The snow started coming down in massive flakes earlier in the afternoon. “Sometimes I wonder if single snowflakes can get that large or if we’re looking at a conglomeration of flakes,” I pondered aloud at work. By the time I left it had started to stick to the ground in huge slushy piles, making every surface an obstacle to be traversed. I was glad that the meetup group I had committed to for that night was at a restaurant in my neighborhood. Had I been required to wait for another bus, I probably would have been a last minute canceller.
I had recently joined The BEST Food in Town meetup, a group dedicated to trying dishes at various restaurants to try to find the best version Chicago has to offer. Of course, it would be impossible to visit every restaurant and determine an ultimate winner, but it’s a great opportunity to try restaurants I might not normally go to, eat some great food, and meet some nice people. The first series of meals was based on finding the best macaroni and cheese, with the first meal starting at the Irish restaurant Wilde.
“Well, if you’ve come for the best mac and cheese, you’ve found it. You can end your search right here!” said our waitress when we explained what our group was doing. We ordered a big plate of their signature mac and cheese, which features cavatappi smothered in Irish cheddar with pieces of Irish bacon, tomatoes, and caramelized onions strewn throughout, and topped with a garlic crumb crust. We each dished out a few spoonfuls and dug in.
It was…underwhelming. If nothing else, the mac and cheese was under-seasoned and needed more salt, which was surprising given that one of the ingredients was bacon. But, the bacon wasn’t terribly impressive either. True, Irish bacon is more like ham and not the streaky American bacon we’re used to, but even so it didn’t add any amount of smokiness or saltiness to pasta and was not terribly integrated. The tomatoes were a welcome addition and the crumb crust was a nice textural difference, but I didn’t get much from the caramelized onions and the dish as a whole didn’t work very well together. It was decidedly not the best mac and cheese I’d ever had.
For good measure, we then ordered the Cold Water Lobster Mac & Cheese. This was better than the original, offering much more flavor in the form of truffle cream, mushrooms, a cornbread crust, and, of course, the lobster. The sauce had so much more seasoning and the mushrooms lent a nice earthiness to the otherwise rich cream. Even if this didn’t have lobster, it still would put Wilde’s regular mac and cheese to shame. That said, however, it was still a far cry from the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had and I doubt it’s something I’ll order again at Wilde.
The search goes on for the BEST mac and cheese in Chicago…