Comfort Food Kings Reveal What Their Diners Can’t Get Enough of

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Even though the healthy food movement is in full force, most consumers crave a certain form of comfort food. These meals provide a nostalgic or sentimental value to diners, but often have a high caloric nature and carbohydrate level.

Foodies are more than willing to indulge in a chicken and waffles dish, a short rib grilled cheese, a four cheese mac and cheese and even an occasional happy meal.

In the fast casual segment, there are restaurants like The Melt and Cheeseboy, Melt Shop, and Tom+Chee– all with menus with an array of grilled cheeses and comfort food sides like mac & cheese and cheese smothered French fries.

Can we get a double stack of Mama’s Chicken Biscuits please ? (cc: The Naughty Fork)

A photo posted by Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (@ybsouthern) on

Although, most of these restaurants offer the traditional grilled cheese from your childhood, they have also elevated the beloved grilled cheese. Enter, the short rib grilled cheese, the fried egg grilled cheese, and even the combination of two favorite comfort foods, the mac & cheese stuffed grilled cheese.

But, serving comfort food isn’t only the focus of fast food and fast casual restaurants. Casual dining and fine dining establishments are appealing to the comfort food lovin’ consumer.

For example, Yardbird is a fine-dining concept in Miami (and now Vegas) that is known for its classic southern cooking. With a menu serving fan-favorites like the Mama’s Biscuits, Chicken N’ Watermelon N’ Waffles, Macaroni & Cheese and Grits.

Even the restaurant’s messaging and décor is nostalgic. “Growing up Southern is a privilege. It runs a helluva lot deeper than just where you’re born. It’s a set of ideals passed down through generations. Sure, it’s about sweet tea and swimmin’ holes, front porches and fried chicken, magnolias and Moon Pies. But more importantly, it’s about being devoted to your roots; having a sense of place, of tradition, of family, hard work and each other. And those, my friends, should be universal ideals,” according to Yardbird’s website.

Another concept serving the ultimate comfort food is San Francisco’s The Willows. This gastropub is known for its menu filled with favorite comfort food dishes, including Fried Pickles, Chicken Nuggets, Sliders, Sloppy Joe, Southern Fried Chicken and the Drunk & Happy Meal which according to the menu is a “better-than-that-place's burger - topped w/ American cheese, diced onion, pickles & 1000 Island dressing, all wrapped up & served w/ fries, a pint of PBR, & a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey or Altos Reposado... plus a toy!!” Not to mention, any of the restaurant’s “Big Ass Burgers & Sandwiches” can be upgraded with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns.

We decided to sit down with the two comfort kings at the helm of these two concepts and see what dishes are their diner’s favorite.

SF Comfort King Chef Dan Vickers of The Willows

No filter necessary. #thewillowssf

A photo posted by Liz Ryan (@lizryan12) on

Foodable: What are your favorite comfort food dishes to make?

Chef Dan: I've always been a big believer in burgers. I grew up in a typical American family where grilling burgers is what we spent most of our Sundays doing. I know burgers are a bit unconventional for a typical "comfort food" but nothing says "lovin'" like a good burger.

Foodable: Why do diners love The Willows? What makes it so comforting?

Chef Dan: Diners really love The Willows for the atmosphere. Every one of our team here has such passion and personality about what they do and that shines through our service. Our food makes such an imprint on whoever comes in. Nobody expects to walk into what seems like a dive bar and get amazing quality food, but sure enough, we're putting out food that is as memorable and has as much character as our staff.

Every person who walks in this building is made to feel welcome and we make sure we take care of everyone as best as possible. Locals in our neighborhood know us and love us as a second home, and we support our community as much as we can. I believe that's why we have such a good following and report with our guests.

Foodable: What dishes are the most popular and why? 

Chef Dan: Diners come for our burgers. Plain and simple. We do a damn good burger and that's harder to find than you'd think. People will always enjoy a good burger. It's like I said before, it's not a typical comfort food, but most people have some great memory tied to a good burger, be it grilling and spending time with the family, or being a 5-year-old anxious for a happy meal. People can always come here and enjoy a burger anyway you like it and we even offer a "Grown Up" Drunk 'n' Happy Meal for the 5 year old in all of us (and yes, it comes with a toy and a beer). 

Miami Comfort King John Kunkel of Yardbird

You bring the company and let us handle the food and drinks! #YbSouthern #BrunchWithUs

A photo posted by Yardbird Southern Table & Bar (@ybsouthern) on

Foodable: What are your favorite comfort food dishes to prepare?

Kunkel: Comfort food nowadays really revolves around satisfying my family, or most importantly my three small children. My youngest son is a big fan of “Dad’s” homemade pasta, while my older son could quite possibly live on my gourmet cheeseburgers and hand cut fries. But my biggest fan is my daughter Lily who simply has a constant craving for Yardbird’s mac and cheese with a side of homemade chicken fingers.

Foodable: Why do diners love Yardbird? 

Kunkel: I believe our guests are drawn to Yardbird because we were able to encapsulate an authentic feeling of home at the restaurant, not only do we make guests feel warm and welcome, but we continue to deliver quality food with passion and love. But, I don’t think it hurts that we have the best award-winning fried chicken in the country!

Foodable: What dishes are the most popular and why? 

Kunkel: Our Chicken, Watermelon ’n’ Waffles is a best seller, its everything you could possibly want on a plate, crispy award-winning chicken, refreshing mint watermelon and a savory waffle. Pair it with our bourbon maple syrup and honey hot sauce and you won’t be able to get enough!