100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes: IPA Mac and Cheese at Hops & Pie

No. 77 IPA Mac and Cheese at Hops & Pie 3920 Tennyson Street 303-477-7000

Macaroni and cheese is not something to be messed with lightly. For most of us, our childhood memories are interwoven with creamy, cheesy sauce, a crusty baked top and a bowlful of soft noodles. The odd, tangy taste of unnatural orange cheese goo coating tiny elbow mac can still be what we turn to in times of stress. Hops & Pie takes your inner child seriously but also wants to please your grown-up side. The result is a mac and cheese for adults, larded with smoked ham, dotted with peas and imbued with a subtle but unmistakable hint of bitter hops that blends perfectly with a crunchy herbed breadcrumb topping.

See also: 100 Favorite Dishes of 2014

Co-owner Leah Watson says the base of the recipe is "magic cheese" -- although a quick peek at the menu indicates Cheddar -- and reduced, seasoned cream. India pale ale is only stirred in at the end, for each order, so the fruity, hoppy flavors are fresh and bright, not cooked-down and muddy. The result is a rich but not overwhelmingly cheesy sauce that seems to build in intensity with each bite.

Smoke from the ham, herbs from the crumb topping and sweetness from the peas meld with undertones of beer, resulting in something that's almost a pot pie rather than a simple slurry of pasta and cheese. Purists might recoil at the number of ingredients -- at least until they try a bite. Even if the finicky kid in you insists on having mac and cheese one way only, Hops & Pie's version pushes so many comfort-food buttons that you'll be won over by the mature flavors while still indulging in bite after bite from your grown-up happy place -- a seat at the bar, that is.

In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at [email protected]

Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.

No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch No 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's No 94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co. No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top No. 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall No. 83: Chile Relleno Burrito at El Taco de Mexico No. 82: Scallop Crudo at Stoic & Genuine No. 81: Ceylon Curry Dosa at Khazana No. 80: The Lambada Torta at La Torteria No. 79: Pork Bulgogi at Dae Gee No. 78: the Pulled Pork Pig Pen Sandwich at Boney's