During this snowy spring, it often feels like we have one foot out the door to summer, and one still back by the fire, sticking loyally to our favorite winter comfort foods. As with fans of grilled cheese, lovers of macaroni and cheese divide into two factions: the progressive thinkers and the purists. Some like their macaroni folded into decadent, multiple-cheese sauces riddled with mushrooms, greens or seafood; others remain faithful to elbows swimming in the bliss of simple, silky cheese. Here (in no particular order) is our list of Denver's ten best macaroni and cheese dishes; there should be something here to please everyone along the spectrum.
10) The Hornet Since the Hornet is a Broadway mainstay known for its comfort-heavy menu, it's no surprise that its rendition of mac and cheese is a crowd favorite. The "shells and cheddar" kicks it up a notch with lobster, applewood bacon, cheddar, and fontina, then is baked under a layer of cheese and toasted bread crumbs. When your fork hits the top, it gives way to a gratifying, creamy center. This mac and cheese is simple and to the point -- with a few tasty surprises along the way.
9) Tom's Home Cookin' This soul-food joint in Five Points puts out a simple, no-nonsense macaroni and cheese for the purists out there. Cheese-packed, creamy and hearty, it's just as delicious on its own as it is served as a side and doused in Tom's barbecue sauce -- that is, if you're willing to compromise the dish's authenticity with a condiment.
8) Steuben's Steuben's blends American, cheddar, camembert, fontina and Swiss cheeses in its traditional rendition, which is baked and topped with a toasted breadcrumb crust. This is unfussy -- if not over-abundant -- cheese perfection at its finest.
7) D Bar Desserts The lunch and dinner offerings at D Bar Desserts are often overlooked in favor of their sweeter counterparts, and understandably so. But the baked mac & cheese alone is worthy of a visit here. Made with four cheeses, a layer of toasty cheese nips and panko crumbs, and served with a simple salad, this is a good mac that almost seems good for you, too.
6) Jonesy's EatBar Jonesy's is known for its French fries, which won our Best of Denver award this year, but the mac and cheese has plenty of fans, too. As Jonesy's says, the mac & cheese is made with "cheddar, cream, and love." You can eat it on its own, or add bacon or brocolini. Either way, it's definitely delicious.
5) Serioz Pizzeria Usually we wouldn't look for mac and cheese at a pizzeria -- the closest you'd come is probably overcooked fettucini swimming in heavy cream (not that this would upset us). At Serioz, though, the kitchen takes mac and cheese seriously. This version uses mozzarella, provolone, gouda and blue cheese, and tops all that goodness with toasted bread crumbs and truffle oil.
4) Sassafras When Sassafras says down-home, it means it. The made-to-order mac and cheese here is billed as "Granny's recipe," which starts with creamy cheese sauce and shaved Grana Padano. Good gets even better with the addition of bacon, mushrooms and peas, collard greens, a fried egg or pulled pork. Go, Granny, go! Continue reading for the rest of our favorites.
3) Sputnik The mac and cheese at Sputnik has gone through several evolutions, and the current version is out of this world -- a tasty combination of cheddar, asiago, monterey jack, cheez-it crumbs, and green onion, served in a big bowl with no frills and no extras. But you don't need them.
2) Ignite If you like your meal cooked in a skillet in a wood-fired oven (and come on! who doesn't?!) this mac and cheese is for you. That sizzling skillet holds cavatappi, a creamy four-cheese bechamel sauce, and smoked bacon and tomato; diners have the option of adding roast chicken or mushrooms.
1) Mizuna The macaroni and cheese at Mizuna has been a hit since Frank Bonanno first put it on Mizuna's menu. This dish represents the highest elevation of a traditionally low-brow dish: simple elbow pasta dressed with smooth mascarpone cheese, beurre blanc, poached lobster and delicate lobster oil. White pepper and chervil round out this perfect plate for the most elegant -- and pricey -- take on macaroni we've ever tried, which won the Best Mac and Cheese award in the Best of Denver 2013.
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