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Five "Dressed Up" Macaroni and Cheeses

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A few weeks ago I wrote about my Top Five Stellar (Plain) Mac and Cheeses. Now, as promised, I'm moving on to my favorite "dressed up" versions. You know, those gourmet, fancy-schmancy types that combine hand-cut pasta with double-cream cheeses and everything from caviar to peanut butter. Behold, my five favorite in Houston:

5. Fleming's Chipotle Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese. Confusingly, missing from its title is the most important part of this macaroni and cheese: the leeks! These little bits of green infuse the baked cheddar cheese with some acidic notes, balancing out the potentially eye-watering pepper flavor. Pair it with a larger steak, as the standard serving of Fleming's Chipotle Cheddar (and Leek) Macaroni & Cheese is moderate. Perhaps the chefs believe there can be too much of a good thing.

4. Jus' Mac's Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. The number one reason I usually don't make a meal of just mac & cheese is that I'm usually craving protein as well as carbohydrates. Jus' Mac saves me the trouble of ordering multiple dishes by stuffing tender strips of chicken and bacon into a skillet of bleu cheesy pasta drizzled with hot sauce (the best part of buffalo chicken, let's be honest). For extra fun, I suggest using the celery stick garnishes as chopsticks...unless, of course, that's your "vegetable" for the day.

3. 17 Restaurant's Truffle Mac & Cheese. In an ideal world, 17 Restaurant would take a cue from NYC's The Waverly Inn and actually shave fresh black truffles onto their macaroni and cheese after it arrived at your table. However, as these days I'm unwilling to pay $55-plus for an entrees, I'm more than satisfied with their use of white truffle oil, which adds a certain pleasantly salty flair to their mac and cheese.

2. BRC Gastropub's Bleu Cheese, Ham, and Caramelized Onion Mac & Cheese. This is the stinkiest macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted or smelled...but in the best possible way. The combination of pungent cheese crumbles and onions give rise to a unique taste that's a welcome change from standard strong cheddar flavors. Sadly, the Bleu Cheese, Ham, and Caramelized Onion version is not available every day because BRC rotates its macaroni and cheeses, so I suggest checking out the restaurant's Facebook page or calling ahead: the chef may just offer to make it special for you.

1. Kata Robata's Miso Lobster Macaroni & Cheese. So far from Stouffer's that it might just be a different species, Kata Robata's mac & cheese is too rich and robust (and at $19, too expensive) to be considered just a side dish. A whole bisected lobster flanks a deep serving bowl filled with baked elbow macaroni, sweet crustacean chunks, and sarvecchio parmesan, marieke gouda, and veldhuizen redneck cheddar cheeses (all courtesy of the Houston Dairy Maids). Panko bread crumbs provide a wonderful buttery crunch, and the touch of yeasty tofu flavor completes this perfect meeting of Japanese and American cuisine.

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