I am still just a big kid, and nothing proves that more than my love of macaroni and cheese. At a restaurant, it is usually a safe selection, and at home, I'll even settle for a box complete with powdered cheese, mixed with bacon, chicken or vegetables. If there is cheese on pasta, I'm there.
If that sounds like you, too, there is a place for people like us: Max n Cheese, a tiny kiosk in the Uptown Village shopping center in Cedar Hill. (There are two, actually, with a newer location in Mesquite.)
Though Max n Cheese also serves grilled cheese sandwiches, the place specializes in macaroni and cheese with some usual -- and unusual -- toppings.
There are two main servings: mini ($2.75) and regular ($4); and two family-style servings called "maximum max" (3 pounds, $12-$15) and "mondo max" (8 pounds, $25-$32.50).
It has three tiers of toppings, which all start with the same base: silky-smooth "max n cheese" with al dente macaroni. The cheese sauce is creamy, smooth and rich but not overwhelmingly so. The restaurant uses cheeses not available in stores, and my attempts to extract their brand names were rejected.
Original toppings (25 cents) include broccoli, Goldfish crackers, green onions, jalapeños, pico de gallo and tomatoes; super toppings (50 cents) include bacon, honey ham, turkey and tuna; and premium toppings (75 cents) include barbecue brisket, chili with cheese and onions, and Tex-Mex (bacon, jalapeños and pico).
You are free to mix and match from any group, so if you have ever fantasized about putting Goldfish crackers on your mac, this place makes your dreams come true.
We graded toppings not just on their taste and quality, but how well they complemented the macaroni. The Goldfish are a good example of a novel idea that doesn't work that well. Their texture and saltiness overpowered the macaroni. Plus, if you're a slow eater, the crackers get soggy.
The same went for our broccoli, panko (bread crumbs) and Parmesan cheese combination. The Parmesan was way too pungent.
Green onions and tomatoes added texture, but did little to enhance the overall flavor.
Of the premium toppings, the chili with cheese and onions made the macaroni taste like a Frito pie, while the barbecue brisket tasted like a sloppy Joe in a cup. They both masked the flavor of the macaroni, but the toppings were bountiful, so it was a fair exchange.
Bacon, ham and turkey -- all super toppings -- blended well with the macaroni. We liked the salty combination of all three meats covered in creamy cheese sauce.
The Tex-Mex trio of bacon, jalapeños and pico was the most integrated topping. The ingredients were diced small, and their spiciness enhanced the macaroni without masking its flavor.
But after trying so many toppings, we came to the conclusion that we actually loved the macaroni and cheese on its own. It's not that we don't like brisket, jalapeños or whatever else; but the cheese stands up very well on its own creamy legs.