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Comfort cuisine: Warm yourself with spaghetti parm, pot pies

During these frigid temperatures, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a warm, comforting meal loaded with gooey cheese, browned butter and crispy breading. Luckily, we have plenty of those dishes available to indulge in during our long winters. Here are some of my favorite go-to comfort dishes.

Spaghetti Parmesan at Chef's
291 Seneca St.

Since it was created in 1962 by Louis J. Billittier and Dave Thomas, Chef's signature spaghetti parm has been a favorite among locals and a must-try for visitors. The perfectly cooked al dente spaghetti is topped with mounds of slightly sharp provolone and creamy mozzarella and broiled to get the cheese brown and bubbly. You have to break through the thick layer of stretchy cheese, twirling the crispy bits on your fork to get to the spaghetti. Dunk it into a side of Chef’s sweet spaghetti sauce and enjoy with a slice of fresh bread.

I know many people who have tried to re-create this recipe at home and everyone comments on the large amount of cheese you have to use to have the dish come close to what it looks like in the restaurant. Cost is $10.25 to $13.50.

[Read: The story behind Chef's spaghetti parm]

Buttermilk fried chicken at Toutant. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Buttermilk fried half-chicken at Toutant
437 Ellicott St.

The chicken is soaked in buttermilk (slightly tangy and sour), coated in batter, deep fried until crispy and finished with cayenne and sea salt. When you take that first bite, you can hear the crackle when going through the crunchy skin to get to the juicy chicken. It’s served with a side of Toutant's collards, coated in a vinegar dressing.

I would highly recommend a side of giant buttermilk biscuits. They come out warm, brown and toasty on the outside while doughy and soft on the inside and are served with seasonal jam. Cost is $20.

Vegetable lasagna at Mangia
4264 N. Buffalo St., Orchard Park

When you think of comfort food, you might not immediately consider something loaded with veggies, but hear me out because this is one of the best dishes in the area. It’s loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach and Italian cheeses. It does not have any pasta.

Instead, the vegetables are thinly sliced and used in place of the layers of pasta traditionally used in lasagna. It comes out smothered in either marinara, spicy marinara (very hot), or my favorite, the rich vodka sauce. It is cheesy and creamy with comforting flavors, plus you’ll have leftovers for days with the “piece” they give you. Cost is $24.

[Review: A taste of Little Italy at Mangia]

Shepherd's pie at the Irishman Pub and Eatery
5601 Main St., Williamsville, and 160 Main St., East Aurora

The shepherd's pie has mounds of softly cooked, hearty root vegetables and seasoned ground lamb (ground generally tastes less gamey than chops). It’s topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked until browned and crispy, creating a crust for the pie. When you stick your fork through the layer of mashed potatoes, the piping hot steam breaks through and gives you that delicious scent of the veggies and lamb meshing together in the thick sauce before you even pop that first bite into your mouth. Cost is $15.50.

Smoked Gouda shells and cheese at Griffon Gastropub
Locations in Amherst, Niagara Falls, Lewiston and East Aurora

If you’re going to the Griffon Gastropub, be sure to upgrade to the Gouda shells. Sure, you can have this as a side dish with any meal, but if you really feel like indulging you can make it your whole meal for $16. You can even order a gluten-free pasta dish by request. The shell noodles are smothered in smoky, creamy Gouda cheese sauce and topped with buttery Ritz cracker crumbs for a bit of a crunch. If you want to add protein, you can include grilled juicy chicken with oven-roasted tomatoes for $6 or sliced tender sirloin with sweet caramelized onions for $7. Cost is $16.

The Old Orchard Inn's chicken pot pie is full of carrots, sweet green peas and fresh sautéed mushrooms with a light, flaky puff pastry crust. It comes with their signature cranberry orange relish. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Famous Pot Pie at Old Orchard Inn
160 Main St., East Aurora

Is there anything better on a cold day than warming up in a cozy restaurant with a piping hot, savory pot pie covered in a buttery, flaky crust? A sturdy crust is a key element in chicken pot pie, so it avoids getting soggy from the carrots, sweet green peas, juicy chicken and sautéed earthy mushrooms. They nailed it at Old Orchard Inn. Served with a side of its citrusy sweet cranberry orange relish, the dish combines every comfort flavor you could want from sweet and salty to savory and buttery. Cost is $19.

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