Steuben’s “macaroni & cheese” with bacon (the addition is not an option)
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Note: This review was published in the January 2018 issues of Life on Capitol Hill and the Washington Park Profile.
Welcome, friends, to the second installment of what I guess I’m calling "Local Bites.” If you’re reading this, I’ll take that to mean I didn’t completely alienate you last month. I hope you tried the ribs at Adrift—amazing, right?—and I hope to receive any and all suggestions from you. Email me at email@example.com if you have a dish in need of press.
This month we’re lingering a little longer in the realm of comfort food; ‘tis the season. However, next month I plan to change course drastically. Where to and for what, exactly? Guess you’ll have to stick with me.
Speaking of sticking, this month we journey back in time and uptown—we head to Steuben’s, a restaurant with no end of stick-to-the-ribs American dishes that, for this writer, evoke fond memories of a place I’ve never visited: the 1950s.
I insisted at the outset this column would not be a full-on restaurant review, but I will say this: Steuben’s is classy comfort food dished up with a hearty serving of formica, wood paneling and swagger. The atmosphere is “eating down for the lobster set” (though the menu does feature a killer lobster roll). I haven’t captured the experience; didn’t intend to. Visit and experience it for yourself.
What I do intend to capture is … the entree-sized “macaroni & cheese” with bacon. If you’re thinking “really?! Mac ‘n’ freakin’ cheese?” I’ll say to you: yes. Really. Steuben’s rendition is a spotlight item.
As for how to order this dish, I feel an add-on is a must, and one in particular stands above all: bacon. A close second (for this writer): green chiles. The two together? I bet that’s weapons-grade good.
The nuts and bolts? The dish’s menu description: “six cheese bechamel, panko breadcrumbs.” They’re not selling it (but everything at Steuben’s is understated, so...). The key to perfect (baked!) mac ‘n’ cheese: a chewy, creamy smoothness with a crusty bite. Not really as simple as it sounds. The mac must hold its own physically without adding anything to the flavor of the sauce, and that sauce should have absolutely NO graininess. Note that I said sauce, not cheese. Also, said graininess is more common than you think as many restaurants just dump in the cheese (or cheeses), usually only hard cheeses, in one go—a huge no no.
I didn’t press Steuben’s Sous Chef Cory Dobbins for a list of cheeses—for a dish this “simple” that would amount to giving up the entire ghost—but he did tell me he feels the best method of preparation is working the cheeses into the bechamel from soft to hard so that by the time the firm cheeses are added, there’s enough cheese in the mix to ease their melting process. Sounds about right to me.
As for how to order this dish, I feel an add-on is a must, and one in particular stands above all: bacon. A close second (for this writer): green chiles. The two together? I bet that’s weapons-grade good. (You can pretty much get anything you want mixed in if they have it on hand.) The bacon’s smoky, salty flavor fills a “void” in the flavor of the plain dish not apparent until the bacon enters the mix. The combination of the cheese sauce and bacon plus buttery parmesan panko crumble? Pretty much perfection.
Best of all, this menu item is a staple and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The best things never change. Get in there and get you some.