The weather is getting colder, so it’s time for us New Englanders to look inward for some of that warm toasty comfort — literally. Fill yourself with some happy via one of everyone’s favorite comfort foods, mac ‘n’ cheese (even the dish’s name is nice ‘n’ cozy).
At its best mac ‘n’ cheese is a sumptuous joy ride for the mouth across various plains of strong and/or creamy cheeses strung together by buttered noodles. Mac ‘n’ cheese makes you feel better when you’re low, it’s a quick meal that just about all children will eat without bitching, and when you’re sick it’s sometimes the only food that’s enjoyable.
At it’s worst mac ‘n’ cheese can make you angry, like someone talking about yo mama. A poor mac ‘n’ cheese is an insult to your tongue’s intelligence, a backhand to your belly, a loogie in your soul. Needless to say, you don’t want that and when I say “that,” I’m looking straight at the KFC’s dapper-fried colonel.
Members of the Advocate staff — me, the editor; Dave, the managing editor; Jen, the art director; and Chris, staff writer — recently ate a bunch of mac ‘n’ cheese from restaurants around the Valley. There were highs, lows, and some mooshy middles. Hopefully, our review will help you find the one mac ‘n’ cheese you’re looking for — and we’re going to start with the absolute, don’t eat it, worst:
Everywhere fried breading and chicken bones are sold
Side of mac, $1.79
Chris: I can remember why I never choose the mac ‘n’ cheese as a side. It’s like something is hatching eggs in my mouth.
Kristin: Do they even boil these noodles there? These taste like they were boiled to serve at a denture convention two months ago and left in a damp place to rest.
Dave: This is a horror movie … and that’s not cheese.
Theodores Blues, Booze, & BBQ
Worthington Street, Springfield
Big side of mac: about $3
Kristin: Looks like Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese and the cheese sauce is watery, not really staying on the noodles.
Dave: As butter-pasta, it’s pretty good, but as mac ‘n’ cheese, it’s not. I had to dig for the cheese and even when I got some of the sauce, it wasn’t very cheesy.
Jen: I ate a couple of the noodles that fell into the sauce and it was okay, but there was very little flavor. All I can taste is the mac, no cheese.
Chris: This is a pathetic mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s mediocre, it’s bland, and average. It’s like, you know how a vampire sucks all the blood out of someone? It’s like someone sucked all the cheese out of this mac ‘n’ cheese.
Green Fields Market
144 Main St., Greenfield
Carry-out mac: $9.99 per pound
Chris: This is an al fredo wannabe.
Dave: I loved the smokey flavor and thought it was great. I liked the penne, I thought it was a different pasta to use and it worked.
Kristin: It looked greasy, but after eating it, it wasn’t greasy … or cheesy. It’s like eating a pinch of penne glued together that fell on the floor.
Jen: I’m not feeling it. All I can taste is a smokiness. It’s too much, it lacks balance.
Memorial Avenue, West Springfield
Entree mac with buffalo chicken: $14
Kristin: Spicy and garlicky, but the chicken is the star of this dish, the pasta is an after-thought. I’d order this chicken again, though, it’d be great on a salad.
Dave: I liked it. This dish was a complementary combo of the different flavors.
Jen: I liked the tiny shells and they had the bread crumbs, that was nice.
Chris: I really enjoyed this. The mix of chicken and the buffalo flavor was excellent, though the mac ‘n’ cheese was just okay.
235 Russell St., Hadley
Small side: $4.82
Kristin: This pasta is way-the-fuck undercooked.
Chris: It tastes like pumpkin. This was the worst pumpkin pie I’ve ever eaten. Who puts nutmeg in mac ‘n’ cheese?
Kristin: My auntie, a pinch of nutmeg in every savory dish. She was an excellent Italian cook. I just had a braciole flashback. Excuse me, what year is this?
Jen: I’m confused by this. I feel like they were supposed to bake this, the cheese is a liquid at the bottom.
Dave: I thought it was good, underdone, a little more milky than cheesey. I liked the nutmeg, but yeah, it was weird.
Penny’s Southern-Style Soul Food
606 Page Boulevard, Springfield
Side of mac: About $3
Kristin: I’m home, baby! Soft, yummy, cheesey, but mild, it’s held together by big chunks of melted cheese.
Jen: This is definitely comfort food. If I had a big pile of this, I’d be happy.
Chris: It’s good, but not great. Definitely has that home-cooked feel and taste to it, it just lacks a bit of flavor.
Vermont Country Deli
436 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, VT
1/2 pound of mac: $3.75
Kristin: There is a generous amount of burnt cheese on the top and the edges and it’s crispy and just the right amount of greasy. This is a compliment, by the way.
Jen: It’s mooshy, but not in a bad way, in a very-cheddar way. This brings back memories of my MeMe and the mac ‘n’ cheese she would make.
Chris: The Vermont cheddar was decadent and the baking added just a hint of smokiness.
Dave: I particularly liked the burnt crust, but it would have been better without the bacon. Still, they used a quality bacon.
Main Street, Northampton
Cheese-Fried Bites: $6.20
Chris: They took the best part of a chicken nugget and mac ‘n’ cheese and put them together.
Dave: Did. Not. Like. It tasted like a Dorito to me.
Kristin: This consistency reminds me of cacio e pepe shadone, a spaghetti pie: there’s a nice pack on the pasta so it’s not dry, but not sloppy — and it’s beer-battered. Damn that’s good.
Jen: These are good because of the batter. There’s a smokiness to the mac ‘n’ cheese. I think there’s cheddar in there or gouda, I don’t know, but I want to eat every one of them.
What’d we forget? Let us know at email@example.com.