By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
What is it about mac n’ cheese that talks to us like we were still kids? And why do the words “apple pie” conjure up thoughts of flag and motherhood? Americans have a thing for traditional comfort food that shuns sophistication. Because there’s nothing better than the simple, delicious food that used to come from Grandma’s kitchen. The good news is that it’s still out there in special places as authentically comforting as their menus.
Linn’s of Cambria
2277 Main St.
Cambria, CA 93428
Take a good, long and leisurely look at California’s Central Coast. This is San Luis Obispo County, where the main town took home a prize as “Happiest City in America.” Less than 10 miles from the famous Hearst Castle, Cambria’s vibe is a combination of Old West and surfer town. It sits on Highway 1 Discovery Route, backing right onto a gorgeous Pacific stretch at Moonstone Beach. You’re stepping into a time warp where Main Street has vintage shops with names like “Granny Had One,” so it’s not surprising to find Linn’s, established as a family-run “pick-your-own” farm in 1976.
At Linn’s Fruit Bin, the most popular berry turned out to be the Olallieberry, a cross of a blackberry and a raspberry. The tasty fruit became the hallmark of the future restaurant’s success, now run by Aaron Linn, son of the founders. If you’re planning a Pacific Coast road trip, stop at Linn’s. If you can’t get to Cambria, no worries. It turns out that Renee Linn’s homemade recipe for flaky crust, overstuffed olallieberry pie is still such a hit that it can be ordered online nationwide. However, if only old fashioned apple pie will do, go for it.
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room
1 Ahwahnee Drive
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Since 1927, all-American comfort is served with a touch of awe in the heart of one of the country’s most spectacular and beautiful national parks. Everything is big at Yosemite, and that includes the historic hotel’s main dining room (130 feet long, 51 feet wide and 34 feet high). Beneath soaring ceilings and cathedral sized picture windows, what could be more soothing than a window seat in angled morning light for a traditional buffet brunch accompanied by stunning views provided by Mother Nature herself?
After sunset, the room itself is the star. Giant wooden beams, stone pillars, chandeliers, candlelight, piano music—and in the alcove, the Queen’s Table where Elizabeth II dined in 1983. The dinner menu features solid comfort food choices such as roasted chicken, rack of lamb and prime rib. During the fall and winter season, the dining room hosts fun and inspired events such as the Grand Grape Celebration, Bracebridge Dinner and Taste of Yosemite. Open year-round as the centerpiece of the beloved hotel which is a National Historic Landmark, this special dining room outdoes itself as a destination in its own right.
315 N. LaSalle Drive
Chicago, IL 60654
How about Chicago Blues and home style brunch on the river? There’s something (actually, everything!) comforting about an open kitchen where you can see cooks preparing and roasting your meal before carving at a table side station in front of your own eyes. Couple that with craft beers, a patio with dramatic river views, Chicago’s finest Blues musicians performing live and James Beard award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano (“Best Chef Midwest”) serving a menu of American tavern-style fare.
In America’s second city, River Roast rocks a sound tradition with Blues & Brew Brunch every Sunday, and on Saturdays, too. If your idea of comfort food is a great burger, know what Chicagoans already know. That is, Bon Appétit judges once again picked returning champion River Roast for the top prize in Chicago Gourmet’s Hamburger Hop 2017. Their burger is The Takashi Express, named for Chicago chef Takashi Yagihashi, and its not-so-secret ingredients are certified Angus beef, Wagyu beef, pickled vegetables, shitake mushrooms and shiso on a turano potato bun.
434 King St.
Charleston, SC 29403
It’s difficult to imagine anything more comforting than a Sunday Gospel Brunch in The Holy City. For the fifth consecutive year, readers of Travel + Leisure have named Charleston, South Carolina as their favorite American city to visit. The charming destination also ranked an outstanding second-place mention in “The World’s Top 15 Cities” list.
A classic steakhouse that’s family-owned and operated, Hall’s Chophouse has live music every night and classic jazz on select evenings. People just love it, consistently voting it among the nation’s top 10 restaurants on TripAdvisor and top 10 best in America on OpenTable. Of course, there’s a comfortingly robust list of USDA steak options. In addition, some of the best loved food with widespread generational appeal to folks of all ages are on the menu at Hall’s Chophouse. There’s steak and eggs, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, burgers and fries, ice cream and cookies.
Union Oyster House
41 Union St.
Boston, MA 02108
You can’t miss this national historic landmark. Boston’s famous red brick self-guided walk, the Freedom Trail, takes visitors right past Union Oyster House, America’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, since 1826. Step inside where the cozy room has high backed wooden stalls where Daniel Webster frequently sat, the floor is covered with sawdust and the fabled semi-circular bar is just as crooked as it was a couple centuries ago. Take a peek at the private upstairs room that JFK favored.
Seafood lovers may struggle to choose from a menu bursting with fresh comfort foods and catch of the day from local water: Classic Boston clam chowder, New England hard-shelled lobster, native littleneck clams served with the world famous cocktail sauce. Bring the kids for a history lesson and some mac n’ cheese.
Related: 5 Must-Visit U.S. Destinations For History Buffs