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Putting a Twist on Comfort Food

Putting a Twist on Comfort Food

Those time-honored familiar dishes that bring comfort in uncertain times are always in vogue. You may have to adjust your menu and prices to relieve economic and labor pressures, but the comfort foods keep your guests coming back. Restaurant and foodservice operators often have to straddle the fine line between providing the classic fare that guests crave for comfort with innovative menu twists that intrigue more adventurous types. 

Perhaps it’s that nostalgic “better times” sense that led chefs to vote for “comfort food” as one of the top five culinary trends for 2022. As you conjure ways to win guest favor with comfort food on your menu, consider these three angles. 

Mix It Up 

Hit your guests’ taste buds with something familiar combined with something current. Mix up starchy classic favorites like bread, pasta, and potatoes with other menu favorites, new sauces, and spices. Buffalo Wild Wings recently added Buffalo Chicken Tots to its appetizer menu featuring tater tots, pulled chicken, buffalo seasoning, bleu cheese crumbles, pickled hot peppers, buffalo sauce, ranch, and green onions. It also added Buffalo Mac & Cheese along that same comfort line, including boneless wings, buffalo sauce, cheddar jack cheese, and a panko topping. 

Global Takes 

Liven up comfort food dishes with flavors and ingredients typical in other cultures. The same “What’s Hot” survey that ranks comfort food in the top five culinary trends also includes global fare and flavors. Velvet Taco’s Spicy Tikka Chicken taco combines comfort and international cuisine, featuring crispy tenders, spicy tikka sauce, buttered cilantro basmati rice, raita crema, Thai basil, and a flour tortilla. 

Your twist could be as simple as offering brisket with a side of on-trend kimchi or using corned beef in an Irish-inspired egg roll appetizer. Again, don’t forget about breakfast. It’s the perfect mealtime to wow with global flavor twists on comfort food, such as a handheld breakfast bacon arepa. 

Adding Proteins 

Proteins add a filling quality, but they also help break up the starch inherent to many comfort foods and bring value to command a higher price. You likely already have chicken somewhere on the menu. The fried chicken alone is found on about 45% of menus. That increases to nearly 56% among midscale restaurants and 54% in casual dining. 

Even a classic grilled cheese sandwich gets a boost with added chicken. Consider offering a Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese with toast, shredded chicken, melted American and cheddar cheese, and buffalo sauce. 

There are many opportunities for comfort food with a flavorful, adventurous, and global twist. These favorite dishes will never go out of style. Treat the classic favorites like a blank canvas to give your spin, adding value and fresh flavor notes. Your guests will keep coming back. 

Recipes to Try 

Putting a Twist on Comfort Food2

Shrimp & Grits Fritters with Chorizo and Spicy Mayo 


1 cup mayonnaise 
1-2 tbsp hot sauce 
½ cup cornmeal 
¾ cup all-purpose flour, measured correctly 
½ tsp baking powder 
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning 
½ tsp smoked paprika 
½ tsp kosher salt + more to taste 
1 large egg (raw) + 4 poached eggs for serving 
1 cup buttermilk 
4 scallions, thinly sliced 
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced 
½ lb baby shrimp, peeled and pre-cooked (this is the kind you buy for shrimp salad) 
½ cup finely diced Spanish chorizo 
1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (carved off of ~2 ears of corn) 
¾ cup grated, aged white cheddar cheese 
Canola oil, for frying 
Lemon wedges + chopped chives, for serving 


  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Whisk together the mayo and hot sauce in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (if you’re fancy, you can also transfer it to a squeezy bottle). In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, Old Bay, smoked paprika, and kosher salt.  

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the raw egg and buttermilk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Mix in the scallions, jalapeño, shrimp, chorizo, corn kernels, and cheddar. 

  1. Heat 2-3 tbsp canola oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. You will want to keep topping up and thoroughly reheating the oil as needed to maintain a very shallow layer of oil in the pan at all times. While the oil heats, prepare a baking sheet by setting a cooling rack inside it then lining that with paper towel. Set aside.  

  1. Once the oil is nice and HOT, scoop ¼-cupfuls of the batter into the pan, frying ~2-3 fritters at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Use a spoon to smooth the fritters down into fat circles. Cook the fritters for 2-4 minutes per side, until crispy and golden-brown. Keep an eye on the heat, making sure nothing gets too smoky and scooping any burnt bits out from the bottom of the pan.  

  1. Transfer the fritters to the paper towel-lined baking sheet, immediately sprinkle with salt, and place in the oven to keep warm while you fry the remaining batches. If doing poached eggs, cook or reheat them while the fritters fry. 

  1. Once all of the fritters have been fried, place 2-3 on each serving plate. Top with a poached egg, a drizzle of the spicy mayo, and a generous sprinkling of chopped chives. Serve with lemon wedges on the side and a smile that conveys how smug and proud you are of your breakfast-making prowess. 

Putting a Twist on Comfort Food3

Turkey Pot Pie Mac N Cheese 


  • 1 ¼ cups dried elbow pasta 

  • 1 frozen 9 inch pie crust 

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter 

  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour 

  • 2 cups whole milk divided 

  • 1 cup chicken broth 

  • ½ tsp salt 

  • ¼ tsp black pepper 

  • 6 oz Colby Jack cheese grated 

  • 1 10oz bag frozen mixed veggies 

  • 2 cups shredded leftover turkey 

  • 1 ¼ cup white sharp cheddar grated 


  1. Butter a 9×13 inch baking pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

  1. Cook the pasta as per the directions on the pack, drain and set aside. 

  1. Bake the pie shell in the oven following the instructions on the package. Set aside while you make the rest of the recipe. 

  1. In a large pan, melt the butter and add the flour. 

  1. Whisk over a medium heat until the mixture turns slightly golden. 

  1. Gradually start to add 1 1/2 cups of the milk whisking all of the time to avoid any lumps. 

  1. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. 

  1. Once the sauce starts to become slightly thicker, add the salt, pepper and grated Colby cheese. 

  1. Whisk until all of the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. 

  1. Add the frozen veggies and shredded turkey and stir through. 

  1. Add the cooked pasta and the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and turn the heat to low while you prepare the topping. 

  1. In a bowl crush the baked pie crust with your hands trying to keep it with some larger chunks, you don’t want to crush it too finely. 

  1. Add the grated white sharp cheddar and toss together. 

  1. Transfer the pie filling to the prepared pan and spread out evenly with a spatula. 

  1. Sprinkle the pie topping over the filling and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. 

  1. Serve at once.