Two Bucks


Two Bucks Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese Named on 9 Best Mac and Cheese in CLE List! by

November 25, 2014


With the snow and cold we've had this week, you're probably thinking two words:comfort food. Or maybe that's just us.

Suffice it to say, macaroni and cheese was the ultimate winter warmer for many of us as kids—warm, gooey, savory and satisfying.

After sledding, snowball fights or that ridiculously cold walk home from school, a warm bowl of that burnished golden goodness was perfection.

Still reading? Good. That means you've never lost your taste for the comfort classic and probably lean on your own home version on days like these.

But perhaps your taste it has changed a bit, grown more sophisticated over time. If that's the case, this next installment of our weekly "To the 9s" column is right up your alley.

We're about to roll out the "9 best grown-up mac and cheese dishes in Cleveland."

This time of year, a lot of local kitchens offer up their spin on the pasta casserole.

And while the anchor dish has origins dating back to the 14th century, most localversions of it are far more interesting than the pasta-flour-butter-milk-cheese combo. Everything from chorizo, candied onions and red pepper, to bar bacon and lobster with Boursin cheese and Béchamel are components to local variations.

Did we miss your favorite? Tell us all about it in the comments section—unless you're extolling the virtues of the "One in the Blue Box" variation, in which case, save it. We've all gotten down with the self-proclaimed "cheesiest" from time to time and have a soft spot for it.   

The Willeyville (1051 W. 10th St., Cleveland; 216-862-6422,  This rendition is pure wizardry—some kind of steakhouse-style alchemy was involved when The Willeyville interpreted the cheesy casserole. They start with local grass-fed beef cheek and a rich and piquant smoked bleu cheese. But they don't stop there, pulling the dish together with carmelized onions, asparagus and charred jalapeno. All the flavor profiles are represented here, with the onion adding just the right amount of sweetness. All that, and it's beautiful to behold? Indeed. Truly a meal all by itself. Lucky's Café (777 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland; 216-622-7773, At the risk of sounding like Guy Fieri here (he did visit after all), we must start with this generous boatload of luscious molten goodness. If there is a watermark version of cheesy mac in Cleveland, Chef Heather Haviland's is most certainly it. Her baked mac is pulled together with copious amounts of cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella and brie, which envelop the baked pasta in concert with butter, cream and brioche bread.  It's a hearty serving, but save room for the house-made applesauce that comes on the side. Bonus: It's a totally kid-friendly meal.

Fahrenheit (2417 Professor Ave., Cleveland; 216-781-8858, Rocco Whelan's decadent spin on Lobster Mac and Cheese made a fan out of local WKYC newsman Russ Mitchell. It's not hard to figure out why: Rocco's version starts with butter-poached Maine lobster as the protein. The dish comes together with oven-dried tomatoes, brie and goat cheese, a cognac reduction and chives, and the whole shebang gift-wraps a fresh, hulking portion of rigatoni. Order this fleece blanket for your insides, and a half-hour siesta in a chaise should be the required night cap.

Lolita (900 Literary Rd., Cleveland; 216-771-5652,  Readers will say "of course, Michael Symon." Let's face it: if not for him, all manner of unique cuisine in Cleveland—variations on mac and cheese included—might be the exception instead of the norm. His popular dish is bold in its simplicity: shredded roasted chicken, goat cheese and fresh, aromatic rosemary surrounded by heavy cream, kosher salt and cracked black pepper. It's a fan favorite, one that would surely inspire riots if Symon ever decided to drop it from the menu.  

Two Bucks (multiple locations,  This one's a dark horse, and not at all what you'd expect from a hyper-local corner-bar "chain" with a budget-conscious name. The Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese came "highly recommended" and, to that end, has multiple layers of flavor and personality baked into some pretty cheesy ziti. The upsells, which include chicken, bacon, hot sausage and (our personal favorite) buffalo chicken, lets diners have it their way. It's also child-friendly and an obscenely-low-priced dish for the portion size—which counts in a town like ours.  


Fat Cats (1307 Auburn Ave. 216-589-9112, Fat Cats does a lot of things right on their menu, but their sophisticated version of Macaroni and Cheese pairs sweet and savory in a dish that would seem at right at home on a Thanksgiving table. They start with a thin, well-prepared chicken paillard, adding Brussels sprouts, Ohio apples, "sage toasted bread crumbs" and cheddar cheese to the milieu.  Arriving with this at your holiday dinner would make you a hero. Having this dish during a night out makes you feel like you've been rescued by one.

South Side (2207 W. 11th St., Cleveland; 216-937-2288,  Another grown-up mac and cheese masterpiece, this dish features smoked gouda and goat cheeses as the saucy base, and the pasta is then gilded with roasted mushrooms, sweet carmelized onions and topped with a salty parmesan crust. That alone makes the dish a winner; upsell additions of chicken or bacon make this incredibly addictive dish even more enticing. The earthiness of the mushrooms lend to a depth of flavor here. Absent from the menu for a while, we're glad to see its sexy and glorious return.

The Oak Barrel Brasserie and Taphouse (5975 Canal Rd., Valley View; 216-520-3640, In terms of sheer richness, the Duck Confit Mac and Cheese at the Oak Barrel really should be against the law—perhaps only a misdemeanor, but illegal either way. It is an rich, opulent, dish with French and Italian nods (pecorino romano cheese, peas and orecchiette pasta ) with subtle nutmeg underpinning the béchamel. The menu is "gastropub" (yeah, we hate that word, too) but the spirit is definitely casual-upscale. This makes us wish they'd take a crack at cassoulet. Weather's perfect for it.     

The Diner on Clifton (11637 Clifton Blvd., Cleveland; 216-521-5003, Let's finish with a classic—because sometimes the kid at heart just wants what the kid at heart wants. This is the red-blooded, All-American, textbook execution of homemade mac at its finest. The Diner on Clifton's small side portion is plenty filling, but if you double-down for their delicious dinner-sized portion, you could feed two or more. And if you eat all that golden, delicious cheesiness all by yourself? Well, your next move should be Netflix and a down comforter. Bonus: their classic diner menu is a winner for all.

Chakerian is a freelance writer in Bay Village