Faux cherry trees, real comfort

Photo by David Robert

Brilliant, I thought. I’d evaluate the comfort factor of the Peppermill Coffee Shop’s “comfort food” menu after the supreme discomfort that would be my kid sister’s 21st birthday blowout. Problem? The Coffee Shop doesn’t offer their “comfort food” menu on weekends. Drat! Between you and me and the fence post, someone really ought to talk to the management about that.

Luckily, or something, the next night found me plenty grouchy and still in need of food-furnished comfort. I made a second trip to the Peppermill.

The hostess promptly seated me underneath one of those freaky fake cherry trees, which complemented the hot pink and purple lights. Why does the casino dining experience always involve bizarro lighting schemes and fake foliage?

My comfort foods are mac ‘n’ cheese and chicken soup, neither of which are on the Monday through Friday comfort food menu. However, they offer a dozen other choices like roast beef sandwich, blueberry pancakes, chili cheese hamburger and spaghetti, all priced at $4.95 and paired with a cup of soup or a salad. I ordered the chicken pot pie and a cup of split pea soup. The server’s efficiency and friendly detachment cheered me slightly.

The soup was creamy and smoky with little cubes of ham, carrots and what might have been potatoes: The mottled light of the cherry tree made it hard to tell. Split pea soup always reminds me of that scene from The In-Laws, in which Alan Arkin is stunned into silence and Peter Falk is trying to calm him down by casually tasting Arkin’s split pea soup. “It’s a little greasy, but it’s very nice,” Falk says. “Crumble up some saltines into it, Shel; that will absorb the grease.” My soup was very nice, and not at all greasy, but the memory made me laugh and I crumbled some saltines into my soup for fun. The lighting didn’t look so strange anymore.

Before I’d finished my soup, the chicken pot pie was delivered to my table, and the size of it made me forget which hand held my pen and which held the spoon. Does a bowl of pot pie innards covered with a floating crust technically qualify as a pot pie? I’m not sure, but pot pie is one of those never-cooling foods, so I appreciated the theory of this construction.

The crust wasn’t as well done as I like, but it was plenty hearty for breaking up and stirring into the filling—the true joy of the pot pie experience. The stew-like goo inside was made up of bigger-than-spoonful-sized hunks of ultra-tender chicken, huge chunks of potatoes, carrots and celery.

Dessert isn’t on the comfort food menu, but I perused the many offerings on the regular menu and ordered the chocolate suicide cake ($3.95) with vanilla bean ice cream ($1) anyway. What’s more comforting than chocolate? This slab of cake had three dense, rich layers of cakey goodness, layered with what the Peppermill calls fudge, but what I would place in the mousse family. The whole deal is drizzled with chocolate syrup. After I ate all I could, I scraped off the icing and made little sculptures by smooshing the cake parts into the syrup, a la “Close Encounters.”

“This means something.”

Yes it does: that I was full, satisfied, in a much better mood, and ready to go home and put on comfy pants.

Which is just what comfort food ought to do for a person.