We could all use a little more cheese and pasta in our lives. Here's where to do it right.
DUMONT BURGER This is the kind of mac and cheese I wish I didn't know about, in the sense that, now that I know it's in the world, I want it all the time. It's probably my favorite macaroni and cheese in NYC—and I've eaten a lot of macaroni and cheese.
The DuMac & Cheese (small $12, large $14) employs nutty Gruyere cheese with a mild cheddar to improve the cheese sauce's stretch factor, with some Parmesan cheese for that salty aged funk. Chunks of thick-cut bacon add more salinity and some texture in the mix of soft pasta and creamy cheese. Instead of a traditional elbow shape, they use radiatore pasta, whose spirals hold the cheese sauce like a warm embrace.
DuMont Burger is located at 314 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, (718) 384-6127; dumontburgerbrooklyn.com
BEECHER'S If making cheese is your gig, then you better know how to use it, especially if you're going to dub your mac & cheese the "World's Best." Having not eaten every mac & cheese on this planet, we can't back up this Flatiron cheese shop's claim, but it's pretty darn good. Penne noodles are encased in a molten mixture of the shop's homemade Flagship (a cheddar and gruyere hybrid) and Jack cheeses, bound together with cream and finished in the oven.
At their downstairs eatery The Cellar, macs can be further enhanced with things like pork belly and pickled fennel stem ($15), crab, Old Bay aioli and bread crumbs ($16) or balsamic mushrooms and fennel ($16). But their simply prepared original is worth a try on its own, as it lets the flavors of the cheese really shine through. Grab a crock downstairs for $12, or a cup to go at the cheese counter; an eight ounce serving runs $6.50, a 16-ounce serving runs $10.50. They also offer their original mac frozen for when the Night Cheese cravings strike.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese is located at 900 Broadway at 20th Street in the Flatiron (212-466-3340, beechershandmadecheese.com)
JACK & NELLIE'S The mac's cheekily billed as a "small plate" at this lovely Forest Hills spot, but do not be fooled: this mac and cheese could absolutely stand in as a meal unto itself. That has a lot to do with the addition of chorizo, an underused pork component in a world that clings to bacon to tightly. A call for more chorizo in macaroni and cheese, please. Points also for the undervalued ditalini shape, sort of a stubbier elbow noodle that's mostly reserved for minestrone soup.
Jack & Nellie's is located at 108-25 Ascan Avenue between Austin and Burns Streets in Forest Hills (718-268-2696, jacknellies.com)
EARL'S BEER AND CHEESE Sure, there's almost always a wait, and even if you do find a spot at this minuscule East Harlem joint, you'll likely have a neighbor's elbow in your face. But all of that fades away a single bite into their luscious Mac & Cheese ($8), which comes scratch made to order (no steam table scoops here) in a darling ramekin. Instead of the common cheddar or Alpine-style cheese, they're using goat cheese, which imparts a touch of tang and a super creamy sauce to coat the large rigatoni noodles. They're also tossing in a pinch of finely chopped rosemary, adding a woodsy zip that really wakes up the cheese and heavy cream.
Earl's Beer and Cheese is located at 1259 Park Avenue between 97th and 98th Streets in East Harlem (212-289-1581, earlsny.com)
CATFISH Make your way to the side dishes section of the menu at this Crown Heights Southern restaurant. You'll be tempted to stop at the Duck Gumbo and Chicken Fried Steak, but soldier on for a highbrow/lowbrow version of Baked Mac 'N Cheese ($6) that tops a fancy bechamel-based Gruyere and white cheddar cheese sauce with crumbled Zapp's "Cajun Crawtator" potato chips. More places should top their mac with chips; it's a winning combination.
Double down on the crawfish by adding some of the mudbugs to your mac for $4.
Catfish is located at 1433 Bedford Avenue between Prospect and Park Places in Crown Heights (347-305-3233, catfishnyc.com)
WESTVILLE It's a blessing to have multiple locations of the fancy diner-ish spot in NYC—that there's one so closer to our Dumbo HQ is both a blessing and a curse. I like this version for its intense creaminess and the unique flavor the gouda lends to the cheese sauce. There's a cheddar in there, too, for a nice creamy bite. Best of all: the char. The baking process means a nicely browned top to the mac, a boon for people who dig on "burnt" food. You can add bacon for $2 if that's your thing, but it doesn't need it.
Westville has multiple locations in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.
A photo posted by Nell Casey (@nellcasey) on
These guys know how to handle cheese, which includes making their own "American" cheese to sauce up the noodles in their macaroni and cheese.
"American cheese was a way for American cheesemongers to use up all the cheese scraps without it going to waste," owner Ham El-Waylly explains. "So they take all these cheeses that they have leftover and before they went bad they would melt them all together with sodium citrate and then American cheese was born."
For his version, he takes his favorite cheese—the formidable Époisses—and combines it with a nutty Gruyere and a sharp yellow cheddar. The Époisses makes for a super creamy sauce, with some stretch from the other two cheeses. On top: a heady garlic and breadcrumbs mixture. "There's a lot of it, about 25% garlic in the breadcrumbs," El-Waylly says. "It's garlic disguised as breadcrumbs."
Hail Mary is located at 68 Greenpoint Avenue between West and Franklin Streets in Greenpoint (347-422-0645, hailmarybk.com)
QUEENS COMFORT Good luck getting a table for brunch at this Astoria den of carbs and cheese, but things are usually a little quieter for dinnertime, where they offer two flavors of equally decadent mac & cheese. Carnivores can opt for the Bacon Scallion version ($14), a rich mixture of bechamel fortified with cheddar, fontina and parmesan cheeses, with nubs of salty bacon and zippy green onions in each bite.
For vegetarians, Truffle Mushroom ($16) with fontina, cheddar and a funky flavor that will bar post-meal makeouts for at least a few hours. If you do get in during weekend daylight hours, do not miss the deep fried mac & cheese known as Atomic Fire Balls ($8). For extra lily gilding, they're served with a side of ranch for dipping.
Queens Comfort is located at 4009 30th Avenue between Steinway and 41st Streets in Astoria, Queens (718-728-2350, queenscomfort.com)
Delaney Barbecue (Paul Quitoriano/Gothamist)
DELANEY BARBECUE AND HOMETOWN BAR-B-CUE I have a love/hate relationship with mac and cheese at barbecue joints. Love, because I love mac and cheese and always order it; hate, because it's usually disappointing. Both Delaney Barbecue and Hometown Bar-B-Cue give New Yorkers BBQ mac they can feel proud of.
At Delaney Barbecue, they use cheese from Beechers instead of the traditional Gruyere to make a mornay cream sauce. A bit of jalapeno adds spice and a breadcrumb toppings help add some texture to the mess of mac ($10). At Hometown, they get points for topping their mac ($4, $6 or $8) with queso, the molten cheese mixture sent down from the gods. (Pro tip: a few squirts of their spicy bbq sauce is a great addition.)
Delaney Barbecue is located at 359 Bedford Avenue between South 4th and South 5th Streets in Williamsburg, (718-701-8909, delaneybbq.com) and Hometown Bar-B-Cue is located at 454 Van Brunt Street at Reed Street in Red Hook (347-294-4644, hometownbarbque.com)