Young and Hungry: Affordable Southern Comfort

March 14, 2011

I'm turning over this space today - as I do on occasion - to one of my interns. Kristen Kuchar is a student at Columbia College, and like all students, she's always looking for a bargain. Our criteria for the "Young & Hungry" series is that entrees must hover around $10. This week, she heads to the Southwest 'burbs for a real taste of Southern home cooking at Chuck's.

When I'm looking for a unique culinary experience that's affordable, I turn to Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe. Chuck's does double duty because not only do they serve amazing food (in huge portions), but while I'm there, I feel like I'm on vacation. The invigorating smells of the slow-cooked meats, the friendly staff and the warm, festive decor all immediately transport me beyond the city.

What makes Chuck's cuisine even more interesting is that it isn't just Southern fare. It's a blend of Cajun, Creole, Mexican and Tex-Mex as well. On the night I visited, I dined with my family, and there were certainly a range of preferences and limitations among us.

We started with the BBQ nachos (pictured above, $8.25), probably enough for a meal on its own. Chips are smothered in melted cheddar and chihuahua cheeses, pulled pork and chicken, a refreshing pico de gallo, creamy sour cream and guacamole. We also tried a few soups. Chuck's offers at least six different kinds each day, including their specialty: the seafood gumbo ($3.75 for a cup, $4.75 for a bowl) which is jammed with crab, clams, shrimp and crawfish. We also sampled the cream of mushroom and the chicken dumpling, and I came to the conclusion that all of these homemade soups are rich, filling and have quality ingredients throughout.

For the main course, I thought for sure my health-conscious, non-red-meat-eating sister was doomed, as I looked at the menu filled with rib sticking, comfort cuisine (mainly beef and pork). But she was pleasantly surprised by the Tostada Salad ($8.50), which contained Romaine lettuce, onions and tomatoes, piled into a crisp tostada smeared with refried black beans; the salad is topped with grilled chicken, chihuahua and parmesan cheeses, and comes with both sour cream and pico de gallo.

For my main course, the pulled pork sandwich (pictured above, $5.25) is always a sure thing. Tender, smoked pulled pork is dressed in either mild or hot BBQ sauce (order hot on the side to make sure you can handle it).

For a few extra dollars, all sandwiches can be made into a deluxe, which gives you the choice of two sides including creamy macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, crispy french fries, potato salad, soup or baked beans.

My brother, who is the pickiest eater I know and somewhat of a corned beef connoisseur, raved about the smoked corned beef ($5.95) on grilled rye bread with Swiss cheese, slathered in mustard and homemade sauerkraut.

We capped off the meal with an order of Bananas Foster Crepes ($6.95); this decadent option seems light at first - the crepes are paper-thin - but they're topped with vanilla ice cream, crunchy pecans and a mess of sauteed bananas that have been steeped in caramel sauce and flambeed with rum. It was the perfect ending to a satisfying meal.

Whenever I feel like I'm in need of some Southern hospitality and filling comfort food, Chuck's is the first place I go.

Chuck's Southern Comfort Cafe, 6501 W. 79th Street, Burbank, open Monday through Sunday 7am - 10pm, 708-229-8700

- Kristen Kuchar