Plating It Up: It’s Not Just a Side Dish

Bacon, crostini, East Village, Lower East Side, Mac 'n Cheese


The common side dish is no longer playing second fiddle. What was once considered just a side dish on menus has slowly grown into the focal point of some entrees. The trend in food culture of upgrading the side dish has been especially popular with macaroni and cheese, with portion sizes that create this childhood favorite into an adult meal.

S’mac (Sarita’s Mac ‘n Cheese) has has created a meal with familiar combinations like cheese burger and buffalo chicken and some exotic spices with their cajun and masala versions of the mac ‘n cheese which are served in your own individual cast iron pan. Another favorite, that’s also good for kids, is Brooklyn Mac in Greenpoint. With similar dishes as S’Mac but with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. There’s even a kids menu with smaller portions, making Brooklyn Mac a perfect family destination.

Another favorite, especially for the late night crowd, is the Mac Bar in the heart of SoHo. It’s modest size with its yellow walls and curved interior makes you feel as if you were standing inside and elbow macaroni noodle. The Mac Bar’s menu of playful and rich version of classic pasta dishes, including the Margarita Mac, Mac Stroganoff and Mac Lobsta will make you forget you’re eating a bowl of mac ‘n cheese!

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Once upon a time, the salad was simple compliment to your meal that you would receive in a small bowl prior to your entree. With our health-conscious society, the salad has become a lunchtime staple with new chains, like Just Salad and Chop’t, that only make salad as the main dish. And everyone’s favorite breakfast side, bacon, has made its way to being highlighted in many entrees, as well as new restaurants solely focused on pork (see our post, “Pigging Out”)!

We’re coming to realize what vegetarian restaurants knew all along, a side can be the star of your entree. Even non-vegetarians have been raving over dishes like the cauliflower steak, which has become an option in many restaurants. A few weeks ago, at Mailalino, I tried a bruschetta, which reminded me of a giant crostini, as the first course at Maialino. Summer squash, anchovy butter and capers spread across a slab of toast, definitely required a knife and fork for this dish. This large slab of cruncy toast with a savory spread complimented by ribbons on herbs and fragrant oils has made its way into some star-chef restaurants in the city. Wildair serves littleneck clams, cured lardo and salsa verde. Nomad Bar has added Hawaiian blue prawns, charred corn, heirloom tomatoes and Ssam sauce, and in Brooklyn, Grand Amry serves a smaller version with lobster on top of saffron mayo!

This just proves that you don’t need your typical entree to have a satisfying meal.

Gone but not forgotten, one of my personal favorites was the Elbow Room, in Brooklyn, at the Barclay Center, which is now closed. It brought a giant bowl of mac ‘n cheese to sports fans. You need some comfort of your team’s losing. A fan of spicy foods, one of my favorite dishes at Elbow Room was the Jamaican Jerk Mac. It was loaded with it Scotch Bonnet marinated chicken with chunks of grilled pineapple giving your tastebuds that hot and sweet flavor. It also had toasted coconuts for additional texture and of course a tall glass of water!

S’Mac, Sarita’s Mac ‘n Cheese, 345 East 12th Street, New York, NY, 212-358-7912,

Brooklyn Mac, 173 Montrose Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, (718) 963-3646,

Mac Bar, 54 Prince Street, New York, NY 212-226-8877,

Mailalino, 2 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY,  212-358-7912,

Wildair, 143 Orchard St., New York, NY,  646-964-5624,

Nomad Bar, 10 W. 28th St, New York, NY, 347-472-5660,

Grand Army, 336 State St., Brooklyn, NY, 718-422-7867,

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