By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 25, 2021 at 12:02 PM

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee!

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. 

The Saucy Swine @ redbar
2245 E. St. Francis Ave., (414) 509-5390

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If you’ve found redbar, a neighborhood tap tucked back off the main drag in St. Francis, then you’ve probably experienced The Saucy Swine, the barbeque operation that provides food service for the bar. And, if smoked meats are your jam, it’s worth your while to give them a try, either for their smoked meats or over-the-top sandwiches.  

But how about macaroni and cheese?

As you might expect, you can get macaroni and cheese as a side with your barbeque. Inversely, you can also get a side of barbeque with your macaroni and cheese. Their Smokehouse Mac features chopped brisket, pulled pork, smoked sausage, bacon, shell pasta and “Wisco 5 cheese” sauce topped with crispy fried onions ($16). But – since The Saucy Swine also makes a valiant effort to be vegetarian friendly – they also offer a veggie-filled alternative: Veggie Patch Mac featuring mushrooms, spinach, corn, oven roasted tomatoes, shell pasta and “Wisco 5 cheese sauce” topped with crunchy fried onions ($16).

Saucy Swine Veggie Patch MacX

Both versions are generously portioned and arrive nearly overflowing their large serving bowls. And both are covered in crunchy fried onions, which on both counts is a brilliant play, offering a bit of texture to the otherwise saucy bowls.

And saucy might be the apt descriptor for these big bowls, which boast tender (but not overcooked) shell pasta and loads of sauce.  The sauce itself is shiny and slightly translucent with the texture of gravy (likely the result of being thickened with cornstarch, an element that prevents the cheese proteins from binding into strands while leaving behind a finish that’s less opaque and cloudy than when made with a roux).

That cheesy gravy clung well to the noodles, though its mouthfeel was less rich than would have been ideal. As for the flavor of the sauce; it was definitely cheesy, but maybe not five cheese cheesy. Overall, this felt less like macaroni and cheese and more like a slightly cheesy casserole, a factor compounded by the generous add-ins in both bowls.

Veggie Patch MacX

The Veggie Patch Mac is positively loaded with vegetables. Most notable were the earthy slices of shiitake mushrooms, which are a great foil for the sweet corn and tart-sweet cherry tomatoes. A good amount of fresh spinach was also wilted nicely into the pasta. The same is true of the Smokehouse Mac, which is loaded down with all the meats.

Smokehouse MacX

Both of the versions were pretty distinctive. The veggie mac offers more of a fresh vibe, while the meat-filled version is far more full-flavored, thanks to the addition of the rich smokey meats. Because the cheese flavor in both is slightly subdued, both benefited from the sweet acidic pop offered by a drizzle of Saucy Swine barbeque sauce (choose from eight different flavors that run the gamut from sweet and fruity to smokey and spicy).

My advice: if you decide to order the macaroni and cheese, either split it with a friend (or two) or plan on taking home leftovers. I was definitely hungry when I arrived at redbar on my visit; but there was no way (zero) I was going to finish off that giant bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.