Restaurant Review: Macbar

Food & Wine, Restaurant Reviews — By on October 7, 2009 at 6:00 am

by Molly Fergus
LG New Editor

The Macbar ( décor doesn’t remind me of home. The yellow walls scream, the noodle-shaped room surprises, the fluorescent lights make me want to reapply my makeup. It all seems more like a bright game show set or a Sanrio store than mom’s kitchen.

One bite into my Carbonara, though, and everything tastes like…birthday.

Growing up, I always chose a piping plate of spaghetti carbonara for my birthday dinner. I liked the quirkiness of it (eggs scramble on the pasta!), and I adored bacon. Thick chunks of pancetta, a sprinkling of black pepper and a crusty parmesan top make the Macbar version decidedly more grown up, but I’m still transported home.

That’s precisely the point, says Mike Ferraro, executive chef at Macbar, the slick macaroni and cheese offshoot of Delicatessen in New York’s SoHo. The restaurant, which opened Sept. 17, dishes out 12 versions of the classic childhood meal. I jumped at the chance to sample nine of those plates for LG, partially because of my carbonara love, but also because I got to play in-the-know New Yorker when my friend visited last weekend.

The restaurant opens just as a lagging economy heats up the comfort food trend. From barbecue to burgers, it’s as if diners are looking for someone to tell them that everything’s going to be ok (and P.S., you can afford this!)

Macbar certainly fits that bill. A small classic rings in at just $5.99, but diners seem drawn more to variety than cost. Ferraro lists the top three sellers as the Cheesburger, the Margarita and the Lobster Mac, the priciest option at $8.99 for a small.

“That was surprising to me,” Ferraro says. “I didn’t think it was going to be a top seller, because it’s more expensive.”

It makes sense given New York’s niche eatery obsession. A glut of cuisine-specific restaurants dot the NYC dining scene: Pommes Frites serves only Belgian-style French fries, Peanut Butter & Co. only creates peanut butter sandwiches, and cupcake cafes practically litter the city.

Diners visit such targeted restaurants for the novelty of sampling old dishes with new tricks. Without 12 peanut butter sandwiches or 25 dipping sauces, why go?

S’mac, an East Village macaroni restaurant, beat Macbar to the chase when it opened in 2006 to Chowhound fanfare and long lines. Still, Ferraro says design and cuisine details distinguish his kitchen. “[The owner] Mark conceived this before S’mac even opened,” he says. “The packaging for this restaurant took so much time. Mark is obsessed with making each detail perfect. I’m the same way with the food.”

He grabs a to-go container from the behind the register to prove his point. The yellow, noodle-shaped Tupperware opens to reveal just enough room for a plastic silverware set and a medium or large Mac dish.

When my sampling dish arrives – a platter filled with nine of the 12 mac and cheeses – I can’t help but agree with Ferraro. The margarita tastes like a fresh pizza, and the cheeseburger bears zero resemblance to Hamburger Helper.

The only detail missing: A combo meal. Why choose just one type of macaroni?
54 Prince St
New York, NY 10012-3309
(212) 226-0211

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  • The Lost Mom says:

    It's 7:00am here, 32 degrees and the Aspen leaves are falling off the trees. Do you think it's too early in the day to crave one of those tasty little delites? But I'd have to travel 2000 miles to get one- oh, well.

  • A-lax says:

    The cool packaging at MacBar was designed by Ran Lerner. You can check out some of his other elegant designs at his website