Friday, May 21, 2010

Bartender, make mine a Four Cheese, please.

by Hilary Havarti
During our disappointing trip to Mac & Cheeza, I had a déjà vu moment. Standing inside the tiny take-out eatery specializing in the food of our namesake, I thought, hey, this is kind of like Mac Bar in NY! And then I realized I had failed to write up my delightful trip to Mac Bar and thus left all you readers hanging. Sorry about that. 

As you may or may not recall, I'd been on a pretty uneven quest in terms of digging up good mac in New York City. It started out strong at Gourmet Garage but quickly descended into the uninspired and inedible. That is, until I stumbled upon Mac Bar in Soho just down the street from my hotel.

It's hard to miss Mac Bar with a giant letter "C" shaped like an elbow macaroni noodle jutting out of the side of its bright yellow exterior like a beacon of happiness. Enter the store and you'll feel like you just crawled into a Swiss cheese crater. 

The stay-in or take-out eatery is awash in sunshiny yellow and about the size of a studio apartment in New York City, a.k.a ultra mini. But when you're in the business of serving up cheesy goodness to the masses you don't need a ton of space, just ask Ray or Original Ray, the legendary man or men behind New York's pizza stand empire.

The set up at Mac Bar is styled after fast food restaurants and virtually idiot-proof. As you can see in the photo, there are big, easy-to-read menus listing twelve varieties of Mac and Cheese from Classic to Cheeseburger Mac. Each menu item includes a description as well as the type of cheeses employed. Once I managed to make a decision, and trust me it wasn't easy, I headed over to the Order window and selected the small Four Cheese Mac and Cheese with the addition of a bread crumb topping, thank you very much. You can get your dish with or without crumbs but I have no idea why anyone would choose to go topless.

My propensity is to gravitate towards the classic version of Mac and Cheese whenever I have options but at Mac Bar their classic style was made with American and Cheddar. Loath to voluntarily eat processed cheeses, I had to come up with a plan B. The Four Cheese ($6.99 for a small), made with Queso Blanco, Fontina, Emmenthal and Gouda, sounded like the next best bet. (Prices vary depending on the type and size of the mac you choose. There are three sizes, small, medium and large. The cheapest offering is the classic version; $5.99 for a small. The most expensive size small is the Mac Lobsta with tender chunks of fresh lobster, cognac, tarragon and Marscapone for $8.99.)

Unlike Mac & Cheeza, where we watched the assembly line production of our mac, all the magic happens behind closed doors at Mac Bar. But based on how quickly my mac arrived, I'm going to guess they pre-assemble some of the most popular choices and pop them in the oven to melt the cheese.

Five minutes later, an elegantly wrapped package arrived at the Pick Up counter with my name on it. 

Yes, I'll admit, that's a lot of packaging!
Suffice it to say, they had me at the packaging. I'm a sucker for branding and clever packaging, even though it's not environmentally friendly. And they probably went a little overboard but just look at how this mac and cheese was wrapped? It was presented like a present! And I heart presents almost as much as I heart Mac and Cheese.

Withdrawing the mac from its pretty little boxes, I feasted my eyes upon the crunchy top, sprinkled with bread crumb chunks a la Martha Stewart. I sunk a fork in, scooped out a bite and wow, was it creamy. The bread crumbs, crisped and browned just so, were butteriffic. The small elbow noodles were cooked to perfect tenderness, the cheesy sauce had just the right amount of stretchiness and a sweet nutty flavor.

Both Fontina and Emmenthal tend to be on the sweeter side of the cheese scale and if I was going to change anything about this mac, I'd suggest throwing in some cheddar, or something to give it a sharp little kick. But it was very tasty and not too rich, another benefit of those lighter Swiss cheeses. 

Cheeseburger Mac

At an adjacent table, a woman had ordered the Cheeseburger Mac. Throwing politeness to the wind, I interrupted her conversation and asked if I could snap a photo of her mac. Heck, it's New York, if I'm going to be rude somewhere, it may as well be in NY. She obliged and said she thought it was delicious. So there you go. It sounded and looked gross to me but that's the beauty of Mac Bar, there's something for everyone.

I only wish I'd had more time and a bigger appetite to sample more of the selections like the Margarita Mac with fresh tomatoes, Mozzarella, Parmigiano, fresh basil or the Mac'shroom with roasted "magic" mushrooms (taking your mac and cheese high to a whole new level), Fontina, Marscapone and truffled essence. I guess this means I'll have to take another trip to New York, stat. But these are the sacrifices we're willing to make for our readers. You can thank us later. :)

54 Prince St
(at Lafayette)
New York, NY 10012


Constance Korol said...

HH Great review and so good to see a place from my local area, NYC. I will have to check this out. I am too a sucker for nifty branding and packaging. Plus the storefront looks down right fun. Awesome cheesy pics!