Most of my italian friends would be horrified if they knew just how much I love macaroni and cheese. They would snub their big aquiline noses at this beloved comfort food of mine and scoff, “You Americans. You just don’t know how to eat.”
But if any of them, if any single one of those pasta-snob Italians on that whole peninsula, ate just one forkful of the mac and cheese that I had the great pleasure of eating this weekend, they would never, ever say another bad thing about it ever again. “America, you win this time,” they would say.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Italian pasta (above all other ethnic foods in fact), and on most days I even love most of the Italians I know. So this is nothing against them. But the mac and cheese I had Saturday night at S’MAC in the East Village deserves worldwide recognition. Its praises deserve to be sung from rooftops around the globe. So I’m starting here.
At S’MAC its all macaroni and cheese and not much else. The macs, made with either regular, whole wheat or glutten free noodles, all come in cast iron skillets ranging from the small “nosh” to the humongous “partay!” and can be topped with breadcrumbs or without. The menu lists 12 different variations or the option of building your own from their wide selection of cheeses (gruyere, manchego and pecorino to name a few) and “mix-ins” such as Andouille sausages, roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives.
While indecision usually strikes me at moments like these, I knew right away what I wanted when I read the description: the Parisienne. “Mac-n-Cheese for the ‘upper crust’. Creamy Brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitake mushrooms & fresh rosemary.” SOLD.
When it came to the table, the “major munch” I had ordered was a lot bigger than I had expected. The skillet, filled to the very brim with the most beautifully baked-to-a-bubbly-warm-brown crispy gold crust, was big enough to easily feed two people. This was exciting. I knew I would eat every last noodle in that skillet and scrape off every last bit of melted cheese if it took me all night.
This mac and cheese smelled incredible, like a cheese-a-holic’s wildest fantasy, but maddening as it was, that smell didn’t even hold a candle to the taste of that first bite. Thick, creamy, ooey gooey cheesy Brie amazingness seemed to melt in my mouth and into my very heart. It was one of those bites that makes you close your eyes for a second and try and memorize everything about the moment.
Dear God if I had to relive one moment for all of eternity, THIS would be it.
I dug my fork into the cheese-filled skillet, poking through the thick, chewy top crust and resurfacing with dangling noodles covered in creamy gold cheese, peppered with bits of fresh rosemary and the smooth, roasted shiitake mushrooms that tangled themselves amongst the macaroni. I was in heaven. So much so that as I happily chomped along, I completely forgot there were figs inside. (A note about figs: I am obsessed with them. Last summer, any corner fruit vendor that had them got my business and any dish or dessert that includes them is usually ordered my way. When I left Italy and moved to the city, one of the things I brought with me was a small jar of fig preserves to go with the wedge of pecorino I brought my roommate.) When I took another heaping forkful and bit down on a soft chunk of that oh-so-sweet familiar fruit, I seriously almost lost it.
“Oh! A fig! Oh my God, a fig! Oh, I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.”
Flaneur just smiled at me. He knows when to let me just enjoy the moment.
The mushrooms were laced throughout the mac and cheese but the figs were less frequent, which in my opinion was a great thing. They were so sweet that each bite turned into a deliciously fun game of anticipation. Will this one have it? How ’bout this one? Oh wait, there it is! And just like that, it was a sugary sweet explosion of taste mixing in with the cheese, mushrooms and rosemary. Any more figs would have been overpowering. These were the exact perfect amount.
But like I said, the “major munch” size was massive and after a certain point, beyond the point of my stomach feeling like it was about to burst and my jeans feeling like they were ready to give out on me, I had to stop. I couldn’t go on. They say you should stop eating when you feel feel full and for me that had been about 8 huge forkfuls ago. So I asked for a to-go box (which they had a million of, because I guess lots of people find themselves in my predicament) and packed the last of my delicious mac and cheese to take home with me.
We hadn’t even been home for half an hour when I said, “Oh screw it. I can’t wait till tomorrow. I wanna finish my mac and cheese.” And even at room temperature (because I hadn’t even put it in the fridge yet) and eaten out of a styrofoam container, it was the best damn macaroni and cheese I have ever had.