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Cozy escapes

Where we dine when it's raining and cold

Soul’s chicken fried steak

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One look out your window and it's easy to see that winter is quickly upon us all in the South Sound. The wind, rain and cold have arrived in full force to erase any doubt that summer weather might stick around a bit longer. Now is the time of year when I leave the waterfront decks and outdoor beer gardens in search of a warm cozy place to settle in for my favorite meals and spirits. There are far too many favorite comfortable spots to mention, but I've compiled some of the best places to wait out the winter cold.

In addition to the experience of cooking your meal over a boiling pot of broth or oil, The Melting Pot in Tacoma also includes a cocktail lounge where you can enjoy hot drinks such as the Honey Ginger Toddy or the Almond Chocolate Coffee.  Additionally, there are several dessert fondues available like the S'mores that includes milk chocolate, marshmallow crème and graham cracker bits ready for dipping a variety of treats. It's pretty close to the campfire snacks you enjoyed all summer.

The Melting Pot, 2121 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.535.3939,

Mama Stortini’s baked ziti. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Little is more comforting than home, and Mama Stortini's in Puyallup makes every effort to make its diners feel at home.  From the friendly and personal customer service to the large helpings of pasta, you are sure to feel as if you are one of the family here.  My all-time favorite is the baked ziti Bolognese and Meatballs. The sauce is slow cooked to absorb all the flavors and then accompanied by oven-roasted meatballs and stringy mozzarella cheese. That's about as cozy as it gets.

Mama Stortini's, 3207 E. Main Ave., Puyallup, 253.845.7569,

Tacoma Cabana’s bacon-wrapped pineapple will warm your insides ... or is that the rum talking? Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Tacoma Cabana and Rum Bar on Tacoma's Pacific Avenue is a step out of the dreary winter weather and onto a virtual tropical island full of bamboo and palm trees, where, at least for the moment, you can forget your everyday troubles.  It is a vacation destination right here in town.  Start off with any number of rum concoctions such as a mai tai, zombie, or even the kilauea mixing all the flavors of the Pacific; then fill your table with items from the Vacation Fusion Menu like the meatball skewers, curry coconut chicken, or the grilled pineapple wrapped in bacon.

Tacoma Cabana and Rum Bar, 728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.222.4184,

Falls Terrace Restaurant is a bit misleading from its outside appearance, but once you are through the doors, it is fully updated and you are sure to feel welcomed.  Huge glass windows offer a clear view of the Tumwater Falls from nearly every seat.  With a wide selection of fresh Northwest seafood, I can't pass up a big bowl of clam chowder and an order of the steamed clams while I sit warmly and watch the roaring falls outside.

Falls Terrace Restaurant, 106 Deschutes Way SW, Tumwater, 360.943.7830,

The Matador’s mahi mahi tacos. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

When it is stormy and cold outside, I, like many others, like to warm up around an indoor fire pit.  The Matador's lounge has such a pit right in the center of a huge wrap-around table for gathering with your Tacoma neighbors.  Pop in during happy hour and grab a blood orange margarita and some tacos; choose from habanero chicken, tomatillo-serrano salsa shrimp or the green chili mahi mahi, and you'll be suitably warm inside and out.

The Matador, 721 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.627.7100,

Pellegrino's in Tumwater is a snug little family-owned Italian restaurant with much of what you can expect at any Italian place.  The quality here, however, is noticeable from the moment your nose gets through the door as the aroma of great food surrounds you.  The seafood fettuccine is one of the best you will find anywhere, loaded with prawns, scallops, crab and even calamari. As an added touch, most pasta dishes are available gluten-free as well.  The homey atmosphere and lighting here will make you forget about everything outside.

Pellegrino's, 205 Cleveland Ave. SE, Tumwater, 360.709.9020,

If home is what makes you feel warm and comfortable, then Soul in Tacoma's Proctor District will seem as if you haven't left home at all.  Set in a historical house from 1902, the soul food here is some of the best around.  Chicken fried steak breaded and made to order, and the home-style chicken and dumplings are just like Mom makes.  So settle in, let them take their time preparing your food just right, and you will certainly be right at home.  If you are able to grab a table near a window, you can watch the winter storms rush down N. Proctor St.

Soul, 2717 N. Proctor St., 253.507.5720, Facebook/tacomasoul

The Bread Peddler’s Croque Monsieur and French onion soup. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Traditionally, a rainy-day special includes tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich because you are sure to feel warm and toasty on the inside.  Though The Bread Peddler in Olympia doesn't technically have the rainy-day special on their menu, they serve some amazing artisan sandwiches and daily special soup.  The grilled cheese on the menu includes a balance of jarslberg and Swiss on hearty potato bread, however, the Croque Monsieur is a must; it incorporates a pungent blanc fromage, sweet ham, and then is topped with Swiss cheese and broiled to a crunchy perfection.  Add any soup such as the house French onion, and you have your own personalized rainy-day special.

The Bread Peddler, 222 N. Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.352.1175,

OK, for those of you that connect romantic little cafés with cozy and warm, then the Over the Moon Café in Tacoma is exactly what you have in mind.  Intimate seating is partnered with creative dishes like crab bisque, duck breasts with apple and wine reduction, or a lobster and cognac mac and cheese.  Add a few choice drink and dessert options such as a deconstructed apple or house-made bourbon vanilla ice cream, and this may easily become your favorite place to eat.

Over the Moon Café, 709 Opera Alley, Tacoma, 253.284.3722,

One thing I always look forward to each winter is a big breakfast to get my day started, and in Lakewood, The Moonrise Café is just the place to do that.  Known mostly for its fresh biscuits, house-made jam, friendly service and a guaranteed wait time, the omelettes and scrambles are a shouldn't-miss, as well.  On the specialties menu, the Moonrise Benedict includes the expected poached eggs over an English muffin and smothered in hollandaise sauce, but here you also get sautéed onions and peppers as well as your choice of ham, turkey or bacon.  I am always comfortable on days that begin here.

The Moonrise Café, 6020 Main St. SW, Lakewood, 253.983.9999,

Get out of the weather this winter and into some great South Sound food places that are cozy, homey, or just simply a warm escape from the elements.

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