Melt — Birmingham, Alabama

The Mac Melt is a grilled cheese with mac and cheese.
The Mac Melt is a grilled cheese with mac and cheese.

There are so many things in life that shouldn’t work out but do. Like Jimmy from “Degrassi” being a successful rapper and dating Rihanna. Or the 2013 Iron Bowl. Or Canadian tuxedos.

One more item to add to that list: Melt’s mac and cheese + grilled cheese sandwich, also known as the Mac Melt.

Yes, you read that right. Melt – located in the Birmingham neighborhood of Avondale — gets a boatload of mac and cheese and sticks it between a grilled cheese on Texas toast. On its own, each item sounds pretty tasty – everyone loves mac and cheese, everyone loves buttery bread, everyone loves grilled cheese – but together, it doesn’t sound that appealing.

I ventured to the brick-and-mortar restaurant with a friend on a recent lunch break to try it out (sometimes Melt’s food truck, Matilda, can be seen roaming around town if you can’t make it to Avondale).  Just a warning: If you want to spend your lunch break with the good folks of Melt, you better get there early. The place fills up quickly.

About 10 minutes after ordering, my mac-and-cheese sandwich and side of fruit ($9 combined for both) arrived. (Yes, Mom, I do eat some fruit. Don’t worry.) The fruit was fresh and delicious, but let’s start real talk here: No one cares about fruit when you have a mac-and-cheese melt in front of you. It’s like choosing to eat a Big Mac when you there’s a Hamburger FonFon beside it — it just doesn’t happen.

Proof that I also ate fruit.
Proof that I also ate fruit.

The melt was indescribable. No, really: I have no way to describe what it tasted like. My friend sampled the sandwich and felt the same way. It was like nothing we had ever tried before. The penne pasta was excellently cooked and covered in lots of gooey cheese, and the restaurant definitely didn’t skimp on the mac. And the bread never got soggy despite all that cheese weight. It was a perfect combo. Seriously, y’all. I know I have a love of bold statements, but really: If sandwiches were Beatles songs, this would be the chorus in “Hey Jude.” It’s fun and triumphant and oh-so-good.

And pro tip: If you’re not in an adventurous mood or just want to get something else on the menu, you can still get plain ol’ mac as a side item for $5. It may not have you singing the Beatles, but it’ll be well worth it.

Should you order it? Yes, yes, yes.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Want to go?

Melt, 4105 4th Ave. S, Birmingham, meltbham.com, (205) 917-5000

Advertisements

Bottega Cafe — Birmingham, Alabama

IMG_2487

Bottega Cafe

2240 Highland Ave. South, Birmingham

http://bottegarestaurant.com

A Frank Stitt restaurant serving a bad dish is like Justin Timberlake releasing a subpar single: It just rarely happens.  Keeping this in mind,  a friend and I recently made our way to Stitt’s Bottega Cafe in Birmingham.

We were the earlybirds  on a Saturday night — we got there around 5:15, and just a few tables were occupied.  We got our app — homemade potato chips and charred onion dip — about 10 minutes after ordering. The chips were crispy and delicious and addicting. I could have easily eaten them all day. And the onion dip was stellar. A bit of a tang and creamy goodness.

But I wasn’t at Bottega Cafe for the apps — I was there  for the mac and cheese. More importantly, the mac and cheese and small salad, which the restaurant offers for $12.  Right as we were finishing the app — perfect timing! — the entrees came out.

HOLY. CRAP.

If mac and cheese dishes were pieces of art (and really, they should be, but that’s another story, another day), then this mac and cheese would be the Mona Lisa. Or the Sistine Chapel. Or anything breathtaking, really. It almost looks too perfect to eat. Almost.

The mac and cheese was a bit too hot (a problem I don’t mind to have) when it arrived, so I snacked on the salad a bit. It was fresh and tasty. But once again, I wasn’t there for the salad. I was there for the mac.

And oh my goodness. You know when you have a long week and just need a drink (and maybe a slice or three of pizza)? And when you take the first sip of the drink, everything bad about the week seems to go away?

Well, that’s what the first bite of this mac and cheese is like. It probably has healing powers. (Definitely tell your Facebook friends who are into essential oils.)  It’s creamy and baked to perfection and tastes as good as it looks. Another added perk: It doesn’t taste as heavy as most of the other mac and cheeses I’ve tried — it could be because of the side salad, or magical powers — so there’s no food coma afterward.

The serving size was so large that I had leftovers, so I had it boxed up and took it (and the salad) home. Another another miracle happened: the leftover mac and cheese was even better, if possible, and the salad wasn’t wilted. I meant to save some of the leftovers to share, but I ate it all with zero shame. Sharing is caring unless it involves mac and cheese, kids — then sharing is insane.

Should you try the mac and cheese? Yes, duh

Rating: 9 out of 10

Taco Mama — Mountain Brook, Alabama

(null)Taco Mama

Locations: Mountain Brook, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa

Website

When you think “mac and cheese,” Mexican restaurants probably don’t come to mind. But if Taco Mama is any indication, you should consider mac and cheese with your burritos.

Taco Mama has three locations: Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village, Huntsville and downtown Tuscaloosa. Dudefriend and I made our way to the Crestline location on a recent Friday night. The place was packed: there were about six people in front of us in line, and almost every table inside and outside was occupied. After a 15-minute wait, we ordered and got the last empty table inside.

Obligatory warning: If you’re not into family-friendly restaurants, you may want to think twice before making your way to the Crestline location. Almost every table besides ours was occupied by families with children, but remember: it’s 2015. All of the kids were playing on their iPads (thank you forever, Steve Jobs) and digging into their food and were probably more well-behaved than your friend who still tells “that’s what she said” jokes. So, there are a lot of kids and parents, but you’re not going to get judged for ordering a marg or two. We certainly didn’t.

After a 10-minute wait, we got our food. I ordered the mix-and-match two taco deal. I picked the Mayor (marinated chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, creamy cilantro pesto and queso fresco) which was a bit above average, but luckily the Alabama Redneck (roasted pull pork, ancho chile sauce, pickles, Mama’s Chipotle Barbecue Sauce) was flavorful and phenomenal. Definitely a must-try. The tacos came with lots of chips and salsa (fresh with a nice spicy kick) and a choice of a side. I went with the Mexican Mac and Cheese because that’s what I’m here for, y’all.

With a name like Mexican Mac and Cheese, you expect something with a bit of a kick. Maybe some jalapenos. Maybe some red peppers. Maybe some corn. There was none of this — it was just your standard mac and cheese with ziti noodles and four cheeses. But I forgave Taco Mama for the poor naming after the first bite. It was super hot and creamy and cheesy and everything mac and cheese should be. And although Taco Mama gives you an ample helping of the mac (and plenty of other food), I was bummed when I ate the last bite — even though it was physically impossible for me to eat anything else. That’s how tasty it is.

The best part? Taco Mama’s prices are on point. All of this fresh food (two tacos, chips and salsa, mac) cost $9. If you just want a side of mac it’ll cost you $3; and a kids’ serving (plus chips and salsa) will just cost you $4.

It’s definitely worth the wait in line.

Should you try the mac? Yes oh my goodness Yes.
Rating: 8.5