maison hugo, upper east side

FullSizeRender (1)

I think French-style macaroni and cheese is definitely a category all its own. The sauce is usually thinner than American versions and it almost always is finished with a few seconds under the broiler. “Le Mac & Cheese” at new spot Maison Hugo is no exception and might even be the textbook version of this variation.

Here, the mac is doused in Mornay sauce (like a Bechamel but with shredded Gruyere and egg yolk added), mixed with Emmenthal and Parmesan cheeses, and studded with French ham. Even with the Mornay, this is on the lighter end of the mac and cheese continuum. The pasta and ham are only lightly coated with sauce and cheese, so this isn’t a gut-bomb of a dish. Plus, the portion is fairly small (but not too small), so you can polish it off and feel satisfied without getting rolled out of there.

My personal preference is for a slightly gooier mac, but the blend of ingredients in Maison Hugo’s version make it a very solid dish. The saltiness of the ham mixed with the light Mornay is a very French and very tasty combination.

Maison Hugo, 132 E. 61st St, 212.832.0500

two tablespoons, union square

IMG_9572Most people have a love/hate relationship with the Union Square Holiday Market, but there is no denying that they have upped their food game in recent years. You can nibble on everything from Momofuku Milk Bar cookies to Sigmund’s Pretzels as you peruse dozens of booths of ornaments, artisanal salts and vintage posters.

This year I discovered the two tablespoons booth, which is located in what might be called the food court area of the market (near the George Washington statue). I saw someone carrying one of the cardboard bowls of mac a few booths away and followed the smell of cheese until I found it. While the owners don’t have a brick and mortar in New York, they sell at various markets around the city and will even cater events.

The booth seems to be selling at least two types every day: smoked Gouda and paprika, and goat cheese and rosemary. Since smoked Gouda might be my absolute favorite mac cheese, I obviously went for that. They top it with a sprinkling of panko right before serving, but otherwise this is a stovetop mac recipe (no baking, no crust).

While the paprika had a nice spice kick, I wanted more smoky flavor from the Gouda. But, I enjoyed how creamy the sauce was and I polished it off in minutes. I’d request it without the panko though; I think a breadcrumb topping is really only necessary when it’s a baked mac, otherwise it’s just kind of flavorless crunch. That being said, this is a pretty perfect snack while you’re making your way through the market and, as I’ve mentioned before, there are hardly any places that make tasty grab-and-go mac. Plus, it’s only available until the market closes up shop around Christmas, so try it soon!

Two Tablespoons, Union Square Holiday Market, Union Square

heidi’s house, upper east side

FullSizeRender

Heidi’s House is a place that has been on my radar for years, but because of its location (far, far away from downtown), it wasn’t until this week that I finally made it uptown to check it out. I wasn’t the only one with a craving for winter dishes that night: even at 6 PM the wait was almost an hour. Part of this, of course, has to do with the fact that the restaurant is tiny, but you can definitely attribute a large part of its success to its macaroni and cheese. Almost every table had an order, which is served adorably in the clay pot pictured above.

So, what sets this place apart from others? The attention to detail. Not only does HH use solely organic cheese in their mac, but they make each one to order. There’s a helpful note on the menu that the dish will take about 25 minutes to cook, so you can request it for your main course while still deciding on your appetizers.

It arrives, bubbling (please do yourself a favor and wait a few minutes for it to stop steaming before you dig in!), and perfuming the air with its wonderful mix of cheddar, mozzarella (underused mac cheese!) and parmesan. You can opt for various mix-ins; I went for broccoli, but the bacon seemed to be the most popular. There’s a wonderful crust, thanks to the combo of the mozz and parm and the interior sauce is more cheesy than saucy; this is the kind of mac that will have strings of cheese hanging off your fork as you reach for a bite. As for the flavor, this is lightly seasoned, the cheese blend is really the star here.

My one complaint was the noodle: HH uses the rotini, which is fine as a mac-scooper, but it was just a tad overcooked.

Is it destination worthy? I would say it’s neighborhood destination mac, but not quite as awe-inspiring as some of my other hands-down favorites.

Heidi’s House, 308 East 78th Street #3, 212.249.0069

murray’s cheese, west village

IMG_9248

You may recall that I’ve already covered Murray’s mac and cheese in a previous post, but this post refers to the grab-and-go variety (not to be confused with the refrigerated take-and-bake!) that you get at the cheese shop, not Murray’s Cheese Bar, the restaurant.

Murray’s Cheese is my happy place. It is conveniently located halfway between my gym and my apartment, which means I NEVER have to go hungry on my walk back. I’m here at least a few times a week, picking up snacking cheeses, cheese for recipes, yogurt for breakfast, and, occasionally, chocolates and caramels. And, since I’m convinced that mac and cheese is the ultimate pregnancy superfood, I’ve been frequenting this spot even more than normal.

Many people don’t even realize that the shop has hot food. Apart from selling cheese, Murray’s actually has a dedicated grilled cheese counter (which, by the way, makes some of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city). In one corner of this, you will find their mac and cheese operation. You choose your size and your mix-ins, they stick it under a broiler to get nice and bubbly, and finally they hand it over to you in a portable paper cup. The whole process takes just a few minutes. Note: you CAN’T choose your types of cheese or pasta, but, they’re cheese experts; they know what they’re doing.

