For the past few years it seems that restauranteurs have beenregressing to their childhoods to find inspiration for new eateries tostand out in New York City’s food scene. From bakerieslike Magnolia creating the cup-cake craze, to restaurantslike the Peanut Butter Co., with its menus serving infinitevariations of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, S’macis the latest in a long line of comfort food spots catering toa customer’s inner child. S’mac, which is short for Sarita’s macaroni and cheeseis named after owner Sarita Ekya. Located in the East Village, the restaurant in June2006 and set itself apart by staying small and having friendly service.
The restaurant has a playful d√©cor with colorful ceiling-light fixtures that jut out like tentacles creating a welllitarea, not too dim and not too bright. The two brick edificewalls counteract the others, which are coated with avibrant orange and muted yellow imitating the mac andcheese colors.
The place is small and only seats about 30 people inplastic orange-colored chairs that have a funky curve designand barstools that add to the childhood atmosphere. The customers’ ageschange based on the time of day. The afternoon usually consists of kids enjoying asmall dish with a side cookie. In the evening hours it is a lively hotspot for thosegetting ready for a night out since S’mac is open until 1 a.m. on Fridays andSaturdays. A seat can be hard to come by and there is usually a line out the door.When there are less people around, the food is brought out by the friendly staff over to the table. The mac and cheese is served in cast-iron skillets complete with an oven cover over the handle. There is a certain glee that comes from staring at the pasta and cheese concoction, especially if it’s been awhile since it was last enjoyed.
Considering the simplicity of it, the quality of the food is excellent, although mac andcheese perfectionists may be picky about the consistency of the cheese or the cheese- to-pasta ratio. At S’mac, the cheese tends to be more creamy rather than sticky or stringy. S’mac also has a great balance so that the pasta isn’t overpowered by the cheese, managing to avoid a watery consistency making it easy for the fork to dig into.Breadcrumbs are optional and are added on top and browned in the oven.
Like most of the comfort food eateries, S’mac offers creative variations for a personwith a refined palate. The Brie dish has a mixture of Brie, roasted figs, roasted shiitakemushrooms, and rosemary. If the addition of sweet figs seems odd, there is also the option of a Gruyere dish containing the cheese of its namesake along with bacon.But for this place, simplicity is key. It’d be wise to stick with the All-American, whichhas the macaroni in a blend of American and cheddar cheese. The Cheeseburgeroption, which has ground beef, onions, garlic and, according to the menu, “a hintof ketchup and mustard” is one of the best tasting variations on the menu.
There is also a customizable Mac and Cheese section on the menu for those whoneed to add their own twist on the classic. Portions are not a problem as the small, or what S’mac calls a “nosh,” ($4.75- $6.75) is enough for one person, while their large, or”Mongo,” ($11-$16) can feasibly feed four people depending on how hungry they are.
While there are tons of positives to S’mac, it probably isn’t the restaurant foreveryone. People usually bus their own tables and it can occasionally feel more like afast-food restaurant than a cozy bistro. During a slow night, however, it is more of a fine balance between the two.
Unlike many New York City restaurants, there isn’t a rushed sense of having to finishthe meal, so there is plenty of time to sit, reminisce, enjoy the food, and judge for yourself whether S’mac’s version of macaroni and cheese is just as good, if not better than, when mom made it.
Sarita’s Macaroni & Cheese345 East 12th St.NY, NY 10003212-538-7912