Let’s just assume your 2019 New Year’s resolutions are a thing of the past. It’s cold out, and you want the food equivalent of an electric blanket. Does it get any better than a bubbling, steaming dish of creamy macaroni and cheese?
We’re spotlighting a few unique cheesy pasta dishes around Greater Hartford, from an upscale version with an unexpected crustacean to deep-fried concoctions that will hold you over until fair season in the fall.
Crab mac and cheese, $14
The Beamhouse’s executive chef Nicholas Souza felt like doing something a little unexpected with the Glastonbury restaurant’s mac and cheese dish, passing up the obligatory lobster for a less-obvious shellfish.
“Everyone does lobster,” he says. “I wanted to try to make a crab mac that shines.”
The Glastonbury restaurant’s popular dish (on its small-plates menu, but guests often order it as an entree, Souza says) features lump crab, smoked gouda, prosciutto, grilled shrimp and crisp fried leeks. He likes blue crab best, but “it’s whatever’s local, whatever’s in season, that we go with.” thebeamhousect.com.
Plain Jane, Roadhouse and Old School mac and cheeses: $12.50 to $14.50
Max Burger’s recent menu overhaul features lots of new items - tacos, avocado toast, a retooled veggie burger - and three mac and cheese dishes, one of which is a throwback to the 10-year-old restaurant’s original offerings.
“What’s old is new again...[mac and cheese] is popular again, it’s comfort food,” says Hunter Morton, Max Restaurant Group’s culinary director.
The “Old School” version, which was on the menu when Max Burger opened in West Hartford in 2009, features a four-cheese sauce, cubed Black Forest ham and peas.
A classic “Plain Jane,” with cheddar, jack, American and parmesan cheeses and buttered breadcrumbs, is the top seller, but the “Roadhouse” mac packs in the flavor, with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, roasted poblano peppers, caramelized onions and crispy onions on top. maxrestaurantgroup.com/burger.
The Corner Pug
Mac and cheese, $14.50
The Elmwood pub’s top-selling item gets points for its unique presentation. Chefs hand-place the ziti vertically in a dish, then coat the pasta pieces with a rich cheese sauce made from Swiss, cheddar and Gruyere. It gets a scattering of bread crumbs before it’s baked to order, but bacon bits are also an option, says manager Chris Foley. cornerpug.com.
The Blind Pig
Mac attack pizza, $16
Bear’s Smokehouse likes to have fun with its mac and cheese: topping it with smoked meats, piling it on top of baked potatoes, even rolling it into balls with cornbread and pulled pork and throwing it all into the deep fryer. At its sister pizzeria in Hartford, Mondays are “Mac Attack” days, where the mac and cheese ends up on a pizza crust with buffalo sauce and pulled chicken, or pulled pork and barbecue sauce. blindpigpizza.com.
Artisanal Burger Company
Fried mac and cheese bites, $7.95
‘Mac attack’ grilled cheese, $13.95
Mac and cheese, $14.95 (add-ons, $1.50 to $4)
If you’re going to break your diet with extreme cheesy comfort, this is the place. ABC’s fried mac and cheese bites, in a pool of tomato basil fondue, are a popular starter, and its “Mac attack” grilled cheese features more fried mac and cheese, bacon and tomato on grilled batard bread. (The sandwich’s side of hand-cut French fries completes a carbohydrate trifecta.)
ABC has gotten even more creative with cheese and pasta, says executive chef Anthony Phenis, putting an 8-ounce beef burger on a “bun” made of flash-fried mac and cheese — topped with even more mac and cheese and garlic aioli. But its regular macaroni and cheese, with gobetti pasta and a five-cheese blend (fontina, provolone, sharp cheddar, Muenster and parmesan) is a favorite dish on its own, and guests opt for add-ons like bacon, blackened chicken and meatballs. artisanalburgercompany.com.
A few other noteworthy macs
Put an egg on it: At Butchers & Bakers in Farmington, the four-cheese macaroni carbonara ($18) features brisket, horseradish crumbs and soft fried egg. butchersandbakers.com.
Eat local: At the newly revamped Marlborough Tavern, its cast-iron mac and cheese ($10.75) uses Dutch Farmstead cheese from Cato Corner Farm, less than 10 minutes up the road in Colchester. marlboroughtavernct.com.
Hold the cheese, please: A vegan macaroni and “no cheese” entree ($18) at Flora in West Hartford gets its flavor from cauliflower puree and nutritional yeast, roasted mushrooms and black truffle. floraweha.net.
At longtime Middletown vegan hotspot ION, diners can enhance their mac and cheese ($13) with $1 toppings like sriracha aioli, vegan bacon, mushrooms, garlic kale, jalapeños and caramelized onions. ionrestaurant.com.
Leeanne Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org