I’ll admit it: I am a macaroni and cheese fanatic.
I’m not talking about shaking a box of KRAFT into some boiling water and throwing down the orange powder. I’m talking about the good stuff. The real stuff. The creamy, tangy, noodley goodness that you can only get from restaurant chefs (and maybe mom. Maybe.)
I make my own, sure. But it’s a rare occasion that I sit down in front of a menu featuring the golden delight of a macaroni and cheese dish and not order it. Skip the breadbasket — I’ll take my carbs in casserole form.
And I’ll likely never tire of it, because like pizza, brunch items, or any number of foodie mash-ups today, macaroni and cheese has a versatility of flavor and presentation that just can’t be beat. In fact, there are so many ways to enjoy this classic combination of salty, rich cheese and springy, semolina perfection, it’s hard to keep up with them all. But you can bet I’ll never stop trying.
Fry it up
I know. The answer to how to make any great thing even better is to deep-fry it. Rolling practically anything around in breading and crisping it up should give it a new, more delectable life. Everything from Oreos to ice cream and even butter have gone under the oil and risen even tastier than before.
And, true to form, when you put macaroni and cheese through those same paces, you get something that will make your mouth sing. There is nothing like biting into the crisp exterior of a Deep Fried Mac and Cheese (with bacon bites, no less) at Duke’s in downtown Manhattan to discover a decadent, warm center of gooey delight.
Want to take your macaroni and cheese to the next (deep-fried) level? Try the Mighty Macaroni Grilled Cheese at Melt Bar and Grilled outside Cleveland, Ohio.
This homemade macaroni and cheese is battered and deep fried, then layered with Cheddar cheese sauce and your choice of melted cheese between two slices of freshly baked bread. That’s cheese, cheese, and more cheese. And when it hits your plate right off the grill, you’ll know it represents everything that is good and right about being a fan of both the traditional and grilled varieties.
ALL the cheeses
When it comes to macaroni and cheese, Cheddar is generally the way people go, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some of my favorite macaroni and cheeses are made with Cheddar. But every once in a while, it’s good to spice things up a bit. Expand your horizons. See the forest for the cheese.
If you want to start out slow, check out a five-cheese mac, like the one Mac-O-licious delivers to its Valley Village, Calif., customers. Blending Cheddar with Asiago, Fontina, Gruyere, and Parmesan brings an extra depth of flavor to this baked main course, while still maintaining that traditional casserole comfort.
If you end up wanting to take a walk on the wild side, however, the five-cheese variety is far from the only macaroni and cheese offered. The menu at Mac-a-licious boasts 12 different variations on this classic dish, including crab and bacon fried mac pops held together by a creamy garlic sauce.
But if you really want to take your taste buds on an adventure (and do, I implore you!), take a gander at the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese at Mac n’ Cheez outside Detroit, Mich., made with roasted chicken, bleu and Cheddar cheeses, hot sauce, and celery sticks. Or, if you’re feeling green, try the Green Mean Pesto Mac, which combines Swiss cheese with spinach-walnut pesto.
With so many possibilities when it comes to cheese, you have to stop and wonder: Why stop at just one?
Spare the cows
Of course, not everyone is a fan of cheese, whether it’s by choice or by circumstance. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the pure joy of when a bowl of macaroni meets its perfect, velvety partner. If you keep a vegan diet, or just are lactose intolerant or otherwise allergic, there are still unbelievably delicious options out there for you.
The vegan Mac and Teeze® at The Chicago Diner in Chicago, for example, combines everything amazing about classic macaroni and cheese with no actual animal products. It’s so good, it will even make carnivores rejoice. But don’t worry, I won’t tell them it’s vegan if you won’t.
The lap of luxury
Those who want to go take their macaroni and cheese the more gourmet direction, however, I say only one thing: boy, are you in for a treat. Because when chefs get to brainstorming, nothing attracts the most decadent ingredients quite like macaroni and cheese. Of course, the most popular addition is bacon, America’s fan favorite food, but the variations on this amplified side dish don’t stop there.
Can’t imagine chef-prepared macaroni and cheese can get any richer? How about adding the king of all delicacies to the mix with a Lobster Mac and Cheese like the one served at Red, the Steakhouse in Miami Beach, Fla., and Cleveland, Ohio? Or, if shellfish isn’t your preference, get the full flavor and richness you desire with the Duck Mac and Cheese served at Mezzo Restaurant in Dublin, Ohio.
Whether you prefer the addition of decadent meats or the liberal use of a deep fryer, there’s seemingly no end to the ways macaroni and cheese can be transformed into an overwhelmingly great experience for foodies and casual diners alike. It’s one food that can range from comfort to luxury — and hit every taste bud along the way.
So, pass the fork already. It’s time to dig in.
Want to explore more taste combinations that will tickle your taste buds?