Not your Momma's mac 'n' cheese at The Mac Shack
The other day I was grocery shopping and saw a young family pick up some boxes of Kraft Dinner. Ah, the good ole days I thought. And then I started craving it -- craving that comforting childhood memory of eating that cheesy, chemical induced delight. Realizing that I am well past the days of eating anything out of a box on which half of the ingredients I don’t know what they are, I decided that I would make my own “adult” macaroni. So I grabbed some noodles, some nice cheese, milk, butter, and flour and went on my merry way. When perusing the web for a recipe I came across a restaurant very close to my house called The Mac Shack. Who would’ve thought that someone would create a business that embellishes a food we all know, and at one point or another probably loved, to create a modern day macaroni? Lobster, Asiago cheese and truffle oil in macaroni? I was flabbergasted. So I abolished my plan of making my own and rode my bike on over to this so called shack of mac.
Tucked away in Kerrisdale, lives this retro-style restaurant with amber lighting, plaid seating, diner-esque booths, high bar stools, and reclaimed wooding from an elementary school. I figured that if you’re going to have shack in the name you’re going to have to have that vibe and although a modern take on a “shack” I think the interior designer, Karin of Moeski Design, developed the retro-homey idea well.
But what I came for was the food, and I got plenty of it. I decided to eat from the most “basic” to the most “exotic.” Skipping the classic mac n cheese I went for the Four Cheese first.
It was simple in concept and production, but it was the combination of cheeses they chose that created a creamy, “I can’t stop eating this” dish. With provolone, Canadian cheddar, aged cheddar and Asiago this dish was oozing out cheese and is best eaten with a spoon and fork as you’ll be wanting to scoop up all the delicious cheese, even that which has escaped the noodle trap, and coated the pan instead. My favourite touch? The delicious broiled cheese that surfaced the noodles; the crunch put the dish in a higher bracket for sure.
Next I tried the Bacon Cheeseburger Macaroni.
First of all, there’s bacon. You can put bacon on or in anything and the dish is automatically that much better. Throw in some strong Canadian Cheddar and some seared Canadian ground beef and you’ll be feeling patriotic in no time.
There was something about the spices in the dish that made it intoxicating; it tasted almost like a tex mex seasoning you could buy at the grocery store but up a few notches in quality. What I also loved was the fact that the bacon was actually bacon and not chunks of fat. You could tell that they didn’t skimp out on the quality of bacon, as they don’t seem to skimp out on any of their ingredients.
“It took a long time to perfect the food and to find that right balance of value for customer, to value for restaurant, especially for our market. We didn't want to price everything outside of what traditional quick service restaurants charge, because it is quick service, typically customers order, and they’re out in a couple of minutes. There is room to sit down and eat of course but we’re not serving it. It took a long time to find high quality ingredients like lobster, shrimp and chorizo but not price outside of the range of say a big sub or something like that. “ – Chris, co-owner of The Mac Shack.
My third dish was The Royale.
The Royale as expected is a mish-mash of everything your heart could desire. My favourite thing in this dish is that it had a combination of both protein and vegetables. The broccoli was still crisp, the bell peppers still bold in color, and the mushrooms plump little nuggets. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about in this dish was the sauce. I prefer their cream and marinara sauce over their rose sauce, but my friend seemed to like it so it’s just a matter of palate. I was impressed that the chicken wasn’t overcooked and was actually real chicken rather than some chewy piece of “white meat” you may find in an Asian dish. I’m not sure if there was very little chroizo in the dish as I would’ve added more, or if my friend stole of the pieces. I (may have) even yelled at her slightly for stealing them all. Regardless they were nicely spiced, which I think the dish could’ve used more of, not necessarily piquant (but it wouldn’t hurt) rather a little salt or pepper. The shrimp was not baby shrimp to my great delight as I can’t stand the little things and I was glad they didn’t cheap out and served real shrimp instead. Again the bacon was deliciously crisp, double smoked and a nice touch.
The fourth (and final savory dish) was the Lobster Macaroni.
On paper this dish looks like the most fantastic thing in the world to me. That said, it meant I had super high expectations even if it is still macaroni. The lobster meat was tender, but still firm, and was cooked just long enough, which is crucial because no one wants chalky, mushy, lobster. I would’ve liked more lobster and oyster mushrooms as I love both, but I think that due to the cost (they use lobster claws) the portion size is very realistic for what they charge. Lobster claws are roughly $2 an ounce so if you consider that they use three ounces of protein in each dish….well you do the math. The lemon, dill and truffle oil were subtle and I could barely notice them at all when competing with the saporous Asiago and Canadian cheddar, but they still contributed to the overall dish and gave it a different flavour then the others.
And then there was dessert…twice.
First up to bat was the homemade ice cream sandwich aka “The Squish”.
This is not the ice cream sandwich your mom used to give you as a kid, nor is it the Oreo ice cream sandwich you can buy at 7-Eleven. This one is made fresh in-house and consists of two double chocolate chip cookies with vanilla bean gelato from Mario’s Gelati “squished” in between. Drizzled over top is a raspberry coulis to add a little tartness to the extremely dulcet dessert. The cookies harden quickly to the ice cream but if you gobble it up quickly (shouldn’t be hard to do) you’ll notice that they’re still soft and chewy. All in all, a delicious way to finish the meal, the only thing I needed was a glass of milk to accompany it.
