Tidings of Comfort Food and Joy

By CJ Woodring and Jenny Elig

When the temperatures dip or the holiday stress gets to us, it’s a no-brainer that we head to comfort food. These are the foods that take us back to our childhoods, the dishes Grandma served on a cold day. These are the foods that, as Boujie Biscuit owner Cyndi Joyner says, feel like they’re giving us a hug. We know these meals — entrées and side-by-fattening-sides alike — well. Here, two exquisite macaroni and cheese dishes, a fancy biscuit and the Hoosier version of a Kentucky favorite.

Chicken Pot Pie Biscuit at Boujie Biscuit (pictured)

Boujie Biscuit, a newcomer to the Franklin restaurant scene, is based on a concept Joyner brought with her from New York City. “I was just looking for a good home for my biscuits,” she says. “I felt like I would be appreciated here.”

Joyner, who has traveled and lived all around the world, finds the simple, recognizable biscuit to be a great segue into other foods. “It’s a nice staple that Americans recognize,” she says. “I might put something that you definitely wouldn’t find on a biscuit, like an international dish. And that way it’s approachable, and it’s something familiar.” Her biscuits are large, square, flaky and, most of all, receptive; they’re ready for adventure.

Joyner, who set up shop in an old home on Franklin’s Hurricane Street (“I’ve always wanted a place that reminded people of visiting an auntie or a grandma,” she says), offers six biscuit-centric dishes on her regular menu. The chicken pot pie, modeled on Joyner’s own memories of tucking into supermarket pot pies as a child, is a pack-leader in terms of popularity; online reviews typically give a shout-out to the chicken pot pie, followed by comments about tightening waistbands. Unlike the pot pies of her youth, Joyner’s pot pie does not feature processed ingredients.

“It’s chicken breast chunks, slowly cooked in creamy chicken pot pie sauce with peas, carrots and onions,” she says. “It’s simple, plain, real ingredients, slow cooked, which brings out all the flavor. Nothing is processed, ever. It creates a medley of nostalgic goodness, I think.”

50 Hurricane St., Franklin, facebook.com/boujiebiscuit

Hoosier Hot Brown at Hops & Fire

Two years ago, John Barto opened Hops & Fire in Greenwood in The Melting Pot’s former location. Since then, patrons have been rocking the city’s south side, in a casual setting that appeals to diners of all ages who enjoy great food, great service and a good time.

Along with fresh, artisan food, the restaurant offers more than 40 beers on tap, wine and hand-crafted cocktails. The venue features live entertainment through Ladies Night and open-stage mic each Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, a live band Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday Funday. It also offers comfort foods, specifically, a popular menu item whose name pretty much says it all: Hoosier Hot Brown.

Carlos Fierro, chief of operations, says he thinks part of its popularity is based on the fact it includes the word “Hoosier.” Nonetheless, ingredients ensure this is one sandwich that would get a thumbs-up in any state. Consider it: fresh roasted turkey breast paired with brown sugar-glazed ham, topped with beefsteak tomatoes and pepper bacon, and served over toasted garlic shallot bread. Finally, cover this gastronomic masterpiece with the restaurant’s signature beer cheese sauce.

The Hoosier Hot Brown arrives with a side of fries, chips or “anything else available at the time,” Fierro says. Why do folks find it comforting? “The cheese … the bread … the bacon … it’s just got the works,” he says. “And it fills you up, too.”

If you need even more comfort, Fierro says you can’t go wrong with a prime rib Manhattan: oodles of shaved prime rib stacked on a plate with mashed potatoes and Provolone cheese, smothered with a garlic-onion demi-glace. It’s a recipe he calls “a homey kind of thing and one of those warming foods. Coming in from the cold, it’s definitely going to warm you up.”

1259 State Road 135, Greenwood, hopsandfire.com

Lobster Mac and Cheese at Vino Villa

If your idea of comfort food includes the words “pasta” and “cheese,” you’ll find Vino Villa’s lobster mac and cheese sheer ambrosia. Bob Battle, head chef at the Greenwood restaurant, introduced the menu item about a year ago and said it’s by far the most popular.

“Everybody loves pasta. People not allergic to shellfish are usually pretty fond of lobster. And who doesn’t like cheese?” he says. “We go through it like crazy.”

Dig your fork into the dish, a perfect melding of cavatappi pasta, lobster meat, heavy cream and spices, nestled in gruyere and white cheddar cheeses. And feel the love, for just $13.

Owners Paul and Laura Jacquin founded Vino Villa in 2011. As its name implies –– and despite a full menu that includes salads, tacos, sandwiches, pizza, house-made desserts, beer and gourmet foods –– wine is the venue’s stock-in-trade.

“We’re a wine store, first and most of all,” Battle says. “We have about 500 kinds of wine, to be served at the table, and also carry wine accessories. We started out doing just meat and cheese trays and antipasto trays, and have kind of grown into what we are now: a full-service restaurant.”

Along with a seasonal menu, Vino Villa offers a wide selection of artisan cheeses from around the world. Gluten-free crust is available, as well several vegetarian options, a new menu addition, Battle says. Wine, beer and tapas are offered at Vino Bistro, located above the wine and cheese shop. Vino Villa’s setting is as comforting as its food: a 113-year-old, three-story house in the city’s historic downtown.

Diners visit from throughout the region, he says. “Our wine store is certainly the heart of this place, but the food has definitely made a mark for itself,” Battle says. “Cozy and quaint during the winter, but a good place to visit any time of year.”

200 N. Madison Ave., Greenwood, vinovilla.com

Reuben Bowl at Repeal

Even though they own a restaurant themselves, Repeal owners Bill and Teresa Webster’s favorite form of escapism is dining out. They know, Teresa Webster says, that sometimes you want comfort food in a sophisticated but cozy setting. “So many of the restaurants now, you almost need a dictionary to see what you’re eating,” Webster says. While the high-brow spots are fun, as well, she says, sometimes diners just want some deviled eggs, southern-fried pork steak and chocolate bread pudding for dessert, all of which are on the menu at Repeal.

“(Comfort food is) something that I remember having when I was growing up,” Webster says. “It’s not the new-age type food; it’s the food that their mom made or their grandma made. When I think of comfort food, I think of fried chicken, mac and cheese, meatloaf, even fettuccine Alfredo.”

Repeal’s Reuben bowl might not be note-for-note a dish we remember from childhood, but it’s heavy on the comfort. Featuring a five-cheese sauce (that’s cheddar, blue, Parmesan, Velveeta and cream cheese) and macaroni shells topped with smoked brisket and melted Swiss cheese, the Reuben bowl is one of the restaurant’s top sellers.

“People just love that,” Webster says. “This is a spin-off of your regular comfort food, and it’s a meal. Sometimes you want some meat with macaroni and cheese. The Reuben bowl takes care of that.”

630 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, repealrestaurant.com

Photo by Stacy Able