Battle of the Dishes: Mac-and-Cheese Specialist Smackdown
There are many strange things that can happen to you while eating out around this city, but today was the first time that I mistook a to-go container for a bed pan. The yellow, crescent-shaped plastic container sat by the register at Macbar. Shouting to be heard over the dulcet tones of the Pussycat Dolls, I asked the girl behind the counter if that thing was meant to look like, well, a bed pan. She shook her head, and showed me that the container was actually a giant, yellow, plastic macaroni--the size medium to-go container. Oh.
As noted by the Wall Street Journal yesterday, we're in the middle of a culinary Great Regression, in which we pull up the covers and order delivery from restaurants that make nothing but macaroni and cheese. Taking the junky comfort food craze to its obvious conclusion will someday result in establishments that will make house-calls to spoon-feed you melted butter while gently massaging your shoulders.
Our fair city now has no less than three macaroni and cheese specialists--Supermac, S'mac, and Macbar.
The first two both opened about three years ago; the last opened only a few weeks ago. I suppose there's only so much you can do with elbow pasta and dairy, but the menus at the three joints are remarkably similar--all offer a horrifying cheeseburger mac-and-cheese, for instance--and all are very, very orange.
For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we compared macaroni and cheese from S'mac and Macbar. Honestly, I wanted Macbar to lose.
Macbar is the sister restaurant to greasy spoon/hipster hell Delicatessen, infamous for its cheeseburger spring rolls and "Model Lounge." Similarly, Macbar is just too much--"Don't Cha," blaring at noon on a Tuesday, "Bounce" energy drinks, macaroni creations dubbed "shroom" and "lobsta"-- I wanted to flee the second I stepped inside. Plus, the macaronis are all about $1 more than their counterparts at S'mac.
I bought the pizza-themed macaroni at each place (hey, two trends are better than one). At Macbar, they call the tomato-mozzarella-basil-parmesan concoction "margarita" [sic]. At S'mac, they call it Napoletana. Both mac-and-cheese boutiques have cutesy packaging, although S'mac's looks like a mini pizza box, while Macbar's looks like a jewel box. (Unless you get the medium or large, in which case you know what it looks like.)
I spirited the mac-and-cheeses back to the office, where my trusty compatriot took one look at my haul and quickly claimed to have lunch reservations.
S'mac's version looked horrible. It was a pallid, greasy circle of congealed cheese with a thin layer of macaroni beneath. Attempts to fork through that cheese exoskeleton were thwarted--that cheese was determined to stay put, and to hold its shape no matter what. The edges had no browned, crunchy bits to speak of.
Macbar's dish, on the other hand, did sport the all-important golden, crisp bits on the edges and corners. Fresh (ish) basil chiffonade and wan diced tomatoes adorned the top. It suffered from none of the greasy, congeal-y problems that S'mac's version did.
Both renditions were vaguely garlicky, and both were studded with mediocre tomatoes. Both kitchens had cooked the pasta to a satisfactorily al dente state.
But much to my dismay, S'mac's version just sucked. Although the macaroni was clearly doused in a Wisconsin's worth of cream and cheese, it didn't taste like much because it lacked salt. And if you're going to consume more calories for lunch than you should in a week, you really want it to taste like something bad for you.
Eating Macbar's margarita, you never forget that you're eating a bunch of refined carbs, fat and dairy. It tastes just like carbs, fat, dairy should--which is to say, delicious, and compulsively edible, and heavy. The crunchy, burnt bits are fantastic. It's certainly not the best mac-and-cheese ever, but it does the job with swagger.
Alas, for your mac-and-cheese specialist needs, Macbar is recommended.
S'mac 345 East 12th Street 212-358-7912
Macbar 54 Prince Street 212-226-8877
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.