Battered by exhaustion, the soles of our feet achy from all the walking in the Sun, M. and I tramped along in the muggy heat along an Arcadian section of Manhattan’s East Village, in search of 345 East 12th Street.
We’d passed a row of the area’s hallmark brownstone buildings with stoops, when a splash of fluorescence suddenly swam into focus. S’MAC (short for Sarita’s Mac And Cheese), written in a bright, bold, yellow lettering, is hard to miss.
This isn’t an eatery for anyone who thrives on organic kale and a bottle of Pellegrino. S’MAC serves a true American comfort food classic: macaroni and cheese and interesting variants thereof.
We crossed the car-lined street and entered its premises, bathed in a nectarine-orange and egg yolk-yellow halo. Ordering food is easy under the effect of fatigue. Too sapped of energy to read the wall-mounted menu, I asked the young man at the counter to suggest a dish.
The “4 Cheese” was his prompt recommendation. For a serving size, we could choose among a “nosh” (small), a “major munch” (medium), a “mongo” (big), or a “partay” (still bigger.)
Incidentally, the word “mongo” is the unit of the Mongolian currency “tugrik” (100 mongos make one tugrik). It’s also the name of a city in Chad and a Zairian tribe. What this has to do with the food is something I’d have to ask the owners.
As I sat on the bar stool, staring out through the window at a pigeon trot by on the sidewalk, our cashier-turned-server set down on our pub table a black, piping hot, cast-iron skillet, with a dashing red rubber-glove handle.
To wash it down, we had Fizzy Lizzy’s pineapple sparkling juice.
I couldn’t wait to devour the macaroni. I’d just poked the crusty breadcrumb layer with the tines of my fork, when a fountain of hot, cheesy, molten, lava surged to the surface.
I dug into the savory custard of soft elbow-macaroni, cheddar, muenster, gruyère, and pecorino, with a sprinkling of delicate herbs. I’d gobbled up three quarters of it. Still, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order another.
I asked for the “Garden Lite.” Less cheesy than the “4 Cheese” and greener, this mélange of cauliflowers, broccoli, portobello mushrooms, cheddar, and parmesan, tasted pleasantly garlicky.
S’MAC offers a selection of a dozen flavors: a “Parisienne” that comes with brie and figs; a spice-flavored “Masala” that has ginger, cilantro and cumin; the “Cheeseburger” that’s a cross between a pasta dish and a juicy hamburger. There’s also the option of fixing one’s own flavor.
What with highly reasonable prices, starting at $6.75, and a casual, vivacious atmosphere, the place doesn’t have an obvious downside, except perhaps, its slightly uncomfortable seating.