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’Tis the season for comfort-food favorites

Published January 16. 2014 4:00AM

January inevitably has its wintry share of frigid, snowy and gray weather.

In other words, it's the perfect season to tuck into some comfort food. With that in mind, here are a few of those wonderful dishes recommended by our dining reviewers.

Meatloaf

Ed's Kitchen

884 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Montville

(860) 848-7932

If there were a Comfort Food Hall of Fame, meatloaf would be the first inductee. And at Ed's Kitchen, they do it right: two good-sized slices smothered in a rich gravy. On two recent trips, however, they didn't have the expected side of mashed potatoes, although the twice stuffed spud was very good, as were the green beans. (Keep an eye out for a coupon in the paper, and you can get all this for $3.49.) And while you're enjoying lunch, there's the dessert scoreboard that tells you what pies they have that day. My advice: give in and add to your comfort.

- TIM COTTER

Lobster and crab bisque

The Eclectic Chef

281 Main St., Niantic

(860) 739-3960

This area is ground zero for chowder and bisque, with dozens of stellar recipes and versions out there - but I'm not sure I've ever had a better lobster and crab bisque than the batches routinely nuanced by the folks at the Eclectic Chef. The soup is wonderfully thick and creamy, with the sherry notes are perfect. But it's the sheer joyous amount of fresh hunks of crab and lobster meat that makes you wonder: Did the Eclectic Chef, in his zeal to make a perfect dish, actually and nobly sacrifice every sea crustacean on the East Coast? Available in three sizes - $4.75 small, $7.25 medium and $9.50 large - and all are bargains.

- RICK KOSTER

Cattleman's Pie

Mystic Market

63 Williams Ave. (Route 1), Mystic

(860) 572-7992

On one of those days when you have to scrape the windshield before you can drive to work and then scrape it again before you can drive home, worrying about what you're going to make for dinner really can put a chill on your attitude. May I suggest Mystic Market's Cattleman's Pie, a layered beef casserole with rich brown gravy, corn, and buttery mashed potatoes? It's one of the market's grab-and-go offerings meant to be heated up when you get home. It's filling and comforting in a down-home, hot lunch kind of way - a perfect antidote for winter.

- JILL BLANCHETTE

French Quarter Gumbo

Ruby Tuesday

905 Hartford Turnpike, Waterford

(860) 437-9825

There are folks fiercely loyal to locally owned businesses - and I like to think I'm onboard with that concept. Occasionally, though, well ... consider the "French Quarter Gumbo" ($11.99) available at Ruby Tuesday. It's by far the closest thing to actual Louisiana gumbo I've found up here - and that includes liberal use of okra, a nice, flavorful roux and plenty of shrimp, chicken and shrimp. I'm not sure why they use rice pilaf instead of the traditional white rice, but this is hardly a quibbling point considering the scarcity of the dish in question.

- RICK KOSTER

Cheng Du Cold Noodles

Clinton's Taste of China

233 East Main St., Clinton

(860) 664-4454

Come sniffles and cold weather, there is one place I regularly go to cure what ails me, and that's Clinton's Taste of China. The restaurant's signature spicy dishes warm a body from head to toe, and I'm convinced Taste's fare cures sinus infections. Among those healthful foods is the Cheng Du Cold Noodles appetizer ($7) that is at once spicy and savory. Deep peanut flavor balances peppery zing that will leave you digging in for more and more burn. The resulting afterglow is the cherry on top.

- MARISA NADOLNY

Creamy tomato soup

Muddy Waters

42 Bank St., New London

(860) 444-2232

I suspect I'm in very good company with this local favorite: the house creamy tomato soup at Muddy Waters. Cold days in January simply beg for a bowlful of this bright, hearty soup (ideally coupled with Muddy's grilled cheese), but then again I order the tomato soup all summer long, too. While creamy, it's not at all heavy, and careful dashes of garlic keep the palate busy. It's the ultimate light lunch and never fails to be delicious. It's like the security blanket of local food.

- MARISA NADOLNY

Fish taco

The Bridge

37 Main St., Westerly

(401) 348-9700

There was a time, I think, when I hadn't even heard of a fish taco. Now, they're on menus everywhere, although very few places do them as well as The Bridge ($15). Big chunks of fish off the grill nestled alongside cabbage, chipolte ailoi, pico de gallo and guacamole - perfection. Grab a seat at the bar, order up a cocktail from some of the friendliest bartenders around and watch the Pawcatuck River take your troubles away. (You'll have to wait until early February since The Bridge is closed for renovations.)

- TIM COTTER

French onion soup

Guytanno's

62 Franklin St., Westerly

(401) 348-6221

When you're really cold, I mean down to your bones cold, you could put on your hat and mittens and huddle in front of a space heater, or you put on your hat and mittens and drive to Guytanno's, claim a bar stool and order a bowl of French onion soup ($5.25). Break through the crust of melted cheese overflowing the brown stoneware crock, and bask in the steam rising from the incredibly flavorful broth, where just the right ratio of bread to onions awaits. You'll be warmed from head to toe.

- JILL BLANCHETTE

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So stressful I need a drink when I get home.
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It takes me at least an hour to de-stress when I get home.
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