For anyone who missed the Part 1 recap of my recent trip to NY, it started on a high note with scrumptious mac and cheese from Gourmet Garage. The next stop on the itinerary was Nolita House in SoHo. According to the website, this establishment prides itself on its friendly setting, neighborhood charm, great comfort food, libations, artisan cheese, entertainment, a relaxed environment and oh yeah, lots and lots of mac and cheese. I met up with my friends Dana and Lydia at Nolita House on a Sunday afternoon right smack in the middle of the their weekend Boozy Bluegrass Brunch rush.
Having spent a low-key morning seated in a ballroom listening to experts expound on the children’s book market, I wasn’t quite ready for the fiddlin’ Deliverance-esque ruckus awaiting me at Nolita House. The tiny restaurant seats only about 40-50 people tops and was at max capacity. Add to that a screaming four piece Bluegrass Band and you’ve got the makings of a very jarring meal. Perhaps if I was partaking in the “boozy” part of the bluegrass brunch, I might have been more equipped to handle the noise. But truth be told, I’m not a huge bluegrass fan, drunk or sober. I do, however, love me some Blues, like Bobby Blue Bland Blues, that is.
Now in case you hadn’t heard, New York seems to have instituted a hard core Brunch Law. Meaning, if you show up at a restaurant on a weekend, anytime between 8am and 4pm, you’ll eat only off the brunch menu whether you like it or not. I’ll spare you the Andy Rooney diatribe but it seems silly to make the regular menu totally off limits on weekends. Needless to say, I ran into this problem at Nolita House. My friends and I had studied the menu prior to our visit and were excited to try many of their mac and cheese offerings i.e., Mac and Cheese Spring Rolls with bacon dipping sauce, Lobster Bake mac and cheese, The Popeye with spinach, bacon and four cheeses, Original and a Mac and Cheeseburger! But when we arrived, the only mac and cheese available on the brunch menu was Original. Ah well. In spite of our disappointment and gentle nudging of the waitress (Dana told her I was a VERY important food blogger) to ask the cook if he’d make an exception (he would not) we settled for the Original. Don’t get me wrong, our server was lovely and the diners seated next to us very friendly. They even gave us an extra pillow for our sensitive back sides, as our table butted (pun attended) against a window and the bench had a very uncomfortable ledge requiring several stacks of pillows to make it sitable.
We waited a pretty long time for our food to arrive, I won’t lie. Poor Lydia nearly had a hypoglycemic fit and might have eaten a sugar packet in desperation, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me. The mac and cheese came out first and looked very promising as you can see from the photo. It arrived in a little iron skillet lightly dusted with almost burned panko bread crumbs.
After the first bite Lydia said, “This tastes like Fettuccini Alfredo.” She nailed it. It was a very creamy dish but the Béchamel and nutmeg overpowered everything else. It lacked a kick and was borderline bland. The Fusilli noodles were cooked correctly, though it's not my favorite mac pasta. I gave it top marks on the gooey/creamy/rich scale but at the end of the day, it did not impress. The menu said it was prepared with four cheeses but we couldn’t convince our server to reveal the secret ingredients. My best guess is Parmesan, Cheddar, Gruyere and maybe another kind of Swiss. Dana missed a crispy cheese crust like we’d enjoyed on the Gourmet Garage mac and she found the chalky aftertaste off-putting.
The rest of the food fared better. Lydia’s grits were tangy and creamy and we wished the mac had more of that tang. We suspected the same Béchamel sauce used in the mac was repurposed as gravy for the Biscuits and Gravy dish of which Lydia applauded the addition of sausage. Eggs Benedict (pictured above) got a big thumbs up from Dana but my Salmon Salad was inedible due an overabundance of celery salt. Another friend who joined our party later informed me that the East Coast salts everything 25% more than the West Coast. Who knew? All in all, it was a satisfying meal for most of the guests. I will have to wait for another trip to sample some of the other macs and I’ll make sure not to go on a weekend.
So there you have it. One GREAT mac and cheese from Gourmet Garage and one meh, nothing special mac from Nolita House. Next stop, Westmount Smokey Mac and Cheese. Stay tuned.
47 East Houston Street Upstairs
NY, NY 10012