NEW YORK — I imagine the final ruling on the business plan for S’MAC unfolded in much the same way as the final decision to cast Steve Buscemi as the lead in Boardwalk Empire. Sure, Buscemi is a fine character actor, but could he carry a series? By the same token, macaroni and cheese is a fine side dish — it’s the Buscemi or the Philip Seymour Hoffman of side dishes — but can it carry an entire restaurant?
Legions of college students and 2-year-olds may consider mac ‘n’ cheese a main course, but for those of us who watch Yo Gabba Gabba neither ironically nor unironically, it rarely rises above the level of glorious supporting player for pork butt, brisket or — if it mingles with lobster and costs $24 — aged filet mignon. That changed for me Wednesday. As a soft rain sprinkled the East Village, cheddar and muenster dripped from my fork and elbow macaroni, slab bacon, Andouille sausage and shiitake mushrooms slid down my throat. In that moment, the humble side dish bowed to no entree.
People should embrace what makes them special. A restaurant that serves only mac ‘n’ cheese is like an ugly dude with a great sense of humor or an ugly woman with a great rack. Those who own their gifts will succeed in spite of any other shortcomings. S’MAC owns mac ‘n’ cheese, so it doesn’t matter that the staff is surly or that the cutthroat competition for the few available seats would make Darwin drool.
When I see a menu as thick as a Harry Potter book, I know the food will be average at best. (If the Cheesecake Factory stuck to cheesecake, it might be critically acclaimed. It chooses instead to be a jack-of-all-trades. And it chooses to dress its servers in those all-white atrocities.) S’MAC, which is short for Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese, makes mac ‘n’ cheese. Other than a side salad, some gluten-free faux-mac options and brownies for dessert, it doesn’t make anything else. The cooks are experts at keeping the cast-iron skillets in the oven long enough to create a crust on top but not so long that the noodles beneath turn to plastic. A smart customer will choose cheeses that stand up to heat, that lock arms while others run. An even smarter customer will choose to add bacon. If you take one thing away from this venture, I hope it’s this: There is nothing on earth that can’t be improved by adding a few slabs of bacon.
For my creation, I chose the Mongo size. It came sizzling in a 10-inch skillet that would have made a fine weapon in our party’s quest for seats. In fact, one of my c0-workers almost planted a Major Munch-sized skillet in the face of a fellow diner to preserve her seating rights. Frankly, I’m shocked S’MAC doesn’t force diners to duel with skillets to claim chairs. Nothing would please me more than to watch hipsters hold their skillets aloft and scream “I demand cheesy satisfaction!”
I got my cheesy satisfaction Wednesday. For one night, the king of side dishes traveled from the edge of the plate to the center of the universe.
Today’s pre-meal workout: Five-mile run through Central Park.*
Featured workout tune: C’Mon (Catch ’em By Surprise) — Tiesto vs. Diplo featuring Busta Rhymes
*Every time I write one of these reviews, I’ll also post my workout for the day. I love to eat, but I have no intention of becoming a fat slob. Regular exercise keeps you healthy, and it also stokes the appetite for meals like this. If you’re going to eat this way, please exercise. If you keel over from a heart attack at 40, you’re missing out on 40 or 50 solid years of good meals.