Feeding the Soul With Macaroni and Cheese

Columns Ono, You Know

November 19, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

Let’s face it, the holidays are practically here — Thanksgiving is this Thursday — so why even think about dieting?! Why torture yourself silly this time of year when you can graciously accept all the rich and decadent cuisine before you? Well, that’s how I see it. Holiday dining is so special to me for many reasons: For starters, it brings loved ones and friends close together to cherish the season, and secondly the bounties of delicious treats that grace the table taste so much heartier — maybe it’s all thanks to an extra helping of that one secret ingredient called love.

So, before the frenzy of holiday cooking gets into full swing, I took this week before Thanksgiving to enjoy a simple, yet sensational dish — macaroni and cheese. No need to get fancy here. Yet, as I began my search for some of the best mac and cheese around town, I soon noticed that many Ono, You Know establishments have taken this old-fashioned comfort food for the soul to a much grander scale, adding a bit of pepper and spice, and everything nice — not to mention loads of cheese!

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

  • The editor discovers it's easy to get bowled over by Macaroni Grill's Macaroni and Cheese ($10.99).
  • Macaroni Grill's Macaroni and Cheese ($10.99, 10 ounces)
  • Kid's love Macaroni Grill's Macaroni and Cheese kid's meal ($8.59) served with a soft drink and ice cream sundae.
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The name says it all, so it’s no surprise that Romano’s Macaroni Grill is home to one of the best comfort foods ever — Macaroni and Cheese. Adored by both keiki and adults alike, this ooey, gooey, goodness is an all-American favorite here at this top-charted establishment, known for its Tuscan-inspired Italian cuisine.

Executive chef Michael Longworth, who has 30-plus years of culinary experience, has helped pave the way for Macaroni Grill’s luscious cuisine since he came on board in 2005 when the restaurant first opened at Ala Moana Center’s Hookipa Terrace.

Grand portions are a guarantee when dining here, so bring along the entire family to tackle the feast. While there’s so much to choose from, including lasagna, pizza or penne rustica, the keiki are jumping for joy when it comes to Macaroni Grill’s delectable Macaroni and Cheese (4-ounce portion). You’ll find this favorite on the keiki menu (for ages 12 and under) for $8.59, complete with a soft drink and the sweetest of ice cream sundaes.

“We’ve sold about 4,600 orders of mac and cheese off of our keiki menu since the beginning of this year,” says general manager Kunani Blake. “I think that shows just how popular it is among the kids.”

Seriously, what’s not to love about mac and cheese? Yet, ironically enough, the Macaroni and Cheese at Romano’s Macaroni Grill is made with penne pasta, not elbow macaroni.

“The penne pasta is mixed with our secret cheese sauce,” Blake says with a smile.

I couldn’t resist. I just had to take a bite, and it was nothing short of delicious, or should I say, onolicious?

“Macaroni and Cheese isn’t only just for kids, adults love it, too,” he adds. “It’s a dish everyone can identify with.”

Parents, let your child eat their kid’s meal in peace. I know they make the food look so ono, but not to worry, there’s a 10-ounce portion ($10.99) of this full-flavored dish just for you!

The Cheddar cheesy sauce is everything here — it’s creamy, rich and ultimately satisfying. I’m crazy about cheese, so, of course, I have to top it off with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan.

Do away with the smoke and mirrors. Here at Macaroni Grill, a simple portion of Macaroni and Cheese takes the spotlight all its own.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Ala Moana Center — Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 4240
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  • RumFire's "Angry" Mac n Cheese ($8).
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Turn up the heat at RumFire at the Sheraton Waikiki, as it presents patrons with alluring flavors and its signature zest that’s showcased in its recently new and improved menu, emphasizing the best and freshest in local products.

Brett Villarmia serves as executive chef here, and says contemporary tapas are their specialty. He refers to RumFire’s new menu concept as “social comfort food,” quite fitting with the social comfort food of macaroni and cheese. However, RumFire offers a mac and cheese that differs from the norm. With a name like “Angry” Mac n Cheese ($8), you know it’s going to be good — and you know your palate can’t wait to take it all in.

“Our ‘Angry’ Mac n Cheese is something unique to us here at RumFire — it’s like your traditional mac and cheese, only we utilize pepper jack cheese and cheese sauce finished with chipotle,” Villarmia says. “We basically made it RumFire-style and kicked it up a little by adding chipotle and other spices to it, and it also comes complete with a tomato-powder crust. It’s very hip.”

Hip indeed and zesty in every sense of the word. RumFire definitely puts the spice in life — that is, if you can take the heat. Personally, I have a high heat tolerance, so when I’m craving a sinful, yet hearty culinary masterpiece, this is my No. 1 pick.

While you’re at it, make your RumFire experience the best yet by also sampling the restaurant’s classics, such as Kim Chee Fried Rice with local Portuguese sausage and the Kal-bi Short Rib. Do I hear your stomach rumbling? Trust me, RumFire’s cuisine will do that to you!

Sheraton Waikiki
2255 Kalakaua Ave.
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Ruth’s Chris Steak House

  • "Ruth's" Mac N Cheese ($9.95). Photo by Leah Friel
  • Executive chef Eli Low with "Ruth's" Mac N Cheese. Photo by Leah Friel
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When it comes to premier legendary steaks, Ruth’s Chris Steak House offers diners immaculate and incomparable USDA prime steaks, and the freshest island fish and seafood. With five franchised locations throughout Hawaii, this award-winning, upscale establishment is at the top of my list.

You’re sure to get the cream of the crop at Ruth’s Chris, as they are firm believers in utilizing USDA prime Iowa-fed, Iowa-grown beef products. And the secret to these succulent steaks is in the cooking. Each steak is cooked at 1,800-degrees and served on a 500-degree plate, and at this level of heat the steak is absolute perfection.

And while the steaks here take center stage, that’s not to say the side dishes fall to the wayside because, believe me, “Ruth’s” Mac N Cheese ($9.95) is absolute heaven in a creamy casserole.

“We use ziti noodles instead of your basic elbow macaroni for our mac and cheese,” says Ruth’s Chris’ executive chef Eli Low.

However, it’s not the noodles that make this baked dish five-star worthy, instead, it’s the garlic cream sauce that obediently absorbs into the noodles, mixed with caramelized onions and Cheddar cheese, and topped off with a dash of black pepper and an Italian herb crust.

Admit it, I know your mouth is watering and you’re chomping at the bit to grab a taste!

“It’s the best accompaniment with our steaks,” Low says. “I have to try it every day to make sure that it’s up to our Ruth’s Chris standards,” he adds with a chuckle.

“Ruth’s” Mac N Cheese is so rich, cheesy and wonderful, it simply makes my heart melt with love!

Ruth’s Chris Steak House
500 Ala Moana Blvd. #6C
226 Lewers St. #L-236 (and other locations on Maui and the Big Island)
599.3860 (Ala Moana Blvd)
440.7910 (Lewers St.)
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