Smooth. Creamy. Cheesy. Comforting. That’s macaroni and cheese to a tee. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at Mac Shack, a new fast casual restaurant dedicated to one of America’s favorite comfort foods.
The restaurant, which opens softly today at 1701 N. Humboldt Ave. on the ground floor of the Keystone Apartments, has seen its share of stops and starts from contractors who didn’t follow through to delays exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We made a hard stop during the pandemic,” says Owner Ashraf (Ash) Mustafa. “We couldn’t get the equipment delivered. Companies had paused service. Everyone was scared to work. It was a mess.”
However, in recent weeks, the finishing touches came together. In fact, Mac Shack will be making its debut today with a soft opening and abbreviated hours this week and next (if you go, please be patient and kind as they work out any kinks). Mustafa says a grand opening is likely to take place in mid-August.
Inside the Mac Shack
In recent months, the interior of Mac Shack has come together. The 2,000 square foot space sports earth-toned ceramic tile flooring, warm wood paneling and chic-industrial lighting.
“We want the interior to be really homey and comfortable,” says Mustafa, noting that the rustic industrial-chic interior will feature seating for around 50, including high chairs and counters that face Brady Street.
The Eastern wall and hallway showcases graffiti-accented wheatpastes featuring patterned drone footage of the restaurant’s location, along with cheese and sports-related art. The display was executed by local artists Andre Colbert and Julian Correa.
But, as eye catching as the art might be, the real focal point of the restaurant is the open kitchen which showcases a gas-fired wood-burning Wood Stone oven which can bake a bowl of macaroni and cheese in about five minutes flat.
On the menu
And that oven is key to Mac Shack's menu, which will feature creative takes on traditional macaroni & cheese including Buffalo Chicken Mac (breaded chcken, Buffalo sauce, green onion, hot Cheetos), Greek Freak Mac (grilled chicken, veggies, goat cheese and tzatziki); Elote Mac (cilantro pesto, sweet corn, cotija cheese, crema, hot Cheetos); and a Brady Street Mac with chili, cheddar, fried onion straws and hot dogs. All will feature generous portions for $11 to $13.
“Our plates are going to be outrageous,” says Mustafa. “And we’re emphasizing high quality ingredients and methods so we can give people the best product we can.”
Undecided about which mac to try? There will also be mac & cheese flights for $14.99, allowing guests to order three smaller portions of signature Macs at a time.
In addition to traditional cheese-filled mac, Mustafa says there will also be vegan mac featuring housemade vegan Mac sauce and eggless pasta. Vegan Mac will come in flavors like "Stroganoff" (with mushroooms standing in for meat) and Vegan Buffalo Mac with fried Buffalo Cauliflower.
A childrens' menu will also feature smaller portions of both an OG MAC or "3 Lil Cows" featuring cheddar sauce and beef hot dogs ($6.99 each).
Mustafa says they’ve foregone a liquor license in an effort to better serve families, particularly during the day.
“Brady Street is filled with spots that have liquor licenses,” he says. “So we’re focusing on being a family friendly spot.”
That said, Mustafa also hopes to catch the attention of the late night crowd on Brady Street, with weekend hours that accommodate the late night crowd.
For now, soft opening hours will be Monday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
By mid-month, Mustafa says regular hours will kick in. Those are expected to extend to Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
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.