Legitimate southern BBQ meets home-style diner at the Monterey Cookhouse on Fremont Street in Monterey. Here everyone is family as Linda Cantrell, owner and comfort food extraordinaire, welcomes every guest with open arms as if it were an anticipated homecoming. Her contagious warmth and hospitality spills into her finger-licking dishes where everything but the bread, pasta and fries are made from scratch and taste just as comfy as the hospitality.

The cozy yet modern diner is complete with a full bar, lounge area, a variety of seating options, and a fiery open kitchen. Everyone is bound to find something on the California fusion menu that tempts the taste buds with offerings like wood-fired pizzas, barbecued ribs, smoked brisket, fresh seafood and salads straight from the fields.

The cocktail list is quite robust and full of creativity. I suggest trying their take on the pumpkin pie martini which is ideal for the holidays, but delicious at any time. It successfully blends vanilla and pumpkin flavors with a hint of nutmeg, and a cinnamon rim to top it off.

The stuffed mushrooms are a must try with a savory sausage and herb stuffing; I may or may not have eaten more than my share of this decadent dish.

A visit to the Monterey Cookhouse would not be complete without one of their renowned smoked meats, whether it is ribs, brisket, pork loin or Cornish game hen; the smell outside of the eatery alone is sure to pull you in like a tractor beam.

This time I was treated to the ½ rack of baby back ribs. The pork ribs had a zesty dry rub and a homemade BBQ glaze that was to die for! The pork was so tender that it fell off the bone and melted in my mouth, definitely worth the long hours on the Traeger smoker.

If you are more of an open flame kind of person I would highly recommend the New York steak. The wood grilled slab of beef was a superb medium rare with a brandy peppercorn sauce that was the perfect consistency, not too thick and not too runny and went nicely with the accompanied twice baked potato.

The Cookhouse Mac could technically count as a meat group with its generous allotment of bacon. Yes, you heard me right, the house mac n' cheese has bacon bits that combine wonderfully with the creamy cheesy penne pasta.

It's essential to cap off your comfort food indulgence with one of the Cookhouse's seducing sweets like double chocolate torte, New York cheesecake or homemade sorbet. I personally recommend the chocolate chip bread pudding with custardy brioche bread and a cinnamon rum sauce that will have you coming back for more.

The Monterey Cookhouse has an array of other special offerings including a killer salad bar during lunch hours, a happy hour menu, and kids menu.