Celebrate National Mac and Cheese Day Friday

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Where to Find the Best Mac and Cheese in St. Louis

St. Louis, MO/July 13, 2017 (STLRestaurant.News) — National Mac and Cheese Day is upon us.  Of all the celebrated food holidays and observances, this is one of our favorites in my family.  Macaroni and cheese is a simple combination of noodles, butters, and cheese that comes in a multitude of variations.  Mac and cheese can be made with a variety of cheeses, from mild to sharp, tangy to smoked, and everything in between.  It can be an artisan creation that blends familiar flavors with exotic ingredients.  Or a homey dish of cheese, butter, milk, and pasta that is as warm and satisfying as it is simple.

The origins of this classic dish are a disputed matter.  James Beard Foundation cookbook winner Clifford A.  Wright says, “there can be no doubt that its ultimate origins are Italian.”  As proof, he cites a 13th century cookbook recipe for a dish that calls for lasagna noodles to be cut into squares, cooked, and tossed with grated cheese.  Food 52 says the dish may be French in origin.  Dishes combining dough or pasta, cheese, and butter appear in several 14th century cookbooks across Italy, France, and even England’s The Forme of Cury.  American-style mac and cheese may date back to the eighteenth century.  Smithsonian Magazine says, “it most likely hails from Northern Europe, with the earliest known recorded recipe being scribbled down in 1769.”

It’s not even clear how Americans came to know this classic comfort food.  Some food historians credit Thomas Jefferson with bringing macaroni and cheese to the U.S. after a European trip that took him to Italy and France.  Others say colonists in Connecticut introduced a creamy casserole form of mac and cheese, having brought the recipe with them from England.  No matter how it got here, macaroni and cheese has become a classic—if not the quintessential American comfort food.

Most of us grew up with the blue boxed macaroni and cheese with it’s convenient combination of elbow macaroni and dried cheese sauce mix.  It was weeknight fast, and surprisingly tasty.  It was the only mac and cheese my mom ever made.  I loved the stuff, right up until the cafeteria at my elementary school began serving their version of macaroni and cheese at lunch time.  The creamy, buttery, white cheddar and Velveeta-based, baked casserole was made by the lunch ladies at South Elementary School in Fairborn, Ohio—and it put the boxed kind to shame.  It was creamy and cheesy, with the perfect toasty cheese crust on top.  If that mac and cheese was sold in a St. Louis restaurant, I would eat there every day.

Fortunately for mac and cheese lovers across the metro area, there are a lot of local restaurants that do justice to this American mainstay.  Some local eateries offer their takes on this classic as side dishes to accompany fried chicken, steak, or barbecue mains, or on their kids’ menus.  Other places feature mac and cheese as an entree that stands on its own.  Across town, you’ll find mac and cheese stirred into a creamy, saucy dish; baked under a blanket of buttery, crispy breadcrumbs; and topped with everything from bacon to asparagus relish.  You’ll even find crispy mac and cheese balls (Lotawata Creek in Fairview Heights), and a smoked gouda mac and cheese hand pie (Saturdays only at Pint Size Bakery in Lindenwood Park).

Since Friday, June 14th is National Mac and Cheese Day, we thought we’d point you to a few St. Louis restaurants that do this creamy comfort food justice.  Each has its own version of the noodle, butter, cheese combo that makes their mac and cheese worth the trip.  Here are our recommendations for five places that offer exceptional interpretations of this homespun comfort food favorite:

1. Sweetie Pies makes the mac and cheese of my dreams.  This is the closest approximation I have found to the old elementary school lunch ladies’ version I fell in love with all those years ago.  It’s super cheesy, creamy, and baked with a toasty cheese crust (no breadcrumbs), and simply delicious.  Miss Robbie Montgomery, founder of Sweetie Pie’s soul food restaurants (and one of the stars of the reality TV show Welcome to Sweetie Pies on OWN) has even shared the secrets to her signature Mac and Cheese.

VIDEO: Miss Robbie Montgomery shows Food Network’s Guy Fieri how to make Sweetie Pie’s Mac and Cheese.

There have been several iterations of Sweetie Pie’s Restaurants over the years. Currently, you’ll find this incredible mac and cheese at Sweetie Pie’s The Upper Crust, 3643 Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis’ Grand Center neighborhood.

2. Steve’s Hot Dogs at 2131 Marconi Ave. on The Hill is known for two things, hot dogs, as the name suggests, and mac and cheese.  They offer the great American comfort food five ways, from the unadorned, silky “Madeline Mac & Cheese Bowl” to the decadent layers of rotini, alfredo, parmesan, cheddar, bacon, and fried onion known as “The Macgyver Bowl,” the choices offer a little something for everyone.  At Steve’s you can get mac and cheese topped with bacon, or chili.  They even have a sweet and spice combo called the “Kevin Bacon Jamaican Bowl” which starts with a slice of pepper jack that’s topped with Mac & Cheese, honey chipotle, crisscrossed bacon slices, grilled bell peppers and then more bacon.  Can’t decide between a hot dog and mac and cheese? Have a Gorilla Mac & Cheese Dog: a smoked Nathan’s hotdog, topped with creamy mac and cheese, bacon, and French fried onions.

3. Mak’s Pub and Grub is a family owned bar and grill that specializes in gourmet “Mak” and Cheese.  The Princeton Heights restaurant (6109 Gravois Ave.) opened last year offering six different, creative versions of macaroni and cheese.  The choices run the gamut from a “Classic Mak” made with their melted four-cheese blend, cavatappi (corkscrew noodles) and toasted pretzel crumbs, to the “Brinner Mak” made with brown sugar bacon, hash brown, a sunny side egg, and corn flakes.  You can even get mac and cheese stuffed into a grilled cheese sandwich!

4. The Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese at Herbie’s is legendary.  This dinner menu entree is a brilliant combination of lobster tail, four-cheese mornay, asiago gratin, corn, and truffle oil.  Since July 14th is also Bastille Day, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate America’s favorite comfort food than ordering the Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese at Herbie’s (8100 Maryland Ave, Clayton) French-inspired American bistro.

5. The Thai Pork Mac N’ Cheese at the Walnut Grill is something special.  It’s loaded with four cheese alfredo and smoked gouda, then topped with Thai-seasoned pulled pork, asparagus relish, and sweet chili sauce.  Not exactly a traditional mix of flavors, this mac and cheese is creamy, smoky, spicy, and oh so delicious.  Walnut Grill is a boutique restaurant chain based in Pittsburgh, Penn.  There are currently two locations in St. Louis (1386 Clarkson Clayton Center in Ellisville and 4401 State Hwy K in O’Fallon, MO), with a new Sunset Hills location (10797 Sunset Hills Plaza) set to open in August.

Bonus Pick: Mangia Italiano at 3145 South Grand Blvd in south St, Louis offers a baked lobster mac and cheese that can be ordered with gluten free pasta.  You’d never guess this rich and creamy dish is gluten free.

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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon is an experienced writer, editor, and broadcast journalist with a strong news background. She’s worked in radio and television news, and for national and international newswire services.

She began her career in public radio while still a student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (where she earned a B.A. in Communications). She soon made the jump to news/talk radio, handling assignments from field reporting, airborne traffic, and news anchor, to producing and hosting daily talk shows. She’s also worked in television, most recently as the inaugural producer for The Allman Report on KDNL-TV 30, and as a news writer and reporter for national and international newswire services.