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Tuesday, March 26 Living

Jane Stern reviews Mac n’ Out, which elevates Grandma’s classic

A while back I had some friends over for dinner. I have pretty much given up on dinner parties because I feel like I am running a hospital cafeteria. “I am a vegan.” “I don’t do gluten.” “I am paleo,” and so forth. So not to stress out, I decided to make a meal that everybody likes: macaroni and cheese. I thought I was home free until my best friend Bunny said her husband, Jim, “hates macaroni and cheese.” Go figure.

I love macaroni and cheese. I do not think there is a form of it that’s bad. Soul food mac and cheese, Kraft mac and cheese in a box, school cafeteria mac and cheese are all great. It is the single food even an airline meal cannot screw up too badly.

Today I am in Milford at a place that to many is a shrine to mac and cheese. It is a simple storefront, Mac n’ Out, on the busy Post Road. It does not have much in the way of curb appeal, and I would not be surprised if I had driven by it on numerous occasions. Today it is in my GPS.

Mac n’ Out offers a zillion kinds of macaroni and cheese. OK, maybe “a zillion” is a bit of hyperbole, but I bet in your wildest dreams who never thought of some of the ones available here. Yes, there is a plain macaroni and cheese. It is called Grandma’s Mac and comes in three sizes, as all the dishes do. I ordered a “mini mac,” which is small but so packed with bubbling cheese and pasta it stands alone. I ordered a mini because I wanted to sample lots of other versions.

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The next one I tried was the Sloppy Joe Mac. I was feeling nostalgic for my childhood and wanted to revisit the days when ground beef and tomato sauce on a bun seemed exotic. Putting this mix on a bed of mac and cheese elevates it from corny old teenager food to something memorable and still familiar. From there, I moved on to a Clams Casino Mac and Cheese. This concoction has a sturdy base of cheesy noodles, but is highlighted by crisp bacon, chopped clams, onions, cheddar and Parmesan topped with crushed crackers. I liked it very much, but it was outshined by a similar dish, the Hahbah Mac.

Some of you might think because I am a writer and went to Yale I am smart. Not so much these days. I visited Mac n’ Out, ate the dish and went home puzzled by the name. Hahbah sounded Middle Eastern to me, like Halvah, the sesame seed candy. I could find nothing Middle Eastern about the dish, although it was delicious. It was chock full of delicious lobster chunks, lemon butter, noodles, cheddar and gruyere under a blanket of crushed cracker crumbs. It wasn’t until I said the name out loud that I realized this was the word “harbor,” said in a New England accent. Duh, even the lobster chunks did not give me a clue. It is one of the more expensive dishes here, but well worth the price, as it is lavish with the seafood.

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Mac n’ Out

902 Boston Post Road, Milford, 203-693-3497

690 Beechmont Ave., Bridgeport, 203-540-5831

Going a bit downscale I then ordered a mini Hot Dog and Bacon Mac. Like the Sloppy Joe it rang sweet bells of nostalgia and I am glad the kitchen did not try and “gourmet” it up. Kids will love this one.

Then I tried one of the more popular choices: Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. It is served with a deliriously delicious blue cheese sauce. In addition, there is a nice portion of caramelized onions, and the macaroni noodles floating is a mix of melted cheddar and gruyere.

No one at Mac n’ Out questioned why anyone would not want a great mac and cheese. I have no idea what they do here with the disgruntled hoards of paleos, vegans or allergic types who find their way to my home dining table, but I am delighted the simplest configuration of noodles and cheese sits so well with me.

Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.

Jane Stern|Columnist