By Allen Pierleoni
Mac 'n' cheese could be renamed "comfort 'n' carbs." Over the past decade, "gourmet" versions of the ultimate comfort food have found cachet among many high-end restaurants and their nostalgia-minded customers. On the other end of the spectrum is this: Kraft Foods reports selling 1 million-plus boxes of its classic (since 1937) mac 'n' cheese each day.
Now the 255-unit Noodles & Company, a "fast-casual" concept chain with restaurants in our area, has added three tasty versions of mac 'n' cheese to its menu, through May 1 ("Mac & Cheese All Grown Up").
Lunch pal Michael Troyan and I finally found parking in jam-packed Loehmann's Plaza, took a booth in the clean, airy, well-lit space, and sampled the trio ($7.95 each). Troyan is the community-relations manager for the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Citrus Heights.
Tip: Thoroughly mix the elbow macaroni with the other ingredients in your bowl before you dig in; that way, the grated cheeses melt and all the flavors and textures merge.
Our favorite was the "Fancy Pants," white truffle oil, sauteed "baby" portobello mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and toasted breadcrumbs. As good as mac 'n' cheese gets.
Second on our list was Southwestern chili mac ("Spicy"), macaroni with red chilis, ground beef, cheddar and jack cheeses and diced green onion. The heat was minimal, but bottles of Sriracha red-chili sauce are on each table.
No. 3 was the "Hearty," with ground beef, bits of bacon, two cheeses, tomato, green onion and breadccrumbs. The corporate ad campaign calls it a "deconstructed bacon cheeseburger," but that's a huge stretch.
Noodles & Company stores are at Loehmann's Plaza, 2555 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 484-7250; 7405 Laguna Blvd., Elk Grove, (916) 478-0373; and 1186 Roseville Parkway, Roseville, (916) 780-1441.
More information: www.noodles.com.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni at (916) 321-1128.