When one joint stops serving macaroni and cheese, some folks nearly go into withdrawal.

Mac Like Crack 

When one joint stops serving macaroni and cheese, some folks nearly go into withdrawal.

A reader called me last week to complain that one of his favorite fast-food fried-chicken spots in Kansas City, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, had stopped serving his favorite side dish: macaroni and cheese. So I called Jim Eddy, whose family owns the local Popeyes franchises.

"We still have the macaroni and cheese at select locations," Eddy said. "But we stopped offering it at the stores where it didn't sell very well." Those stores turned out to be the urban venues. In the suburbs, the soothing comfort food is still in high demand. "We sell the hell out of it in Johnson County," Eddy said.

I'm always on the search for a good bowl of the dish that was, according to legend, first served in the United States in 1802 by America's third president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's cooking cousin, Mary Randolph, included a recipe for mac and cheese in the first cookbook published in the United States, 1824's The Virginia Housewife.

Walt Bodine is a big fan of the version served at McCoy's Public House (4507 Pennsylvania). Called "Mom's Macaroni and Cheese" and made with shell pasta and four cheeses, it's a lot more upscale than the cheesy noodles my mom served.

Until recently, my friend Bob swore by the hearty dish served at Café Trio (3535 Broadway), the legendary "Mac Daddy." It's made with penne and a creamy blend of fontina, mozzarella, Gorgonzola and Parmesan — with a little bacon added for good measure. The "Mac Daddy" is still my hands-down favorite, but it's been replaced in Bob's affection by the stylish variation at Café Verona (206 West Lexington), the pretty little Italian bistro near the old courthouse in Independence.

It seems odd to have macaroni and cheese on the same menu page with lasagna, manicotti and stuffed shells, but Café Verona's is vaguely Italiano: made with doughy orecchiette ("little ears") in a silky pale-orange sauce made with Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar and very rich mascarpone (the double-cream delicacy used to create tiramisu).

Mac and cheese might not pass muster at Popeyes, but in some of the finer joints in town, Thomas Jefferson's favorite noodle dish is still hot stuff.

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