While their exact cheese blend is proprietary and a closely-guarded secret (I believe it’s the same as at the restaurant), it’s rich and nuanced; you definitely taste a mix of sharp, nutty and creamy cheeses. As you can see in the picture, Murray’s uses radiatori, which picks up a lot of the thick sauce. I opted for chicken and spinach as my mix-ins, which were tasty, but I would have liked a little bit more of each. Each finished product also gets sprinkled with a dusting of breadcrumbs, which lends a nice little crunch.

My major reason for loving this mac — apart from the fact that it tastes good — is that I don’t know any other place that’s churning out high-quality dishes like this while still making them portable. Sure, there’s S’MAC or Macbar, but you can’t really walk and eat those; even if you do order them as carryout.

Plus, if you eat it after a workout, there are no calories. That’s just science.

Murray’s Cheese, 254 Bleecker St, 212-243-3289

almond, flatiron

photo via almond's instagram

photo via almond’s instagram

You guys! Exciting news! We have a new member of the highly-elite destination mac club. Everyone, meet Almond‘s macaroni and cheese.

This mac fires on all cylinders for me: its sauce is very rich and creamy without being one-note, the pasta is not too soft, and, as an added bonus, it has truffles and prosciutto. Generally I like my mac virgin, if you will, but the truffles and salty bite of the prosciutto really worked well for this dish and made it way more multi-dimensional. I also enjoy any mac that takes a spin under the broiler (especially when it’s in an adorable ceramic ramekin), there’s nothing like digging into that crust.

If I have one criticism, it’s that I don’t love penne as a mac shape. Plenty of my favorite spots use it, but I find that the standard elbow makes for a much better pasta-to-sauce ratio.

Regardless, this place is absolutely worth a trip. And the portion is big enough that, if you’re not almost six months pregnant (hiyo), you can definitely share.

Almond, 12 East 22nd St., 212.228.7557

by chloe, greenwich village

Sweet Potato Mac n Cheese by CHLOE. 0506152271v2

I am not a vegan (what?!). BUT, I am not against vegan food. That is, as long as it’s made from actual ingredients and not mashed up vegetable bits meant to resemble chicken fingers or American cheese slices.

I was lucky enough to meet Chef Chloe Coscarelli a few months ago at my office. She brought me one of her signature vegan raspberry tiramisu cupcakes, so we were friends for life. What’s wonderful about Chloe’s food and recipes is that while everything is vegan, you cook with it in its intended state. So the natural vibrancy of the fruit and vegetables really shines through. You’re not eating over-salted lentils shaped to look like fish sticks.

In an event bigger stroke of luck, Chloe’s first restaurant, by CHLOE., just opened a short walk away from my apartment. There are delicious kale salads, hearty veggie burgers, vegan ice creams that you would never know didn’t have dairy, AND, macaroni and cheese.

Wait, vegan mac and cheese?

But, I mean, look at that picture! Chloe’s mac and cheese is made with whole wheat pasta, sweet potato sauce and shiitake “bacon.” Does it taste like Velveeta? No, but that’s not the point. This is a wholly satisfying dish, albeit not cheesy in the traditional sense. The creamy sweet potato sauce brings a comforting salty-sweet flavor, while the shiitake bacon is crispy, full of umami and absolutely addictive.

So, the next time you’re looking for your mac fix, but need something a little less gut-bursting than a bacon-blue cheese number, please do check out Chloe’s fabulous cooking.

And don’t leave without trying the kale ice cream. Trust.

by CHLOE., 185 Bleecker St., 212.290.8000

new york macaroni co., east village

new york mac and cheese

I know what you’re thinking: “Do we really need another macaroni and cheese-specific restaurant?” We already have S’MAC and Macbar and loads of others.

You guys, this is New York; we passed the point of need many moons ago.

So, with that said, I’d like to introduce everyone to one of the newest kids on the block, New York Macaroni Co. While they took over the storefront of my beloved Puddin’ (rest in peace), if any restaurant is going to usurp a pudding-specific spot, what could be better than a mac and cheese joint?

What sets NYMC apart from the other mac spots are two things: the speed that the orders are ready and the surface area-to-volume ratio. As you can see from the above photo, this mac has a gorgeous crust, which is due in part to the shallowness of its disposable baking vessel. This system means almost every noodle has a bit of crunchy breadcrumb-cheese topping and — I would imagine — also helps with a speedy cooking time. The latter is especially handy when the drunken masses of St. Mark’s descend upon the tiny space.

Rather than just trying the traditional cheddar, we opted for the Ol’ Smokey, which is made with smoked bacon, smoked Gouda, peas and fresh-cracked pepper. First off: bacon, peas and cheese should be a holy trinity, much like a mirepoix. It’s never not good. Second: WHY don’t more people used smoked Gouda in their macs? It’s one of my favorites.

While I wish that there had been a bit more bechamel sauce and a more pronounced Gouda flavor, this was certainly a satisfying snack. The bacon added a wonderfully salty kick. I especially loved the use of cavatappi pasta, which is one of the best shapes for mac and cheese.

And, if you’re really going for broke (Saturday night, perhaps?), you can always get your mac inside a sandwich. Whoa.

New York Macaroni Co., 102 St. Mark’s Place, 212.995.1400