The Dish: Some things are not meant to be fried. But macaroni and cheese? That’s a given. You’ve already got the pasta, cheese and bread crumbs in a traditional mac-and-cheese dish. A few seconds in the deep fryer will only make it better and easier to dunk in sauce. When we noticed deep-fried mac and cheese was on the menu at several restaurants around town, we figured this would be the perfect time to go a-samplin’. Which one of these is the mac daddy?
The Rivals: Icon Grill, 1933 Fifth Ave., 441-6330, DOWNTOWN. Aroused Americana cuisine is what Icon prides itself on dishing up, and that includes fried mac and cheese. At Icon, the chefs take their standard mac and cheese, lay it into a sheet pan, and let it cool completely. They then cut it into squares and bread it with flour, egg and Panko crumbs. The winning combo is in the cheeses: sharp yellow cheddar, extra sharp white cheddar, dry aged jack and the ever-surprising Velveeta. The fried cubes are served with a sharp cheddar con queso and a spectacular smoked tomato bacon rouille. A small plate costs $8.95, but during happy hour it’s half-price.
Captain Blacks, 129 Belmont Ave. E., 327-9549 CAPITOL HILL. Captain Blacks has an interesting menu, and none of it is pirate-themed, thank God. It’s actually heavy on southern fare, like po’ boys (tofu or chicken), chicken and waffles, fried okra, and fried mac and cheese. The time to snag these little gems is during happy hour, when you can get a generous dish for just $3. If you’ve ever had the fried mac-and-cheese wedges at The 5 Point, you’ve had the fried mac and cheese at Captain Blacks, right down to the red-and-white checkered deli paper. In fact, the chef at Captain Blacks used to work at The 5 Point, and told us both establishments get their fried mac and cheese frozen from Sysco, a national food distributor for restaurants and other hospitality industries. The fried mac-and-cheese wedges are basically battered pockets of Kraft macaroni and cheese, only much more orange than you remember, which is weird. The ones served at Captain Blacks are soft and creamy, bursting with fake cheese, and not as greasy as we imagined they’d be. They also came with a nice chipotle-mayo dipping sauce. Still, there was nothing special about this dish, except for the fact that we were five beers deep before eating them, which may explain why we enjoyed the taste.
The Champ: Icon Grill, by a cheesy mile (or 10). Not only did they have a winning cheese combination (which didn’t look synthetic), the bread crumbs were light and airy. We actually had to ask if the mac and cheese spent time in the fryer, as opposed to an oven. We appreciate Captain Blacks’ version as a sobering snack, but as a dish by itself, Icon nails it. What Captain Blacks excels at is being a neighborhood bar that serves up stiff drinks, like the kick-ass Captain’s Tea.