Mac and cheese is a quintessentially American cuisine, something that I’ve definitely eaten before, but it never really transitioned into my own personal comfort food, simply because it was never really around much growing up. When I went gluten-free I was too busy mourning the loss of everything else to really register that I couldn’t have mac & cheese anymore.
Sarita’s Mac and Cheese (or S’MAC for short) is a chain of mac and cheese restaurants that also caters to the gluten-free crowd. But what makes this place unusual, compared to the hordes of restaurants that claim to cater “gluten-free” , is that this place is actually coeliac friendly. A lot of restaurants with a gluten-free menu will either specifically say they are not suitable for coeliacs, or make such a vague and ambiguous statement that you aren’t sure whether to trust them or not. But S’MAC is as safe as you can get. The owner wanted to make a place that would welcome everyone regardless of allergies, but during the process of tasting and developing her recipes, developed gluten intolerance as well!
The East Village branch was pretty trendy, catering to a fairly young (and dare I say hipster) crowd. There were some carefully calculated bare brick walls, with brand new light fittings but the place still retained a kind of “run-down diner” feel, while remaining new and clean.
Every type of mac and cheese they serve is available with gluten-free macaroni, so the choice isn’t restricted at all. The first time I went I had the Parisienne, with figs, mushrooms and brie.
If you’re wondering what that is on top – it’s breadcrumbs. All breadcrumbs in the restaurant are made with gluten-free cornflakes, which greatly reduces the chance of cross contamination as the only thing in the restaurant which contain gluten is other people’s macaroni, which is cooked separately.
Oh this was so delicious! The smallest size was plenty big enough for lunch and it tasted so wonderfully indulgent. I was really keen on the use of figs, which provided a surprising sweetness that worked well with the other ingredients.
The only downside is the $1.50 supplement for the gluten-free pasta. This seems to be far more common in the US than over here, where I guess gluten-free is seen as more of a “lifestyle” than a medical necessity. Additionally, lactose-reduced and vegan cheese are available for a supplement too. So those on gluten- and dairy-free diets have to pay considerably more for the privilege.
I enjoyed S’MAC so much that I went back with my friend, this time to the Murray Hill branch, and got a “take and bake” – where they prepare it for you and you bake it at home. Unfortunately they had put the wrong labels on the boxes, which my friend noticed because the gluten-free pasta is a slightly different colour. It just goes to show that even in a “safe” place, you must always be vigilant.
Overall, S’MAC is a “must try” place for any coeliac visiting New York. It isn’t fine dining, but it is delicious, informal, quick, easy and oh so comforting!