stock. Reduce by half and add cream. Allow to reduce to coating consistency. Finish with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne.

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