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New Times / Art

The following article was posted on June 9th, 2017, in the New Times - Volume 31, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 31, Issue 46

One mac to rule them all: New Times staffers eat through SLO County's cheesiest offerings

By RYAH COOLEY AND KAREN GARCIA

Our friendship was sealed at Black Sheep in San Luis Obispo when we bonded over our shared love of their original pub mac ’n’ cheese, in all its gooey, luscious, baked glory.

We were happy but wondered if there was more? Could there be another mac ’n’ cheese out there for us? So we took on the burden, in the name of journalism, and ate our way through seven different cheesy, noodle-filled delicacies at some choice spots in SLO County. Our findings were sometimes less than tasty, but the journey was worth the effort.

Comfort Market

116 W. Branch St., AG

Mac and Cheese


COMFORT MARKET
With béchamel sauce, Gouda cheese, and bacon, Comfort Market’s mac and cheese is easily in our top three.
PHOTO BY RYAH COOLEY

A charming spot to sit in the sun on the patio and people watch in the cute, historic downtown Arroyo Grande Village.

Stand-out ingredients: Béchamel sauce, Gouda cheese, and bacon (for an extra chrage).

Cost: $16 with bacon, $12 without*

Portion: Good for one person, not shareable.

Overall flavor: On point. If you’re looking for a balanced mac ’n’ cheese with natural ingredients, this is it. There was a generous amount of bacon that added to the flavor without overpowering it.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: Masterfully done. With every dip of the fork, strands of cheese lovingly held on to each noodle.

Service: Even though it’s a counter service place, we were frequently checked on.

Rating: 4 out of 5 noodles.

Rooster Creek Tavern

200 E. Branch St., AG

Mac ’n’ Cheese Pizza


ROOSTER CREEK TAVERN
While Rooster Creek Tavern’s mac ’n’ cheese pizza is a creative twist on a traditional dish, it fell short with the heavy use of truffle oil.
PHOTO BY RYAH COOLEY

If you want to be greeted with the sight of friendly roosters crossing the road while enjoying a meal on the patio side of this restaurant then the delights of Rooster Creek Tavern are for you.

Stand-out ingredients: White sauce and truffle oil.

Cost: $14

Portion: The pizza is medium-sized, big enough for two, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can squeeze in that third friend who’s always ready to go on a food adventure.

Overall flavor: After two bites, all we could taste was truffle oil, aside from what seemed like plain noodles sprinkled on top of the pizza.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: While we give the establishment some recognition for taking a traditional pasta dish and giving it a twist, cheese should ooze from the sides as you separate each slice, but it failed to do even that. There might have been more white sauce than cheese, but we did like that the pizza crust didn’t overpower the rest.

Service: Sadly, we were rarely checked in on and were only visited by our server twice during our visit.

Rating: 1 out of 5 noodles.

Black Sheep Bar and Grill

117 Chorro St., SLO

The Original Pub Mac ’n’ Cheese


BLACK SHEEP BAR AND GRILL
Sometimes your first love is the one. This proved to be the case for us and Black Sheep Bar and Grill’s pub mac ’n’ cheese.
PHOTO BY RYAH COOLEY

This bustling pub with a cozy fireplace is the place to kick back with a beer or strong cocktail after work and dig into some delicious comfort food while chatting with friends or watching the game.

Stand-out ingredients: Black Sheep is keeping the particular cheesy ingredients secret, but we love the baked top. We opted for the original pub mac ’n’ cheese, but the restaurant also offers versions with tri-tip, buffalo chicken, and more.

Cost: $10.95 (includes a side salad or fries)

Portion: Hearty enough to share or to take home half for leftovers.

Overall flavor: Perfection. This is the gold standard for mac ’n’ cheese, guys.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: From the size of the elbow macaroni, to the lightly baked cheese on top, to the gooey glory contained beneath, everything just works here. There is no noodle-cheese separation weirdness going on. We suspect some kind of Velveeta-type substance might be at play here, but it’s so delicious that we just don’t care.

Service: Even though Black Sheep is nearly always packed, our server was cheerful and checked in frequently to see if we needed anything.

Rating: 5 out of 5 noodles.

Indigo Moon

1980 Main St., Cambria

Mac and Cheese


INDIGO MOON
While the presentation was nice, Indigo Moon’s mac and cheese with Manchego and white cheddar wasn’t our favorite.
PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA

Cambria is known for its small-town homey feel and this little restaurant embodies just that. The setup is perfect for a laid-back dinner but it still has the formal table for a lovely night out with a glass of wine to accompany your meal.

Stand-out ingredients: Manchego and white cheddar.

Cost: $8

Portion: It’s definitely either an appetizer for two or a meal for one to enjoy.

