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September 6, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Macaroni and cheese is so much more than boxed pasta and cheese powder. A childhood classic and picnic favorite, mac ’n’ cheese can work as a hearty side item or a filling entrée. It can be dressed up or dressed down with just a few extra touches, and Columbia restaurants are putting their own twist on the classic dish. Vox tried out four local takes on mac ’n’ cheese to get the low-down on this home-style cuisine. Columbia has varieties, which include lobster, bacon and even a gluten-free option.
Coley’s small but filling side order might be the closest to your average macaroni dish, but the zest of pepper jack cheese makes it original. The simple blend works well as a tasty side, perhaps complementing a burger or wrap. The small portion brings just enough cheesy goodness. Those who are less than fond of pepper jack might not be fans, but it’s a fresh update on a classic.
Where: Coley’s American Bistro, 15 S. Sixth St.
When: Mon. through Fri., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Mon. through Thurs., 4-10 p.m.; Fri., 4-11 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sun., 4–9 p.m.
Portion: 3- to 4-ounce side order
Types of cheese: Pepper jack and American
Room 38’s dish is the furthest from traditional mac ’n’ cheese, but it’s a tasty treat. The centerpiece for this meal is not cheese or even noodles but the sweet flavor of lobster. A scrumptious and creamy blend of cheese complements the taste without being overpowering. This dish is great for those looking for a richer flavor than the average Easy Mac.
Where: Room 38, 38 N. Eighth St.
When: Mon. through Sat., 11-1:30 a.m.; closed Sun.
Portion: 10- to 12-ounce plate
Types of cheese: Three-cheese blend including American and Parmesan
Additions: Pepper jack cheese
Bleu’s take on mac ’n’ cheese is the perfect portion for a heavy lunch. Savory bacon is mixed in for an even taste of cheese and meat in each bite. Sprinkled on top is a crunchy smattering of panko gratin, which brings a punchy spice to the dish. The heartiest of Columbia’s options, Bleu offers a variety of flavors that complement one another though so much taste might be overwhelming for some.
Where: Bleu Restaurant & Wine Bar, 811 E. Walnut St.
When: Mon., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tues. through Thurs., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri., 11-1 a.m.; Sat., 10-1 a.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Portion: Half pound
Types of cheese: Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan and cream cheese
Toppings: Bacon, panko bread crumbs
Additions: None, but can be made without bacon
With corn-based penne, an Alfredo-based sauce and the five-cheese blend baked on top, this plate delivers on the cheese front. Although it does not use the classic cheddar of many macaroni dishes, the zest of this one cannot be ignored. The noodles themselves work well as a gluten-free alternative, making this meal a scrumptious surprise. Those who need to watch their wheat finally have a worthy mac ’n’ cheese substitute. The Rome offers a version with regular noodles, as well.
Where: The Rome, 114 S. Ninth St.
When: Closed Mon.; Tues. through Sat., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun., noon to 9 p.m.
Portion: Approximately 22-ounce plate
Types of cheese: Cheddar, Romana, American, mozzarella and provolone
Additions: Chicken or shrimp