Comfort Food In Dallas: What Comforts You

comfortfood_cvrI am getting a little uncomfortable with the direction comfort food is taking. Can I blame it on the Gen Y population? Sure, why not. They don’t read SideDish. Gen Y’ers are more Britney than Julia.

While the overall trend in dining today is to eat sloooowly, the Gen Y’ers I know are more content to snack quickly. What happened to the good old days of turning on The Thorn Birds (before you knew Richard Chamberlain was gay), grabbing a spoon and a half gallon of ice cream, and eating the whole thing? Once, after I got turned down for what I thought was my dream job, I went back to my apartment, made a three-layer German chocolate cake, and ate every last crumb. Did I feel better? You betcha.

What is comfort food? At home it is one thing, but now restaurants are trying to comfort us in public. Take Kent Rathbun. (beat, beat…) He has gourmet comfort food. He isn’t alone; there are lots of folks making their mortgage payments by selling upscale mac and cheese. Isn’t gourmet comfort food an oxymoron? If you agree, then WTF is healthy comfort food? A lie? You betcha.

I was curious to see if there were any distinctive differences between generations when it came to constant cravings. I didn’t have to Google far to find this little salty tidbit. Jump with me.The following is copied and pasted from the “Generational Comfort Foods” trend mapping report from the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and Packaged Facts. (I am not making that up. Someone got paid a lot of money to come up with that. Packaged Facts is going to be the title  of my autobiography.) And here they are:

CCD’s national online survey on the topic (3,700 respondents) found that sweets dominate category choices regardless of age. Nearly half (46%) of men and women across the Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y segments say they turn to baked goods, sweets and desserts for comfort, versus 19% who cite entrées, 14% salty snacks, 13% side dishes, and 4% breakfast foods.
Women favor sweets even more than men (51% of women cite sweets as comfort food, versus 36% of men). Among respondents who cite sweets, 26% chose ice cream as their top comfort food, 23% chocolate and 21% brownies.
Within entrées, roasted meats are the top choice across generations; within side dishes, macaroni and cheese and potatoes are nearly tied in popularity; and within salty snacks, chips rule (cited by 60% of total respondents, followed by popcorn and cheese, at 10% and 8%, respectively).
Cheese — either by itself or with a bread or starchy food — seems to elicit the most “passionate” response across generations, but with generational nuances (Boomers citing artisan cheeses versus Gen X’s cheese crackers, for example).

The research also identified top trends in comfort foods, including:

* Breakfast for dessert. Gen Y pastry chefs and a desire to start the day with a “protein burst” are driving this just-emerging trend. Boxed cereals, already found in snack bars and frozen yogurt shops, are now turning up in desserts, along with desserts such as “glamorized” versions of French toast, waffles and doughnuts.
* Madeover meatloaf. Regional restaurants, nouveau diners and sandwich shops are featuring meatloaf offerings with fuller flavors and natural or leaner meat blends. Boomers like the healthier versions of this nostalgic favorite, while Gen Y is drawn to bolder taste variations.
* Artisan pies. The pies now seen in specialty cafes and fine restaurants reflect the “artisan sprit” of inspired pastry chefs and are not only fresh and “home made,” but “full of good things,” CCD reports.
* Pho/Vietnamese beef noodle soup. First spotted as an emerging trend in 2005, this soup’s popularity has now spread, particularly among ethnically diverse Gen Y consumers. In addition to small shops and Vietnamese restaurant chains, it can now be found in mainstream soup restaurants and Pan-Asian noodle houses. The appeal: flavors that translate well to American tastes, combined with “infinite customizability” via fresh garnishes like sprouts, herbs and condiments.
* Asian curries. Very big among Gen Y and also popular as one-pot dishes among Gen Xers who are cooking meals for growing families. CPGs are beginning to offer curries with new simmer sauces and curry meal kits and frozen entrées.
* “New” casseroles replacing processed ingredients with fresh ingredients, including vegetables and “contemporary” proteins such as turkey, crab and shrimp.
* Mac ‘n cheeses featuring natural and organic ingredients and other flavor twists.

Hmm, is this interesting? Not really, but it is a nice primer to get you in the mood to tell me your guiltiest pleasure(s). When you are down and troubled and need a helping hand, what do you want in that helping hand? Lines are open 24/7. Dish it.