There's nothing quite like finding a good version of that classic comfort food, macaroni and cheese. Now that we are all grown up, it's a rare treat to find a dish that adds something new to the iconic meal, yet still makes us recall our childhood.
There is definitely an art to making the perfect macaroni and cheese -- not too chewy or clumpy -- just baked to perfection with just the right types and amounts of cheese, a noodle that can handle the weight of the cheesy goodness like a champ without needing to be chewed to death.
For this week's Battle of the Dishes, we've searched high and low to find unique takes on this comfort food staple. Let the battle begin!
In one corner: The Main Ingredient
2337 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix
The first thing you notice when grabbing a table at The Main Ingredient is the very casual vibe of the place. There is ample outdoor seating. Inside, this restored house is a little more cozy, but the warm, dark woods are welcoming.
A tiny bar that serves up will please beer enthusiasts with a sampling of microbrewed beers including locals Four Peaks 'Hop Knot' and Oak Creek Amber Ale. Come during happy hour for half-off all draft beers and mixed drinks. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
The weather was perfect, so we picked a place on the patio. Our waiter immediately greeted us and took our drink and food order. Big shock, we ordered Mindy's Mac & Cheese, $7.
Our food came out quickly. It smelled good, but even the savory aroma of roasted green chilies couldn't hide the fact that the top of the dish looked a little burned. Diving fork first into the dish, we noticed that there was a bit of resistance, because the top layer of cheese had a rubbery texture that only got tougher as the heat escaped the dish.
Under the cheesy helmet, the consistency was much better. The first few bites were quite tasty. Really, how could you go wrong pairing green chilies with cheddar cheese? The mix of spices worked well with the dish too; we guessed oregano, pepper and basil.
Our cheesy breakthrough was short-lived though, because as soon as the dish began to cool, the cheese congealed and the texture made the dish hard to finish.
In the other corner: The District
320 N. Third St. in Phoenix
Walking into The District for a casual lunch or dinner, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the very upscale feel to the place, but not to worry. The restaurant sits at the southeast corner of the Downtown Sheraton, which means that the clientele ranges from business folks to hotel guests to tourists, so it's easy to fit right in.
The bar area is quite large and offers a number of microbrews including Stone IPA, Nimbus Oatmeal Stout and Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Stop by during happy hour, Monday-Saturday, 3-7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close, when most brews are $3 and the menu includes dishes that are $3-5, including their mac-n-cheese, $4.
Unfortunately, we missed the boat on the discounted price, but we didn't mind paying the full $10 during lunchtime.
The mac and cheese is served in a personal-sized baking dish and the first thing to notice is the aroma of the spicy andouille sausage. It kind of hypnotizes your senses and then when you snap back to reality, there is it. Piping hot and delicious. Topped with cheesy crumbs and baked just right, we dug in, risking serious tongue burnage.
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The District uses Schreiner's Beer Hots as their sausage of choice, they are sliced not too thick, not too thin and added with the perfectly cooked macaroni, makes for a good base for the cheese. Oh, the cheese.
Even once it cooled, the consistency remained creamy and the texture smooth to the very last bite.
The winner: The District.