There's nothing I crave more often than simple creamy, macaroni and cheese, the cheesier the better. In good hands, this student staple can be transformed into a dish that you just can't stop marveling over. In bad hands, mac and cheese is usually just boring rather than downright inedible -- although if the dish is just orange, bland, and gluey, it's downright dispiriting.
A look at a few mac and cheese options around Madison follows.
The richest, creamiest mac and cheese to be found comes from Kipp's Down-Home Cookin' on Monroe Street across from the stadium. This must be made with cream, maybe even cream cheese. It has a velvety super-richness without having a super-cheesiness. If there's a drawback, it's that the elbow macaroni is on the mushy side. A side dish on the Kipp's menu, it comes in regular ($3) and large ($5). And Kipp's delivers.
Noodles and Company somehow manages to get its elbow macaroni boiled to a perfect al dente every time. There's something strange about this kind of consistency. But consistent they are. Once you mix the cheese into the macaroni, it's a satisfying and definitely cheddary. I love the little bite that the noodles retain. It's made with a cheese sauce and a cheddar and jack blend sprinkled on top for plenty of dairy nirvana. Comes in a small ($4) and large ($5.25). The large can get to be a little too much of a good thing. Multiple locations throughout the greater Madison area make it easy to satisfy a sudden craving.
This crumb-topped version is made with sharp Wisconsin cheddar. The Old Fashioned's mac comes with a side of old fashioned ring bologna, which seals the deal. Very nice presentation, cheesiness and bite ($8 (mac and cheese only; $10 with bologna).
The Fork and Spoon uses RP's fresh rigatoni and Hook's three-year cheddar. Unfortunately, the cheese doesn't have a lot of oomph. Even after adding salt and some freshly grated parmesan, the taste can be charitably described as "subtle." Possibly my beef is with Hook's, as I didn't care for its cheddar as the base for a grilled cheese at Barrique's, either. At $6, the smallish serving was a disappointment.
Trader Joe's really wonderful frozen mac and cheese is similar to the Noodles version. It heats up nicely in the microwave. It is extremely cheesy. The noodles -- elbow macaroni -- retain some bite. This time of year, add some fresh chopped tomatoes and basil. $2 per package, which feeds two people who are practicing portion control or one person who's not.