Mactacular: Leaders of the Mac
In fact, the homey noodles were quite popular during the Civil War era, and Thomas Jefferson is even said to have been a fan (relatedly, it's the punchline to that confounding "Yankee Doodle Dandy" song).
Exactly when mac and cheese joined the ranks of Foods Worthy of a Nickname, though, I don't know. What I do know is that it's a familiar and beloved treat (like PBJs and BLTs) that we learn to eat in high chairs and continue to reach for throughout life to receive a healing dose of comfort.
This makes me wonder, can there really be such a thing as bad mac and cheese? Because even uninspired versions seem to slide down easily. (Ex-chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain admitted to me in an interview that he's a secret lover of KFC's mac and cheese). I mean in its barest form, the dish is tummy-pleasing pasta enriched with mouth-massaging dairy - what's not to love?
OK, if basic mac and cheese is a kind of universally loved blank canvas, wouldn't creative takes that audaciously paint personal touches on it be worth a story? I'll answer that: Of course it would (besides, that was my assignment).
I therefore rolled my have-gut-will-travel self around town documenting a few restaurants that seek to playfully remake the simple stuff into works of art. In their own unique ways, the following "leaders of the mac" all qualified.