Cari Taylor-Carlson

The Sheer Oozy Glory of Mac and Cheese

The Mac Shack offers countless variations but the Signature Mac was oh-so-delicious.

By - Nov 18th, 2021 02:39 pm
Mac Shack. Photo taken September 7, 2021 by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Mac Shack. Photo taken September 7, 2021 by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

At last, oozy, cheesy, decadent comfort food has come to the corner of Brady and Humboldt in the long-anticipated Mac Shack. Owner Ashraf Mustafa has stretched the limits of cheese and macaroni, basic simple ingredients with endless possibilities.

It’s the opening we’ve been waiting for since the restaurant first posted a sign in the window pre-Covid that read “Coming Soon.” The Mac Shack is located on the ground floor of the Keystone Apartments and close enough to multiple bars on Brady that customers looking for a late-night meal need look no further. At least for now, the shack doesn’t have a liquor license and that makes it an outlier among restaurants on Brady. And why not? Mac and cheese suggests a meal around the family table, not a candlelit dinner accompanied by glass of merlot.

The décor is industrial chic with a wood-burning stove behind an open counter that gives customers a front row seat to the assembly of their meal. At one end of the counter there’s a laminated menu and someone to take your order. At the other end you pay and receive a number. The wait time is remarkably brief. Your dish is assembled first with the macaroni, followed by a generous scoop of cheese sauce and your chosen add-ons. The rest happens in the wood-burning oven where your mac and cheese is briefly baked before this bubbling dish of umami is delivered to your table.

There are many choices as you peruse the menu. You can go with a Signature Mac as my companions and I did on both my visits, or, you can Build Your Own. If you choose the latter, the number of options is mind-numbing but worthy of the time it takes to plan your meal. For example, after you decide on your noodle, regular or gluten-free, and one of three cheese sauces, yellow, white, or vegan, you choose a “Mix In,” each an additional $.75. There are 14 including several veggies, a fajita mix, and a vegan mushroom mix. You can also add extra cheese for a quarter, and a protein, a $1.99 each: Buffalo Chicken, Shrimp, Beef, or Deep-Fried Meatballs. Barbeque Sauce, Hot Cheetos, Crispy Fried Onions, and Pesto are a few additional toppings, each $.50.

If you are overwhelmed by this playground of flavors, then check out the Signature Macs. My Elote Mac brought macaroni and cheese to a new level of scrumptious. White cheese sauce overflowed the foil container while sweet pops of grilled corn and hot sauce drizzled on top, along with cilantro, mayo, and cojita cheese, combined to create a buttery rich memorable macaroni dish.

The Vegan Stroganoff will appeal to vegans and vegetarians. The vegan penne tasted exactly like whole wheat penne and mushrooms added meat-like texture to the mix. The vegan sauce had a cheesy consistency, but the flavor lacked the umami of the other cheese sauces. It was improved by a copious addition of salt and pepper.

The Tuscan Chicken was a masterpiece of yellow cheese sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, pesto, and grilled marinated chicken. It was served on top of the macaroni, sliced, and decorated with slivers of sun-dried tomatoes. Parmesan cheese finished the dish.

A companion’s Build Your Own, chicken, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and extra cheddar was good, but, in my opinion, the Signature Macs are the way to go. A signature dish that caught my attention was the Brady Street Mac, with Wisconsin Angus Chili, Beef Hot Dog Slices, Crispy Onion Straws, Sour Cream Drizzle and Green Onions. I’m not sure how that says Brady Street, but darn, it sounds like a delicious mashup of compatible flavors to polish off a night on the street.

At the end of the meal, you bus your dishes. The cast iron pan will be returned to the kitchen and the aluminum insert goes into the trash unless you grabbed a cover to take it home for another meal. Then, perhaps, it will be recycled!

Welcome to Brady Street, Mac Shack. Like many locals, I waited a long time for “Open” to replace “Coming Soon.” Your mac and cheese exceeded my expectations and I expect that opinion will be shared by many customers.

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