4216 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-265-3729; rockcityeatery.com
At this point, mac and cheese is about as ubiquitous as the burger, so it really takes something for any one restaurant’s version to stand out in your memory. Rock City’s take is one of the few that manages to do so. Theirs is a a super rich dish consisting of flavorful aged cheddar cheese sauce served over cavatappi noodles in a bowl made out of baked Parmesan. Yep.
Owner-chef Nikita Sanches tells us that when he developed the recipe, he knew overcooked noodles served in a bowl under a blanket in goopy cheese wouldn’t cut it.
His version is first different in that he essentially created a gluten-free mac and cheese by nixing the roux and figuring out a different way to stabilize the cream and cheese. Next he attempted to multiply the best part of mac and cheese — the burnt, cheesy layer on top. Sanches found his inspiration for that in a recipe for cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman pasta dish that’s served in a baked parmesan bowl.
The recipe was a hit, but customers kept wanting to add items to it. At first Sanches resisted the idea, but he finally gave in. Now you can add to your parm bowl duck, brisket, barbecue pork, fried bologna, pickled jalapeños, wild mushrooms, roasted broccoli, and different cheeses.
“People can put whatever they want in there. You can tell someone is blazed when they come in and put ten things in the bowl that are spilling out onto the plate,” Sanches laughs. “Hey, it’s their world.”
At this point, the mac and cheese is one of the dishes for which Rock City is known, but Sanches jokes that it’s a “blessing and curse.”
“People will come in for mac and cheese, just order that and not care about anything else, but the menu also has a lot of other pretty banging items. So, like I said, a blessing and a curse,” he says. —Tom Perkins