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Bellingham
Sunday, May 31, 2020

Love-a-bowl mac ‘n cheese

In times of stress—a bad grade on a test, a disagreement with a friend, a reoccurring cold—people often find solace in food.

One of these popular comfort foods, mac ‘n cheese, can be found in abundance at several local restaurants.

For someone looking for a new take on mac ‘n cheese with or without add-ons—which could include anything from ham and broccoli to grilled onions—Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro has a broiled entrée available.

“Simple is good with mac ‘n cheese,” assistant manager Jesse Gilsoul said. “I think the key to the mac ‘n cheese and what makes it different with this place is mainly the fontina [cheese] and the proportions.”

The pasta comes in three different sizes: a regular portion, a half-size regular portion during happy hour and a smaller kid’s meal.

Boundary Bay’s mac ‘n cheese is the third most popular item on their menu just behind the fish tacos.  Gilsoul said the soft-textured fontina cheese is responsible for bringing the whole dish together.

For a slightly healthier alternative, seek out Brandywine Kitchen’s gluten-free mac ‘n cheese.

Customers sit down for dinner at Bayou on Bay. // Photo courtesy of Bayou on Bay

Cornstarch is used instead of flour to make the slurry (the liquidy part of the sauce), and pasta elbows made of quinoa are added to the mixture with butter and milk.

“We’re not using Crisco or any shortening like that,” kitchen manager Jacob Askew said. “If you’re trying to limit calories, I’d say this is less calorically dense.”

The quinoa mac ‘n cheese is as popular as the gluten-free fish and chips the restaurant also offers, Askew said.

The more adventurous mac ‘n cheese consumer may prefer Bayou on Bay’s spicier option.

The meal is prepared with Cajun seasonings, smoked paprika, garlic and onion powders and three different types of cheese, general manager Molly Titus-Ieronimo said.

“We go through a ton of it,” Titus-Ieronimo said. “It’s also on our happy hour menu. People like the deals.”

The kid’s version is seasoned with just salt, but can also be ordered by adults who may not like the spicy version.

Titus-Ieronimo said the restaurant’s recipe has gone through slight variations over the years but has remained virtually the same. “Why mess with something that’s good, you know?”

The mac ‘n cheese is made in a Cajun style with a béchamel sauce, Titus-Ieronimo said. Her favorite part is when the big elbow noodles fill with cheese.

Someone looking for a homestyle mac ‘n cheese might be more interested in Aslan Brewing Company’s entrée.

Aslan Brewing Company, Wednesday, April 5. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

“A lot of the foods we make we try to resonate with people’s certain aesthetic experiences,” executive chef Dave Reera said. “[We’re] trying to emulate a mac ‘n cheese you might get that your mom made, or your grandma made.”

The shell pasta is made with a French sauce called Mornay, and thickened with roux (flour and fat cooked together). Aslan shreds 5-pound blocks of Tillamook white cheddar cheese, and recently they switched to grinding their own peppercorn, Reera said.

“We are probably going to change our breadcrumbs and use fresh breadcrumbs in the future,” Reera said. “In two weeks when we change our menu, we’re going to tweak our breadcrumbs a little bit to make it a little bit healthier. Right now we are using panko breadcrumbs.”

There seems to be a seasonal preference for Aslan’s mac ‘n cheese. Reera said it is more coveted during the winter, whereas kale salad is more popular in the summer. Like many other restaurants, they offer a happy hour option as a regular-size portion, but at a cheaper price, Reera said.

So the next time you need to find comfort in a bowl of mac ‘n cheese, rest assured there is no shortage in Bellingham.

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