Photos courtesy of Aaron Simmons
Macaroni and cheese entrees are making a comeback in restaurants all over the United States, and now it’s more popular than ever.
Thanks to former President Thomas Jefferson, Americans have been able to indulge in the marriage of pasta and melted cheese since the early 1800s. When Jefferson returned to the White House from a European vacation, he brought with him more than just a few souvenirs. He brought back a newfound love for a dish he called “macaroni pie.” Though Jefferson probably wasn’t the first American to combine the two ingredients, his endorsement helped popularize what every American now knows as macaroni and cheese.
Today, more and more restaurants are putting these cheesy concoctions on their menu — even restaurants in our backyard. Three Fargoans, “Alex Annie’s,” “Kenzie Kraft” and “Vicky Velveeta,” did the delicious duty of sampling three restaurants’ macaroni and cheese entrees to create downtown Fargo’s first guide to top-tasting mac-and-cheese entrees.
A popular destination for the bar-hopping crowd, the Drunken Noodle boasts many Asian-inspired homemade dishes, such as the “drunken noodle,” the restaurant’s best seller, and pad thai.
“There are times when the late-night sales (of all dishes) between the hours of midnight and 2:30 a.m. equates to the amount that we sell all day between lunch and dinner,” said General Manager Akharadech Cobb Nontula.
During the day, the food joint on Northern Pacific Avenue in downtown Fargo is as quaint as a restaurant can be. But on weekend evenings, long lines and customers’ desire to have food orders delivered to their tables in a to-go box makes the establishment’s ambiance resemble that of a fast-food stop and personify the word “drunken.”
Drunken Noodle’s “mac and cheese” is a close second in popularity behind its self-titled dish, Nontula said.
For just $9, a steaming bowl of noodles with a yellow sauce that began as milk, butter and three different cheeses, can be ordered. The three cheesy critics weighed in. Their ratings are below. Students’ names were altered to be cheesier, and to keep full names out so they felt free to give honest responses.
|Mac & Cheese||Alex Annie’s||Kenzie Kraft||Vicky Velveeta|
|Taste||4 – It could benefit from a little salt and pepper.||4 – Creamy||4.5|
|Consistency||5 – It has a super creamy sauce that stuck to the noodles well.||3||5|
|Cheesiness||4 – It’s very good, but I have had cheesier dishes.||3 – Not very cheesy.||2|
|Presentation||5 – The dish was beautiful, especially since the only experience I’ve had here is during a late-night visit in a to-go box.||4||2.5|
|Overall Restaurant Experience||4 – Other than the order coming out fairly slow, it is a very unique space with a little energy.||4 – Service was a bit slow.||3 – Little slow, very casual.|
OLD BROADWAY SPORTS ZONE
After exciting Drunken Noodle and crossing NP Avenue, the sight of a sports bar invigorated the taste-testing students. While graffiti coated the walls at the Drunken Noodle, televisions fill most sight lines at Old Broadway (O.B.) Sports Zone, and complimentary popcorn filled the table and began to fill their stomachs.
At $12.99, the “O.B. Bacon and Beer Cheese Mac” is one of only a few pasta dishes on its menu, but with the way it was presented with a side of garlic bread and extra grated cheese atop, it could be argued the bar specializes in elegant mac-and-cheese dishes.
In the days of Jefferson, the term “macaroni” stood for any type of pasta. The O.B. uses the same principle — a type of penne noodle was used in its cheesy pasta.
Because of the faint beer flavor, the dish had a taste that didn’t wholly resonate with two of the samplers. However, it was a unique dish through and through. Here’s how it stacked up against the other two dishes.
|O.B. Bacon and Beer Cheese Mac||Alex Annie’s||Kenzie Kraft||Vicky Velveeta|
|Taste||4 – There are lots of obscure flavors (beer, bacon, cheese) to create a very unique dish.||3 – Kind of a funky taste.||3.5 – Slight beer taste.|
|Consistency||3 – It was a bit too liquidy for my preference, but I’m aware that some people might like it.||3||4 – Creamy|
|Cheesiness||5 – The extra cheese on the top and mixed in made for a very cheesy experience.||4 – I wish the cheese on top was melted a bit more.||5|
|Presentation||5 – It was top notch, elegant and beautiful.||3||4|
|Overall Restaurant Experience||5 – There were lots of things to look at, comfortable seating and good popcorn.||3.5||4 – There was lots to look at, dim lighting and complimentary popcorn.|
WURST BIER HALL
After recrossing the same street, the students visited a place famous for its varied beer selection and Das Boot. Though the ales and lagers may bring in new customers, the homemade spaetzle noodles in Wurst Bier Hall’s “spaetzle mac and cheese” ($10) have been enticing regulars back into its First Avenue taphouse.
“It is one of our top sellers,” said Jason Cossette, a manager at Wurst. “I’ve never had a bad one (get sent back).”
Also, don’t forget to pick your sausage. Each cheesy spaetzle plate comes with a sausage of choice — and the choices are wild, literally. Your options vary greatly, from the “classics” of bratwurst, German sausage and hot Italian sausage, to the “gourmets” of jalapeno cheddar, Hawaiian and Philly cheesesteak sausage, and the “exotics” of elk, rabbit and wild boar.
|Spaetzle Mac & Cheese||Alex Annie’s||Kenzie Kraft||Vicky Velveeta|
|Taste||5 – The addition of the bratwurst and the crusted top brought this dish from a 4 to a 5.||5||3 – Mac and cheese by itself; 4.5 – Taste w/ bratwurst|
|Consistency||5 – It was a little more runny than I normally like, but with this dish, it worked.||4.5 – A bit runny but it works with the overall dish.||4 – “Dumpling-y” noodles|
|Cheesiness||4 – There wasn’t much for extra cheese, but the sauce definitely provided a lot of cheesy flavor.||4||2|
|Presentation||4 – It was simple and tasteful with not a lot of flair, but it worked.||5||4.5|
|Overall Restaurant Experience||5 – With the music and the long, family-style tables, it provided a very fun atmosphere.||5 – The atmosphere was very different in a good way. I loved it. There was good music and bright with big windows.||4 – Liked the music, big window and natural lighting. There was lots to look at, but the service was kind of slow.|
An afternoon sampling mac and cheese is a unique and delicious way to spend time downtown. Grab two friends and retrace the steps taken on that brisk Sunday afternoon. Comment below to let us know what you thought.
Did we miss any other value macaroni-and-cheese hotspots in downtown Fargo or Moorhead? If so, reach out. If there’s enough interest, “Mac and Cheesy: The Sequel” could be on the horizon.
*This article originally appeared on Doing it Downtown, AreaVoices.