Overall flavor: While this dish looked pretty, it was essentially the Trojan Horse of mac ’n’ cheese. It really lacked flavor. There was hardly any hint of cheese, and an overwhelming taste of oil coated every bite. Ryah had to put a lot of pepper on this to make it more palatable.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: The cheese rested solely on the top of the pasta noodles, so if your fork was lucky it might actually pick up a little chunck of cheese on top of a noodle or two. Save for all the oil that was resting on the bottom of the plate, the pasta was mostly bare.

Service: We were checked on frequently.

Rating: 1 out of 5 noodles.

Linn’s Restaurant

2277 Main St., Cambria

Four Cheese Macaroni


LINN’S RESTAURANT
While bacon and bell peppers were a pretty touch, the four cheese macaroni at Linn’s Restaurant didn’t stay hot or cohesive for too long.
PHOTO BY RYAH COOLEY

The brick building itself can take a customer back in time, and the translucent frosted windows inside the restaurant give the restaurant an intimacy, where a small group or party of two can really get together and enjoy a meal.

Stand-out ingredients: Asiago cheese, diced bell peppers, and bacon garnish.

Cost: $12

Portion: The dish can definitely be shared as it has enough pasta shells to go around.

Overall flavor: Basic cheddar flavor, but the bell peppers and bacon helped to spice it up. This needs to be eaten promptly as it got cold within minutes and the cheese hardened pretty quickly, unfortunately.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: After the cheese hardened, that was it for any noodle and cheese harmony, and we were left with mostly naked noodles.

Service: They checked in often and brought yummy cornbread with fancy olallieberry jam.

Rating: 2 out of 5 noodles.

Pappy McGregor’s Pub and Grill

1122 Pine St., Paso Robles

Lobster Mac and Cheese


PAPPY MCGREGOR’S PUB AND GRILL
Treat yo’ self with the decadent lobster mac ’n’ cheese from Pappy McGregor’s Pub and Grill.
PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA

With a patio in the front and back, this Euro style pub is a great place to kick back and enjoy a view of the downtown park and gazebo with a refreshing craft cocktail—for instance, their Rye of the Tiger—in hand.

Stand-out ingredients: Chunks of lobster, crunchy wonton strips, along with crisp Brussels sprouts on the side.

Cost: $24.50

Portion: Massive. They kindly split it onto two plates for us, and we still both had trouble finishing our halves. Totally shareable.

Overall flavor: Yum! Lobster, cheese, and bacon sounds like a lot going on for one plate, possibly too much. But it totally worked. This is comfort food at its best and fanciest. You will have a food baby or be in a food coma after this meal.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: The silky cheesy and spiral noodles were in a constant, harmonious dance, and it was glorious. Pappy’s also does not skimp on the lobster, which we appreciated. The menu says this dish is award wining. We have no idea what award they won, but it’s totally deserved. Eat this.

Service: The wait staff checked in often and didn’t charge us extra for splitting the mac ’n’ cheese, which was super nice.

Rating: 5 out of 5 noodles.

Eureka!

1141 Chorro St., SLO

Mac N’ Cheese Balls


EUREKA!
Go for the mac ‘n’ cheese balls during Eureka!’s late night happy hour after a night of drinking downtown.
PHOTO BY RYAH COOLEY

Eureka! is the spot for after work treats or if you’re looking for a traditional dish with a twist. With beers on tap, whiskey cocktails, and the TVs tuned in to the day’s sports, it’s a great gathering spot.

Stand-out ingredient: Beer cheese sauce and Fresno chilis.

Cost: $5 (for the sampler during happy hour)

Portion: The dish comes with seven dippers and a big side of ranch dressing, enough to share with a friend or to have as a meal for one.

Overall flavor: The Fresno chilis definitely added a small kick to the nontraditional pasta dish turned finger food. This was good, and if we were a little bit drunk, we’d be super into these mac and cheese balls.

Noodle-to-cheese ratio: Coated with a crunchy battered shell, the cheese held nicely to the noodles with each bite, but it wasn’t as gooey as anticipated.

Service: With smiles and tidbits of conversation, the wait staff frequently checked in on us.

Rating: 3 out of 5 noodles.

Get your cheese on

For a plethora of mac ’n’ cheese offerings all in one spot, stop by the Macaroni & Cheese Festival in Avila Beach on June 24. Tickets are $60 presale and $80 at the event, plus a $10 cash only fee for parking. A portion of the proceeds from the festival go to Woods Humane Society. Visit themacandcheesefest.com for more information.

*All prices are before tax and tip.

Wanna fight about who makes the best mac ’n’ cheese? Send comments to rcooley@newtimesslo.com.