It’s time to start noodlin’ around, New Orleans. We could take a cue from Texas, and pair mac and cheese with smoked, sooty dishes. Or live up to our reputation as “northernmost Caribbean city” and adore macaroni pie like they do in Barbados and Trinidad.
We’re not there yet, but I’m seeing new expressions of mac and cheese that tell me we’re catching up to the craze for upscale comfort food. Macaroni also taps into the handmade pasta trend, and cheese sauce is a perfectly familiar canvas for adding ever more sophisticated and artisanal ingredients.
Barbecue joints and gastropubs are a natural vehicle for this soulful, filling side. As more such places settle in New Orleans, I bet we’ll be seeing more mac and cheese.
Where to get it now:
Capdeville, known for an inventive cocktail program and chic bar food, offers their addictive macaroni and cheese in starter and entrée sizes. The gorgeous sauce is deeply flavored with brown butter, Parmesan, and soft sage, and has body without being overbearing. The macaroni is tossed with a pop of tender peas and pancetta cubes, and gets earthiness from the truffle oil drizzled on top.
The Mid-City pub Twelve Mile Limit carries an original craft cocktail menu, as well as house made barbecue brisket, pulled pork sliders, and sausage po-boys. Sides include fantastic velvety-smoked jalapeno rockets, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with caramelized tipped cream cheese. More traditional is their home-style mac and cheese, baked with a mild and sharp Cheddar sauce. Evaporated milk keeps it creamy, and “it pairs well with barbecue,” says Tom Shortall, the pub’s barbecue master from Texas.
Of the more established barbecue places, I found The Joint’s mac to be sharper and tangier than most, maybe due to a shake of Worcestershire sauce.
Fresh chives and sweet crabmeat from local fisherman Joey Fonseca weave through the artisanal macaroni and cheese at Ritz-Carlton’s M Bistro. Four cheeses-creamy Boursin, Parmesan, nutty Gruyère, and goat cheese from Mississippi’s Ryal’s Goat Dairy- float under a crunchy top of panko breadcrumbs. This gorgeous, delicate mac rotates on the restaurants specials, but you can ask for it anytime.
On the more rustic side is the mac and cheese at the Maison Dupuy Hotel’s Bistreaux. It’s a substantial side or starter, served in a mini copper pot that recalls French peasant fare. Smoked Gouda and soft garlic flavor the sauce clinging to the penne noodles; crunchy cilantro sprigs brighten the top.
You can also make it a double on Tchoupitoulas Street: Cochon Butcher’s Cajun twist on mac is thick but not too saucy, and scented with soft onions (derived, maybe, from kase spatzle). This version gets its smoke from its top of toasted-brown cheese (and possibly a dash of hot sauce) – not pork. You’ll want to go around the corner for that.
Cochon Butcher’s richer rendition is tumbled with pancetta wedges and sautéed celery, and is seasonally right with notes of thyme, sage and rosemary. It gets a dusting of pesto breadcrumbs on top.
The mac at Dooky Chase is available on the menu, if not always on the lunch buffet. Of the 15 different macs I sampled for this story, theirs has the eggiest, most custard-like interior, with wonderfully crisp, caramelized edges. The best part: I always seem to get these edges.
The recipe for the mac at Rocky and Carlo’s in Chalmette is basically unchanged (adding only a second, sharper Cheddar) since the Tommaseo and Gioe families started serving it in 1965. Even the small order of mac and cheese (based on steamed, ropy, hollow perciatelli noodles) is football sized, with the classic toasted Cheddar on top.
“Eighty percent of customers who come through Rocky and Carlo’s get the mac as a side,” said Tommy Tommaseo, one of the restaurant’s owners (and son of the late, beloved Rocky.)
What’s truly special here are the house-made, fresh-daily gravies that decorate the mac and cheese sides. If your entrée is veal cutlet or ham steak, you’ll want the caramel brown gravy (thickened with slices of roasted beef) with your pasta, while veal Parmesan eaters usually drizzle their mac with the deeply sweet tomato sauce.
Macaroni and Cheese Croquet
Courtesy of Chef Dominique Macquet at Dominique’s on Magazine
• ¼ pound white Cheddar cheese shredded
• ¼ pound yellow Cheddar cheese shredded
• 4 cups traditional Béchamel sauce
• 4 cups egg wash, seasoned with salt and pepper
• 4 cups flour
• 4 cups panko breadcrumbs
• 1 cup duckfat or vegetable oil, enough to pan fry (not deep fry)
Mix Béchamel, pasta, and cheese in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Mold in hands (ice cream scoop works well). Dip croquette in flour, then egg wash, then panko. Cook until golden brown and finish in oven at 350°F for 5 to 7 minutes.
Where to Get it
1001 Toulouse St., 586-8000
520 Capdeville St., 371-5161
930 Tchoupitoulas St., 588-2123
930 Tchoupitoulas St., 588-7675
2301 Orleans Ave., 821-0600
921 Canal St., 670-2828
613 W. St. Bernard Hwy., 279-8323
801 Poland Ave., 949-3232
500 S. Telemachus