Fans of S'Mac (on 12th Street between First and Second Avenues), get ready to have your minds BLOWN. There's a new kid in town, and it's giving our old favorite a run for its money.
Well, it's relatively new anyway. MacBar, which opened in Nolita in September at 54 Prince Street (between Lafayette and Mulberry, just a short skip from the N/W/R Prince Street stop), follows the same theory of bright yellow, cheese-hued decor in a much smaller space than our favorite mac-only Village outpost. Lacking space, perhaps, but definitely not flavor.
(Note: Do I sound like a "cheesy" (ohhh PUN) food critic yet? I'm stretching my over-the-top writing muscles at the moment, just for funsies).
I was definitely impressed by the MacBar menu before I even showed up. It may not have as many options as good old S'Mac, but it has serious inventiveness on its side. Mac Rueben? You had me at hello (and "pickled sauerkraut").
It was tiny, yes, but certainly not as crowded as I anticipated. The prices were a bit on the higher end of reasonable, but my entree was still under $10. Despite being garishly yellow-orange, the place is quite cozy. More so than, say, that OTHER mac 'n' cheese place. What's that called again?
There are several small tables with a long, curved single bench against one wall, plus an extra pouf on the other side of the table, so it's easy to fit three or so people around a table without a problem. I also enjoyed the ease of eating without people in line glaring at me and angling for my table the second I left (AHEM, S'Mac).
Once you figure out how to unwrap the damn thing (I wish I could include a diagram, but I'm sure you smart cookies will eventually figure it out, as I did), the Mac Rueben is certainly as horrifyingly delicious and wonderful as it sounds. Actually, the flavor of it led me to reach my central conclusion about MacBar versus S'Mac: they're basically offering wildly different things.
With S'Mac, it's all about the macaroni. It tastes like zesty, flavorful macaroni and cheese with delicious additives. At MacBar, it's basically JUST the fixins for whatever mac you choose, plus a few pieces of pasta buried underneath for good measure.
At S'Mac, ordering the Parisienne means you'll have tasty figs and creamy brie in almost every bite. At MacBar, there's a layer of macaroni at the bottom, and approximately three layers of ingredients on top. In my case, I enjoyed at least a block of Swiss cheese, that braised corn beef and, of course, the pickled sauerkraut before getting to the poor, underappreciated pieces of macaroni at the bottom.
Please don't misunderstand and think I'm complaining here; I'm absolutely not. That Mac Rueben was MAD AMAZING. BUT, it was more like I was shoveling the sandwich into my mouth with a little bit of pasta mixed in. It was more about the FLAVORS and TYPES of mac 'n' cheese offered than it was about creating inventive new ways to make mac 'n' cheese. It's just a different kind of thing, and I definitely enjoy S'Mac and MacBar in different ways. I think these two places will manage to coexist just fine.
So, I definitely recommend giving MacBar a try, especially if you haven't eaten all week and your body needs an exorbitant amount of calories (worth every bite, I swear). Next time I head to MacBar (and there WILL be a next time) it'll be all about the Margarita Mac, outfitted with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, parmigiano and basil. More MacBar? YES PLEASE.
(Another note: My apologies for failing to take a picture. I pretty much wolfed it down immediately after I figured out the impossible packaging.)