While most people looked at the former home of the Farmer’s Daughter at Third and Main streets and only saw a dilapidated, old building, Joshua and Kali Tudela saw a thrilling opportunity.
“When my wife and I saw this building, we thought it had so much potential,” says Joshua. “Even though it looked rough when we bought it, we saw the potential.”
Comfort by Cross-Eyed Cricket opened in September after two years of renovation and construction as the second location of the long-standing Cross-Eyed Cricket on Pennsylvania Street, and the Tudelas are eager to prove the sequel can be even more exciting than the original.
While Joshua is shaking up the original Cross-Eyed concept, the main floor of the three-floor establishment stays true to the home-style flavors and dishes of his parents’ restaurant. Customers can enjoy breakfast all day and order classic dishes like meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, salmon, and fried chicken.
“People associate Cross-Eyed Cricket with good food, so I didn’t think there was any reason to change what people already associate good home-cooked food with,” says Joshua.
The dishes served at Comfort are recipes the Tudelas have used for decades. Joshua grew up in the restaurant business like his father Fernando Tudela, who has worked in and owned several eateries in the area from Weinbach Cafeteria to Evans Café and eventually Cross-Eyed Cricket.
“I was 12 years old doing dishes,” says Fernando. “I just wanted to get up to cooking, but they wouldn’t let me. I wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t old enough. My passion for cooking and people grew from just meeting great people and great customers that made it fun.”
Unlike the first floor of Comfort, the basement and second floor are spaces where the restaurant is branching out into new concepts for the Tudelas and the city. In the basement, customers can enjoy a fine-dining, five-star experience, which will occasionally feature all-you-can-eat carved meat in the style of Fogo de Chão. The second floor of the restaurant houses a coffee and wine bar, offering a space for people to work and drink coffee during the day or catch up with friends over a glass of wine in the evening.
“I think people are surprised to see the transformation from before to now,” says Joshua. “Especially the ones who saw it when it was the red building to looking the way it does now.”
Though Joshua is no newcomer to the restaurant business, Comfort has been a true group effort. He enlisted the help of his parents Fernando and Stacey Tudela, who have helped with everything from the food to the look of the main floor. Joshua also brought on staff like executive chef Donielle Taylor, who studied at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas and moved to Evansville after working in several high-end restaurants in California; chef Diego Melendrez, who has several years experience working in fine-dining establishments in California; and beverage director Andy Wood, who brings a passion for house-made, natural, and unique ingredients, to bring something unique to the food and drinks.
The restaurant constantly is evolving to ensure everything is as close to perfection as it can possibly be. From tweaking the menu to reorganizing the kitchen, Joshua says being in the new space has been a learning experience that takes time and patience to make flawless — even with his extensive background in the industry.
“I don’t think anybody would say they’re prepared to go into something like this,” he says. “It might take us a little bit of time to get all the kinks out and make it perfect, but every night we’re changing stuff to make it better and make it more efficient.”
The biggest changes to Comfort, however, have been the opening of the basement and second floor areas. Driven by the drink menus, the spaces offer a different experience from fine dining to wine tasting that currently aren’t available anywhere else in the city. The drink menus in the upstairs coffee and wine bar and downstairs upscale eatery also reflect this change of pace.
“Some of the flavors are a little esoteric or a little different, but I think that’s something Evansville is ready for,” says Wood. “To have the classics but to come in and be able to taste a drink that’s smoky or a drink that’s bitter or a drink that’s herbaceous — introducing new stuff to people. I’m always impressed by Evansville at how willing they are to experiment.”
With drink offerings from an extensive beer, wine, and bourbon list to specialty cocktails, every aspect of the bar menu is handpicked and specially curated. The staff squeezes fresh juice twice a week and makes many of the cocktail elements like syrups, shrubs, grenadines, and tonics in house. Many of the solid elements used to make the syrups and shrubs (vinegar-based cocktail syrups) are then used in jams and spreads for charcuterie boards.
“Every restaurant in the area has access to the same raw materials,” says Wood. “So you have to figure out how you make it your own while still making it awesome.”
The most impressive aspect to Comfort isn’t its well-established, classic menu in the community or the new dining experiences offered through the coffee and wine bar and upscale lower level, but the restaurant’s ambition to combine the old with the new in three different spaces all under the same name and roof.
“What’s been fun about this is just seeing the different clientele coming in and out, and we have our regulars that just love it. It’s an amazing feeling,” says Joshua. “Every step of the way you’re excited, and you just can’t wait to see what it looks like and how it turns out. I love going to work every day.”
Location: 230 Main St.
Dining Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Saturday
Adult Beverages: Yes
Payment: All major credit cards accepted.