Second dessert: The Skillet Brownie
Again this dessert is made in house, and certainly with love. Served warm in a skillet, you get that scrumptious “fresh out of the oven” taste with a crisp exterior and a gooey centre. It has a cake-like texture to it and not as dense as some served in restaurants. The walnuts were a nice touch as I think that nuts are a perfect compliment to desserts, not only providing the textural component needed to break the straight chocolate flavour but also allowing that nutty essence to seep in to the surrounding dessert. It too has raspberry coulis drizzled on top, which is a nice touch and added even more so to my sensory overdrive. My only complaint? I wanted more ice cream to dollop on top. The small scoop didn’t seem enough for two triangles of brownie. Gluttonous maybe, but can you blame me for it?
Wondering if you should have a small, medium or large? A medium could satisfy the hunger of an average-sized male or a hungry female. My suggestion would be to order two different kinds if coming with someone then sharing the two of them. Of course, that’s my suggestion everywhere. I love to share and delve in a variety of flavours. I’m a “foodie.”
For the health conscious or the gluten intolerant, I noticed that they had alternative options to the regular macaronis. Salads, including chicken Caesar were an option, as well as gluten free and whole-wheat noodles. I couldn’t bring myself to order a salad at The Mac Shack but it would be a good side to a meal to incorporate a little more greens in to your life.
And if you’re curious, (I was) they are in fact licensed. Don’t get that at most quick service restaurants now do you? I saw a guy reading the paper eating a large macaroni and drinking some Granville Island beer and decided that he was on to something. I ordered the Pinot Grigio to go with mine. Cheese sauce, lobster and white wine? A perfect combination. Funny that as I looked at the menu I decided which ones I would drink with beer and which ones I would drink with wine, even narrowing it down between pale ale and lager, and white or red.
"It’s great because Mom can take the kids here and enjoy a glass of wine knowing that they'll eat their meal. Families don't have to go to McDonalds to get a quick meal the kids will like," exclaimed Chris.
That evening, I even sat down with a couple lads who pondered over what dish to order. The one guy, Ross was going to have the Classic, but I told him to step it up a notch and try the Four Cheese, one of my favourites if you want decadent simplicity. Paul, his friend, opted for my second suggestion, the Bacon Cheeseburger. Fortunately they were good at sharing so they got to try both kinds.
These guys lived around Main Street, an area that is known for the wide array of food holes, yet they made the trip out specifically for the macaroni. "We just wanted to check it out," they said with a smile.
I was impressed with them making the trip from Main Street to Kerrisdale as I feel like people tend to stay in either their own suburb or the Vancouver core. But then Chris told me they have people coming from Abbotsford for their food! They’ve even had interest from Victoria. Realizing the potential to grow, they have both short-term and long-term goals.
“We definitely plan to open more restaurants and are currently asking diners on our website for feedback on location. Close to 1,000 have already responded with Kits, Main St. and Richmond being popular, as well as Downtown Vancouver for the after bar crowd and all that. You can only have them so close together quite frankly, so we want to be spread out. We'd like to eventually be in all of the municipalities outside of Vancouver. Victoria would be a long-term goal for us. They don’t seem to have many “in-betweener” restaurants that are quality but aren't cookie cutter and mainstream; we hope to fill that gap.”
Since their clientele seems to be of all types (I saw, both young and old, family and single in there) there is seemingly room to expand, leaving no suburb out of reach.
From the ground up: a little history.
The owners of The Mac Shack were originally influenced by a restaurant in New York City called S’MAC. They loved the idea of revamping a classic comfort food so decided to use their business background to bring the concept to Vancouver. Before opening the restaurant they worked with the ex-executive chef from Cactus Club who worked with them on a consultation basis.
“We styled the entire menu together and tested it for almost a year. I've finally lost all the weight of eating it everyday now. I mean eating that much mac n cheese was great but it was a lot of food in general. We don't have a manual that's sent to us from somewhere in California so we had to create the entire menu from scratch, and we’re constantly improving our menu,“ explained Chris.
Tanya, the current executive chef, worked previously as a chef at both Cactus Club and Moxie’s but has now found her home at The Mac Shack. I can't blame her, as the vibe there seemed much more suitable to her personality: unique, funky and fun, but also relaxed and easy to be around.
"I like that the menu is pliable," she stated, referring to the fact that it's not franchised and there is opportunity to tweak the menu as needed.
And they have made some changes since first opening, nearly five months ago. They noticed a few kinks in their menu choices and a few areas of improvement, so have made some adjustments both big and small. A big change was made to the noodle choice. They used to use a Scooby Doo noodle, but then switched to the classic elbow macaroni because the noodle held the flavour of the sauce better. The pasta was made fresh daily in the restaurant kitchen but being a quick service restaurant that had gathered a lot of attention already, they struggled to match the demand of pasta needed. Because of this they switched to a local pasta maker in order to not leave customers macaroni-less; it would be a tragedy. They also switched from a flour-based béchamel cheese sauce to a (gluten-free) cream cheese, Asiago and three-year-old cheddar sauce made with whipping cream and milk; drool-inducing no doubt.
Anyone craving macaroni now? I am. Maybe the Brooklyn this time -- blue cheese and steak in macaroni sounds pretty tasty to me.
On top of the social media trend The Mac Shack is on twitter @The_Mac_Shack and on Facebook .