'Real Comfort' Chefs Want Your Family Recipes for West Loop Restaurant

By Chloe Riley on September 3, 2013 9:38am 

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 Co-owners Benji Tomlinson and Ray Parker hope to open gourmet comfort food lunch spot "Real Comfort" by mid-September.
Real Comfort Opening
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WEST LOOP — Real Comfort’s Benji Tomlinson wants your grandmother’s soup recipe.

After Tomlinson’s own grandmother died two years ago, he sought out her famous meatloaf recipe from his dad. More recently, Tomlinson’s close friend handed over her own grandmother’s matzo ball soup recipe.

Now, at his soon-to-open gourmet comfort food venture at 1045 W. Madison St., Tomlinson will be using those recipes, as well as encouraging customers to bring in their family recipes as a way of encouraging community in the West Loop restaurant scene.

Tomlinson came up with the idea for Real Comfort American Kitchen with longtime friend Ray Parker, previously sous chef at the Lincoln Square's Chalkboard, which since has reopened as Homegrown Cafe.

Parker, who was previously feeding the masses at Chalkboard with southern fried chicken and smoked Gouda mac and cheese, said comfort food is just what he does.

“I’m pretty good at it,” Parker said with a laugh. “In 20 years, I’ve cooked just about everything but sushi.”

You’ll find a whole lot of everything but sushi at Real Comfort, with items like the meatloaf and surf-and-turf sandwiches, crawfish mac and cheese, rotating soups, and a salad bar.

The lunch spot — which Tomlinson hopes to have open by mid-September — will have free Wi-Fi,  a long counter and several tables for West Loop residents looking to sit while they eat their mac and cheese.

Real Comfort almost didn’t exist in restaurant form. Last year, Tomlinson, who’s worked in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, wanted to open a comfort food truck.

But all that changed after he started looking into Chicago’s food truck ordinance, which at the time did not allow for cooking on the truck.

“I started researching the laws and then I fell in love with the City of Chicago,” he said. “Everything about Chicago’s food truck laws is antiquated and backwards.”

So a disdain for Chicago law combined with a desire to provide a quality take-out option led the friends to search first in Lincoln Square and then eventually in the West Loop, a neighborhood where Tomlinson said he just felt the vibe.

“This area’s coming up and everything. We really wanted high foot traffic and the ability to cater to families,” he said. “So we were like, yeah, this is perfect. This is exactly what we’re looking for.”

He’d also like to set up an option for working families who don’t have time for dinner during the week. Ideally, Tomlinson said, they could place their orders on Monday, and then Real Comfort would deliver a hot meal at whatever time they specify during the week.

Eventually, Tomlinson plans to do in-house meat curing and, ideally, he said all food at Real Comfort would be locally sourced within the year.

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