by Ari Weinzweig
“How can you have macaroni and cheese that costs so much?”
My first response to people challenging what we were charging was to see what was really going on in the food world. So I went around and checked what other places were charging for pasta dishes. What I found was that in every halfway decent restaurant in town they were charging pretty much the same prices we were for pasta. This quelled my anxieties but left me still wondering to myself why so many customers seemed so stressed out by what we were charging.
Finally the obvious dawned on me – when people think “macaroni and cheese” they think “low end.” By contrast, when they think “pasta” they think suave Italian cachet. Which made me realize that this is really about a campaign for American culinary self-esteem and self-acceptance, and an effort to finally defeat the image that “if it’s foreign it’s fancier.” Because guys, let’s face facts – macaroni and cheese is pasta.
Sure, you can get the stuff that comes in a box. I grew up on it. Powdered whey by-product, horribly cheap noodles. You can step up from that and buy cheap commercial “macaroni” from Sexton and toss it with cheap commercial cheese after you buck it up with some canned cream sauce. Not very good either. I know this is what people have in their heads. Low end, mushily soft commercial macaroni with low end industrial cheese. Sounds terrible to me. And to let that define the category seems akin to letting Philadelphia brand define cream cheese or Wonder define bread.
The truth is that not only is the macaroni and cheese at the Roadhouse a really high end macaroni and cheese, it’s made with way better ingredients than almost any restaurant anywhere is going to use.
Typically we use Martelli maccheroni – to my taste, the best there is anywhere. It comes from Italy, and it’s really good. (I guess I should note that if there were an outstanding American pasta of that caliber we’d use it. So far, I don’t know of one. I love Al Dente as an egg noodle but it’s not the type of dried pasta that we need for this type of dish.) We use really good cheese – two-year old raw milk, hand made cheddar from Grafton Village in Vermont. We use real cream, Dijon mustard, and onions.
Our macaroni and cheese has got all the comfort-food appeal of the stuff you get out of a box, but it also stands toe to toe with any “pasta” dish you can find.