We’ve only had one national food holiday celebrating pasta before this: National Spaghetti Day. And that was all the way back in January! We’re totally due to have another day dedicated to the loveliness of this starch that’s become a staple in so many different culinary traditions. The macaroni, as many of us know, is a tube-shaped pasta cut into small semi-circles, where the inside of the pasta is hollow. It lends itself well to collecting any sauce that you put on top of it, like a tomato-based marinara, or, perhaps…oh, I don’t know…a cheese sauce? 😉 The overwhelmingly most popular way to eat macaroni pasta is in the baked casserole known as macaroni and cheese. Ideally, macaroni and cheese is made by baking cooked macaroni with a butter and cheese sauce, making a dense and flavorful pasta casserole. But most of us know macaroni and cheese as the easy-to-prepare stovetop meal in the ubiquitous blue Kraft box, consisting of dried elbow macaroni and neon orange powder that, when mixed with milk and butter, somehow makes cheese sauce. (The jury’s still out on whether that’s “cheese,” but honestly? When you’re hungry and craving that particular mac n cheese, you don’t care!)
Two months ago for my boyfriend’s birthday, I rolled up my sleeves and made a homemade baked macaroni and cheese. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! A real cheese and butter sauce does not come together as effortlessly as that orange powder packet. But man, was it delicious. If all you know from macaroni and cheese is what you’ve gotten from a blue box (even those “deluxe” ones), then you’ve got to get off your butt today and try a real macaroni and cheese for Macaroni Day!
At Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro, the chefs here know their cheeses. And, considering that knowing cheese is half of what it takes to make a great mac n cheese, their version is particularly good. Called a “macaroni gratin” on the menu, there’s no mistaking this as a baked macaroni casserole with an ooey, gooey blend of cheeses–real cheeses, like gruyere, not just generic “cheese-like product”. It’s definitely overflowing with cheesy goodness that sticks to your spoon; the perfect comfort food. There aren’t any frills to the dish, no bells and whistles (and no shaved truffles!), but that’s the beauty of a good macaroni and cheese: it’s something so simple, yet so delicious if it’s made well and with care. This would probably be a great dinner with a little meat plate on the side, but honestly, you won’t need it: the mac is filling enough to stand on its own.
Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro
2 Park Ave
“Noodles: Al dente penne pasta doesn’t get lost the way elbows sometimes do, and the sauce gathers inside the noodles nicely. Topping: An exceptional melted-cheese and crumb crust, broiled to crisp perfection—the most flavorful topping we’ve had.”–Serious Eats
“This bistro and fromagerie is an emporium of cheese, and its menu is accordingly uber-cheesy. It’s no surprise that Artisanal makes some of the best Mac in town. It’s made with a blend of cheeses (although mostly gruyere) and baked with a crispy cheese and breadcrumb crust.”–CBS New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Macaroni Gratin ($9.50): Decadantly delicious mac and cheese, made with top quality cheese. This is different than traditional Southern cheddar-based-eggy mac and cheese, but it’s still crave-worthy!”–Ida C.
“As for the Macaroni Gratin – there are no words to describe it. The cheeses were subtle yet flavorful, and the sauce covered every inch of the pasta. It came with a huge side salad, and I could only manage to eat half of each – though I wanted to devour it all.”–Leigh M.
So, if a restaurant dedicated to amazing cheese dishes makes a great macaroni and cheese, how well does a restaurant dedicated to macaroni and cheese dishes fare? Pretty darn well! You’re talkin’ S’MAC, which stands for Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese, and yes, that’s about all they serve. They’ve been mac’in it up in the East Village since 2006 and have gotten a healthy following of cheese lovers for their outrageous and delicious macaroni and cheese varieties, most of which you won’t find anywhere else. If you’re ordering here, you can always take the safe route and try their All-American–a blend of American and cheddar cheeses. Or be an adventurous mac’er and try something radical, like the Napoletana (mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and garlic); the Mediterranean (goat cheese, spinach, and kalamata olives); or the Parisienne (brie, roasted figs, and shiitake mushrooms). My best bet will be the Buffalo Chicken mac & cheese, a classic combination with a new twist. I love Buffalo sauce (especially when it’s only a little hot!), and the spiciness of the chicken must blend perfectly with warm, calming cheeses and macaroni. Topped with a sprinkling of blue cheese, it’s the perfect bowl of comfort food for me! And each mac comes in four different sizes, ranging from the equivalent of a side dish to a massive casserole of cheesy, mac-y goodness. So indulge a little or indulge a lot–S’Mac’s got all the bases covered!
345 E 12th St (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
“This mecca of mac ‘n’ cheese opened during the height of the mac ‘n’ cheese craze in 2006, and is one of the few eateries devoting its entire menu to the Mac. With countless varieties like Cheeseburger or Buffalo, you can certainly satisfy your mac ‘n’ cheese fix here.”–CBS New York
“While some of the other versions at this all-macaroni restaurant are a little bland, the Buffalo-style sauce bursts with tangy, spicy flavor. Lovers of Frank’s Hot sauce should try this immediately. The moist chunks of chicken aren’t even really necessary.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“EVERYTHING here is so good – creamy, rich, cheesy, and bursting with flavor. No bland mac and cheese here! I would come here every day if I could. It’s very casual and you sometimes have to wait for a table, which is the only downside. Otherwise, so delicious and worth every ooey gooey cheese-laden calorie!”–Perry T.
“I got the buffalo chicken and it was amazing. I got the “major munch” size, which was the next size up from the smallest (nosh), but to be honest, I think I would’ve been completely content with a nosh because it was so decadent and cheesy (and believe me, I can eat).”–Eric G.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!