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Chilly on the outside, warm on the inside 

Comfort food roundup

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Admit it: Summer is over. Done. Finished. Put away the ice cubes and tall tumblers of ice tea. Walk away.

But the end of one season means the beginning of another and this week's brisk days and chilly evenings had our staff in a comfort food mindset, dishes to stoke the inner furnace.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich from Crux Fermentation Project

The grilled cheese is a nostalgic reminder of my first culinary failures. Besides scrambling an egg, the sandwich was one of the first meals I learned to make for myself. A triangular piece of neon orange plastic cheddar slapped between two slices of chewy Wonder Bread—always either too buttery and greasy, or charred charcoal black on the crusts—served with a side of tinny, reheated Campbell's tomato soup.

Crux's Grilled Cheesy redeems this comfort food for me. While Crux isn't reinventing the wheel—or, sandwich, as it were—it defiantly isn't the sandwich of my childhood. Their upgrades give comfort food a well-deserved elevation.

The real key to a rich, tasty grilled cheese is cheese choice. Crux uses a blend of pepper jack, white cheddar, and creamy ricotta melted between two slices of DiLusso bread crusted in crispy asiago—and I mean, bejeweled and encrusted, not just a light dusting. The crust makes the sandwich a bit messy, but the crunch on the bread is well worth a few crumbs in the lap. The additions of bacon and spicy pickles to the cheese plus bread equation gives the sandwich a rich fatty boost (to help build that inner blubber sweater) and an occasional textural surprise. The crunch of the pickles is unexpected, but welcomed.

I went über-comforting and ordered a side of Crux's daily soup, which happened to be delightfully non-traditional French onion with pulled pork topped with stringy Gruyere. It was no canned delicacy to be sure. The sandwich and soup accompanied with a heaping handful of salt and peppered kettle chips, was a warm reminder of childhood mixed with a gourmet grownup meal. (BB)

Mac and Cheese Battle Royale: Tie! Spicy Buffalo Mac (Brother Jon's), Sweet & Spicy Mac & Cheese (Deschutes Brewery)

Few dishes are as misunderstood as a rich, creamy bowl of mac and cheese (or "macaroni pie" if you're in Kingston, Jamaica, or "macaroni cheese" if you're in London). Good mac and cheese should contain plenty of real cheese (a combination of cheddar and Emmental and parmesan is a good way to go) and some well-chosen accoutrements, like meat and veggies. It should also be baked until golden brown and served steaming hot in heaping portions.

Unfortunately, the worldly dish that's existed since Chaucer penned "The Canterbury Tales," is, in the United States, most often associated with a blue Kraft box that contains "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product"—not the stuff of kings. Additionally, westerners have vilified gluten, carbs and dairy to the point of oblivion. This is too bad. Mac and cheese, if prepared with real ingredients—the ones great-grandma would have used—is a veritable health food; a comforting but energy-packed dish that's bursting with protein, and a little fat (more energy!).

In Bend there are at least two commercial kitchens doing mac and cheese right. The Spicy Buffalo Mac at Brother Jon's ($11.50) has long been a go-to plate for this office and damn near everyone we know. And for good reason, too. Hungry diners are treated to a boatload of the stuff, which comes peppered with bits of free-range ground buffalo and plenty of green peas. The spice is courtesy of the sautéed jalapenos and mildly-hot Sriracha cheese sauce. It's not served golden brown, but it is flavorful and plentiful.

The Sweet & Spicy Mac & Cheese at Deschutes Brewery ($11) is another favorite. Filling and chock-full of Hill Country ham, wilted spinach, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, the cheesy, baked entrée is as comforting as it gets. For added comfort, order it with the festive and freshly released Jubelale (6.75%, 60 IBUs, see below). (JW)

Cinnamon rolls may not be health food, but who cares?

There's nothing quite like the sweet smell of freshly baked bread laced with hint of spicy cinnamon. (Who hasn't been drawn, as if by a magnet, toward that shop in the mall or airport selling the gooey monstrosity known as the Cinnabon?)

But if you're looking for the real deal, Strictly Organic delivers. While the quirky coffee shop nestled midway between Old Mill and downtown sells a variety of organic, vegan, and gluten-free pastries, their cinnamon roll is none of these.

"It could probably kill you," the barista jokes. But I decide it is worth the risk. The hefty sized bun is soft and chewy and melts in your mouth (thank you, butter). It's just shy of diabetic coma sweet, with a hint of banana underneath the cinnamon, and a perfect ratio of glaze to dough.

I recommend eating with a sturdy fork and a big mug of hot coffee, the kind you can wrap both hands around, while watching the first autumn leaves dance in the wind across the sidewalk. Yes, definitively comfort food. (ER)

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