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As the weather cools, there are few things more comforting than a bowl of macaroni and cheese. But which bowls of cheesy pasta goodness are worth seeking out? Lori Fredrich is on a mission to find out. Tune in every Monday for a new Cream City mac to try.
1701 N. Humboldt Ave., (414) 837-4534
It might be more prudent to consider macaroni and cheese a side dish. But if you’re looking for a mac that makes a full meal, you’ll find it in spades at Mac Shack, a newcomer to the Brady Street scene.
The restaurant, which bakes its macaroni and cheese in a wood-fired oven, offers their OG Mac (yellow cheese sauce topped with both yellow and white cheddar) along with nine signature macs varying from Brady Street Mac (topped with chili, hot dogs, crispy onion straws, sour cream and green onions) to Vegan Stroganoff (featuring vegan mac sauce, penne and mushroom stroganoff). Guests are also welcome to build their own mac using their choice of sauces (yellow cheese sauce, white cheese sauce, vegan sauce) and a slew of toppings.
Pricing is $11.99 to $13.99 for generous regular portions or $15.99 to $22.99 for family sized portions, which feed two to four.
Unlike some mac & cheese spots, Mac Shack doesn’t cook its macaroni and cheese in cast iron skillets. Instead, they cook the mac to order in aluminum pans, which are then set inside cast iron pans for serving. The aluminum pan shifts around in the cast iron a bit when you’re eating, so it’s maybe less than ideal for dine-in customers; though it does make it easy to take any leftover mac home (you just pop a cover on top and you’re all good).
On my trip, I tried two of their signature Macs: the Elote Mac, white mac sauce, grilled corn and mayo topped with cotija cheese, Valentina sauce, mayo and cilantro ($11.99 / $17.99) and the Tuscan Chicken Mac with yellow mac sauce, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, pesto and grilled Tuscan chicken ($12.99 / $19.99).
Both versions featured corkscrew pasta that was cooked slightly beyond al dente and a good amount of cheese sauce, though both of the sauces were fairly thin with a somewhat bland flavor profile (neither boasted the thicker, cheese-rich sauces that are the hallmark of truly indulgent mac & cheese). At the same time, they both showcased quality toppings that gave each a distinctive flavor profile.
As I noted, the sauce on the Elote Mac was fairly thin and mild in flavor; but the strong flavors of the toppings (including the mildly spicy hot sauce and salty cotija cheese) filled in nicely. There was a good amount of corn in the mac, and it was sweet and plump (though not noticeably grilled). Paired with the other toppings, the dish definitely offered a solid nod to the classic Mexican street corn for which it was named.
The Tuscan Chicken Mac? While it didn't occur to me when I ordered it, by the time I took my first bite, I was transported back to 1999 when every trendy dish was sure to have either spinach or sun dried tomatoes in it.
That said, the combination was nostalgically delicious. The chicken was surprisingly tender and flavorful, and there was a good amount of fresh spinach wilted into the bowl, which served to lighten everything up a bit. This bowl also had a nice layer of extra melted cheese over the top, so when you took a bite, you got a pretty nice cheese pull to boot.
The verdict? While neither of these epitomized my ideal bowl of mac & cheese, I’d definitely consider them to be good cheesy pasta dishes. The portions were sizeable (so much so that I took most of mine home).
A family sized portion would be a great carry-out option on a night when I didn’t feel like cooking. And yes, this would also be a great spot to fill up, either before or after drinking one's way down Brady Street (which you can totally do, since Mac Shack is open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.