It all started, as so many of the best things in life do, with Robbie C.
Yes, our sweet Robrick, the Prince of Pepperoni, Monsignor Pizza Pie, caught the attention of a reporter named Galen Culver and his recurring segment on KFOR, “Is This A Great State Or What?” Robin, as you know, is on a quest to review every pepperoni pizza he can get his hands on, which he occasionally publishes here as Robbie C’s Pepperoni Situation.
Rob took Galen around town for a few of his favorite pizzas and made a pretty great segment out of it.
Everybody loves food, but I’ve never met anyone who loves food more than a journalist. It’s a job that often requires you to skip meals—sometimes because you’re too busy, often because you’re too broke—so when there’s food to be had, journalists are always at the front of the line.
Galen’s story prompted KFOR meteorologist (and “Rise & Shine” co-host on KAUT) Emily Sutton to say she wanted in on the fun, but her tastes run in a slightly different carb-y, cheesy direction: macaroni and cheese. So, what was I going to do, say no?
We gathered up local chef/heartthrob/KAUT contributor Scotty Irani and the three of us blazed a trail across Oklahoma City looking for some great mac and cheese.
First Stop: Off the Hook Seafood & More
Chef Corey “Slawta” Harris has been on a crazy roll the last few years. His food truck became a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which spawned a second location on the southside, and a handful of TV appearances followed. He won appearances on Food Network’s “Bite Club” and “Family Food Showdown” and started his own edibles company.
When I asked people for their favorite restaurants for mac and cheese, Off the Hook kept coming up. Well, now we know why.
Off the Hook’s version eschews macaroni for farfalle, or bowtie pasta, and it is swimming in a gooey, stretchy lake of cheese sauce that cranks the flavor up to 11.
According to Harris, he uses a hefty dose of garlic—it adds a pop of flavor and heat—as well as white pepper and a touch of sugar for sweetness.
We absolutely devoured it. Mac and cheese might just be a side at Off the Hook, but it’s good enough that I’d gladly get three and make it my whole meal (except, you know, it’s Off the Hook, so I’m already committed to getting smothered shrimp, catfish, and grits...and a Melted Lobster sandwich).
Second Stop: Burger Pig
Though it’s only been open a couple of months, I’ve become quite a fan of Parlor. This OKC food hall has some of my favorite pizza in the city at Providence Pizza Co., the twin terrors of Chris McCabe’s El Guate and Jonas Favela’s Graffiti, and the much-missed Pachinko Parlor, back for another go around.
But more and more, I’ve found myself drawn to Burger Pig, run by chef Timothy Abell. His burgers, be they a blend of pork and chorizo or his tasty aged beef versions, are fast becoming some of my favorite in the city.
So when I saw he was unveiling a new macaroni and cheese using Della Terra Pasta (made locally, loved internationally), I knew we needed to go. We were not disappointed.
Abell uses a blend of five cheeses and a specially shaped pasta from Della Terra called creste di gallo—literal translation is cock’s comb, aka the red thing on top of a rooster’s head—that is almost a cross between a farfalle and a macaroni. There’s a fringe of ruffles on one end and a small tube on the other, which is perfect for catching cheese sauce. Pair that with Della Terra’s brass-die method, which gives the noodles more texture, and you can understand why this is a mac and cheese to be reckoned with.
Oh, and since it’s Burger Pig, Abell tops his mac and cheese with fried lardons of pork belly, giving this a meaty, salty punch.
If you love macaroni and cheese, then you need to visit Burger Pig, because this one might have been my favorite of the day...and when you see the rest of the competition, you’ll know that’s saying something.
Third Stop: Iron Star Urban Barbeque
Yeah. We called in the heavy hitters. Iron Star is well-known for their “fancy mac & cheese,” which is simple, straightforward, and incredibly delicious. When Emily and I asked you on social media for mac and cheese recommendations, Iron Star led the pack and it wasn’t even close.
Rather than macaroni, Iron Star uses a smooth ziti (not to be confused with penne, which is cut diagonally) in their dish. It’s a larger noodle and that added space inside allows the pasta to be coated with cheese in every direction.
The sauce itself is made with gruyere and heavy cream. Gruyere is an assertive cheese, so pairing it with heavy cream helps mellow it out. There’s a ton of flavor, but you also get the buttery flavor from the cream to balance it out.
Again, this is a side dish that I’m absolutely certain many of you have turned into a full meal. I think Iron Star noticed that, because they’re doing a Monday night special of chili mac—their unbelievably good range chili (brisket, pork, and ground beef) over the macaroni and cheese—and I’m already kind of planning my schedule around it.
Look, you can say you love macaroni and cheese all you like, but until you’ve eaten Iron Star’s, I can’t take you seriously.
Fourth Stop: Bricktown Brewery
A decade back, Bricktown Brewery was a joke locals played on tourists. Harsh? Maybe. But the truth is, there was a time I figured Bricktown Brewery was headed for the same scrapheap as Windy City and Spaghetti Warehouse.
New ownership really believed in the concept and they’ve been updating the menu regularly, pushing the boundaries, and really finding some crazy, over-the-top dishes that work like gangbusters. (They’re long since gone, but for a minute, BTB had SPAM fries that were kind of next level.)
While we went to the extremely busy Bricktown location specifically for the green chili chicken mac and cheese, we found out there’s another mac and cheese on the menu—a grilled cheese sandwich filled with shaved ham, mac and cheese, and even more cheese, served with tomato soup for dipping.
As a straight-up mac and cheese, the green chili chicken mac and cheese needs way more cheese to compete. But it’s also an entree, rather than a side, and the focus really is on the shredded chicken and green chili, with the mac and cheese acting more as a base. It’s a tasty dish, but don’t go in expecting it to be as cheesy as the others.
The sandwich made up for that deficit, though. By layering sliced cheese over and under the mac and cheese, it gives it a much more intense cheese flavor and helps the sandwich stick together when you dip it in the soup. (You think you won’t dip? Well, look who thinks they can resist the urge to dip a sandwich in soup, like some kind of big shot!)
Final Stop: The Hamilton Supperette & Lounge
Northpark Mall is going to be a monster. Rococo Northpark has been there for years, holding it down, but the addition of Lip Smackers and Hacienda Tacos, among others, has been huge for what was a failing mall.
With The Hamilton Supperette & Lounge coming in, it’s only getting better. Owner Jimmy Mays, chef Michael Paske, and the staff are firing on all cylinders right now and it shows.
Now, I tried a bit of the mac and cheese earlier and I knew it was still a work in progress. When Emily, Scotty, and I arrived, we got to try the finished product and it. Is. BANGING.
The Hamilton makes their own Boursin, a creamy, tangy cow’s milk cheese that’s not far off from cream cheese. They also use jack cheese, which is known for being very melty—I use it in my homemade mac and cheese for texture alone—and cavatappi pasta, which is sort of like elbow macaroni if it just kept going.
Even after four restaurants and five versions of mac and cheese, we went to town on this dish. It’s crazy creamy, but with a huge punch of flavor. The extra flourish of fried shallots on top? Masterful. The texture is unreal and it shows how, even with their earlier successes, they kept working on making it better. That’s the sign of a great restaurant right there.
I know what you’re saying...okay, that’s not true. I have no idea. Are you ordering coffee? Are you telling someone a joke? But, if you’ve been reading this, you might be saying, “But you didn’t include [insert your personal favorite mac and cheese] on the list!” No. No I didn’t. But something tells me that Scotty and Emily and I have a few more of these Big Carb-tastic Hunts to go on in the coming months. So leave your favorite mac and cheese recommendations in the comments and maybe we’ll get to them on Round 2.