Best Of :: Food & Drink
Sure, sometimes it seems like it might be easier to drive to Philadelphia, home of the cheese-steak, than to negotiate the weird setup at Heritage Hills. But even back in Pennsylvania, you might not find a cheesesteak as good as the one made at Santoro's Brick Oven Pizzeria. This tidy joint, decorated with hand-painted murals and not-too-cutesy Italian knickknacks, makes an honest-to-goodness -- man, is it good! -- cheesesteak. It starts with a half-pound of thinly sliced sirloin, imported from Philly, that's chopped up on the grill with onions and then topped with plenty of provolone; the delicious mess is piled into Santoro's nine-inch, home-baked Italian roll, a thin, spongy loaf that holds the juices and the sandwich together.
Since September 11, we Americans have been self-medicating our depression with foods that remind us of hearth and home, warmer, fuzzier times, and the good old days when you could get on a plane without getting felt up. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roast chicken and Oreos are being consumed in record numbers as we seek out restaurants that comfort the heart as well as the stomach. And you won't find a more comforting place in town than the lunch-only Tom's Home Cookin', which does a fine job with all of our homey favorites (okay, not Oreos, but Coca-Cola chocolate cake is a mighty good substitute). Owners Tom Unterwagner and Steve Jankousky know how to nurture through nature's most soothing comforts: pot roast and cheesy potato casserole, warm cornbread and peach cobbler. Maybe if bin Laden had tried the daily bargain, "meat and two" for $6.45, he'd have had a better outlook on life.
You're a grownup now, and it's time to put the neon orange mac 'n' cheese mix behind you, not inside you. In keeping with its name, Dazzle goes for something above and beyond, serving up a macaroni and cheese that's positively dizzying. Elbow macaroni and four cheeses -- parmesan, Fontina, mozzarella and gouda -- are mixed in just the right proportions so that the noodles are all melty and soft but not too wet or dry; a large bowl of this goodness is evenly covered with buttery breadcrumbs and tossed under the broiler until the top begins to sizzle, then finished off with a smattering of diced tomatoes and fresh basil. So very adult, so very dazzling.
Since chef Goose Sorenson -- formerly of Mel's Restaurant and Bar and Starfish -- took over the kitchen at this difficult address that last year was Ambrosia, things have been looking up. For Solera, the dining area has been reworked to seem more intimate and inviting, and the menu is filled with Sorenson's eclectic inventions, including foie gras on a ginger-snap crust. The standout offering, though, would have to be the mashed potatoes, done two different ways: The roasted-garlic spuds, sweet and toasty, come with the succulent braised lamb and nicely grilled salmon entrees; and the rich, oniony mascarpone mashers accompany the crunchy-skinned Chilean sea bass. Both versions feature such smooth, feathery textures and rich, buttery undertones that we're tempted to head into the kitchen with our spoons.
When the world's going to hell in a handbasket, you'll find us at Bang!, drowning our sorrows in the tangy, beef-rich homemade gravy that comes slathered over Bang!'s juicy meatloaf, a your-mama-never-made-it-like-this gourmet version with plenty of intense seasonings and none of the gristle often found in ground beef. The mashed potatoes (more gravy, please!) and sautéed spinach that come with the hefty slice add to the plate's comforting capabilities. For a warm-and-fuzzy finale, take on a large square of the heavenly gingerbread topped with whipped cream. Bang! -- this restaurant got us again.
Step into Lincoln's Road House, and it may seem as though you're back in the '70s-era wood-paneled basement at your friend's house where you used to sneak beers. But don't let the ultra-casual lounge atmosphere fool you: Behind the bar lurks a kitchen that knows what it's doing, especially when it comes to meatloaf. This loaf is meaty, all right, studded with big pieces of onion for flavor, and it comes sliced an inch thick and slapped on a thin but substantial bun that's been buttered on the inside and grilled. Lettuce, tomato and mayo give extra moisture to the already juicy sandwich; a side of well-seasoned, skin-on fries and a small bowl of homemade macaroni salad round out the meal. Down a few Buds and play something on the jukebox -- which offers King Missile's undeniable classic "Detachable Penis" -- and you'll really feel like you're back in the basement.