Mac attack: Up close and personal with everyone’s favorite cheesy pasta

Photo: Rammelkamp Foto Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Listen, we all know that there’s a time and a place for Easy Mac. The time is 2am and the place is your freshman-year dorm. But unless you’re trapped in a 10’x10′ room in the middle of the night with nothing but a microwave, a packet of noodles and cheese powder and some running water, there’s no excuse for settling for subpar macaroni and cheese—especially in this town.

According to Monticello’s records, none other than Thomas Jefferson requested the procurement of a “mould for making macaroni” when William Short traveled to Naples in 1789. His notes stated that the machine included “a set of plates which may be changed at will, with holes of different shapes and sizes for different sorts of macaroni.” We can’t give TJ all the credit for introducing mac-n-cheese to America, but records indicate that he was a fan of the dish and may have popularized it by serving it to dinner guests during his time in office. We think he would be pleased with the many varieties of macaroni and cheese that can be found in Charlottesville these days.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but if you’re looking for some good ol’ cheesy comfort food, it’s a great place to start.

The classic

Maya Restaurant

Chef Christian Kelly doesn’t mess around when it comes to macaroni and cheese. The creamy dish starts with a béchamel before he adds just one type of cheese: aged white cheddar.

“It’s a pretty old-school approach,” Kelly says. “There’s no truffle oil or four different types of cheeses. Just a seriously sharp white cheddar.”

It’s available as a side, and Kelly recommends pairing it with pork or catfish, collard greens and a beer.

Tater-topped

The Virginian

Need some carbs with your carbs? The Virginian has been serving up the Stumble Down, with its cavatappi pasta, pepper Jack cheese and fried potato cake, for more than a decade.

“Most people mash [the potato cake] into the mac and cheese, and that creates an amazing crunchy texture,” The Virginian owner Andy McClure says.

It’s available as a $5 appetizer, but for twice that you can get a full entrée-sized plate of it.

Between the buns

Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint

If you haven’t had mac-n-cheese on a burger yet, perhaps your life has been a little too sheltered. Not only does the Greg Brady feature a mountain of gooey, creamy homemade macaroni and cheese on a bun with a griddle-top burger patty, but the whole concoction is topped with crispy Martin’s Bar-B-Q potato chips.

True to Jack Brown’s form, there’s no lettuce, tomato or anything healthy found anywhere near this burger. And, thankfully, the Greg Brady isn’t a special daily item—it’s in the “everyday burgers” section of the menu, so there’s no waiting an entire week for it to make its appearance again.

Under the sea

The Local

As if macaroni and cheese isn’t decadent enough, chef Matthew Hart at The Local adds chunks of Maine lobster to his version to put it over the top.

The dish is made-to-order, with Mountain View Marmac cheddar cheese, Parmesan, heavy cream and lobster from Seafood @ West Main married together in one pan with classic elbow macaroni noodles.

As for what to sip with your lobster mac, the guys at The Local recommend a glass of pinot grigio from Barboursville Vineyards.