Mac and Cheese Mania

In the comfort food revival that’s swept menus over the past few years, no single item encapsulates the trend better than Mac and Cheese. Consumers nationwide keep reaching for forkful after forkful of the creamy, indulgent and nostalgic allure of this classically American pasta dish.
According to a proprietary study for Barilla by Mintel, Mac and Cheese menuing is up 78% since 2008. It’s happening in casual dining most of all, but every segment is getting in on the action, from QSRs to fast-casual and family dining. With all this ooey-gooey goodness already on the menu, it’s increasingly difficult to have a signature mac and cheese that can stand out from the crowd.
Here are a couple of strategies to help you get you your piece of the mac and cheese pie.

Strategy #1: Make mine local

Regional variations take full advantage of Mac and Cheese’s versatility, while bringing local flavor to the plate.


Boston’s Tremont 647 combines the higher-end, regional appeal of lobster and nostalgia of Ritz® cracker topping in their famous Lobster Mac. It’s lobster mornay with swiss and cheddar, fresh lobster, and Ritz cracker topping.
Pennsylvania-based Quaker Steak and Lube honors the classic Philly Cheesesteak with their Philly Cheese Mac. The pasta is Barilla Radiatore (radiators) in keeping with the chain’s automotive theme.
Houston’s Jus’ Mac does homage to their hometown Tex Mex with a “Taco Mexi” – ground beef,     avocado, tomatoes and tortilla chips – and to Texas BBQ with a mac and cheese paired with smoked brisket and BBQ sauce.

Strategy #2: Go all-in with indulgence

If a customer is ordering the Mac and Cheese, they probably aren’t looking for the healthy option. Take it over the top with high-flavor, umami ingredients like bacon, blue cheese, truffles, lobster or crab, pulled pork, mushrooms, caramelized onions.


MacDaddy’s Macaroni and Cheese Bar, four locations in Connecticut and Texas: Mac Mushroom – Crimini & shitake mushrooms, porcini emulsion, asiago, melted mozzarella, drizzled with truffle oil.
S’Mac, three Manhattan locations: “Parisienne” -Mac-n-Cheese for the “upper crust”. Creamy Brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitake mushrooms & fresh rosemary.
St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, Indianapolis: “Fried Bacon Infused Mac n Cheese”. According to the menu, “Everything’s better with bacon…and fried.”
Noodles & Company, 311 locations nationwide: “Truffle Mac” – Our signature Mac & Cheese sauce spiked with white truffle oil, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms and topped with parmesan cheese and house-made toasted breadcrumbs.

Advice from the Mac Maestro’s:

Thomas Horner, Executive Chef JW Marriott Desert Springs, CA

“Mac and cheese is brilliant for an operation like mine; it’s easy to execute, the food cost is excellent, and it can have both comfort-food appeal and be sophisticated and special at the same time.”

Kimberly Alvarez, Jus Mac, Houston
“Focus on the creaminess of the sauce, fresh ingredients, good taste, and always use a high-quality pasta. Barilla elbows are the foundation of all of our Macs, and we know we can count on them to hold their shape and texture in every dish.”
Katy Malaniak, Quaker Steak & Lube, Sharon PA
“Get creative with the pasta shapes; we were unsure if kids would warm up to anything other than an elbow. But the Barilla Radiatore have been a success since the start.”

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