Besides endless fast-casual salad joints and $4 small coffees, another notable dining trend that has emerged and flourished recently in New York City is hyperspecialization. New York may be one of the only cities in the world that can sustain an entire establishment dedicated only to oatmeal or rice pudding. It even managed to maintain a peanut butter sandwich shop, which only recently closed.
The latest example of hyperspecialization is Murray’s Mac and Cheese Pop-Up, located on the corner of Bleecker and Leroy Streets. The West Village fast-casual restaurant is not the first in the city to specialize exclusively in macaroni and cheese, but it is the newest. The pop-up restaurant is an offshoot of long-established cheese merchant Murray’s Cheese. Dishes are made with Murray’s cheese and Brooklyn-based Sfoglini pasta. A restaurant with such a narrow niche ought to be able to excel and simultaneously innovate in their given category. Sadly, that is not the case for Murray’s Mac and Cheese.
My expectations of the eatery were moderately inflated both by social media and the prestige of its parent company. Especially after Panera Bread was recently exposed for its macaroni and cheese atrocities, the public was clamoring for an alternative and I hoped this could be mine.
Immediately upon entering, something felt off. Maybe it was the quiet strip it occupied on Bleecker Street or the 4 p.m. time slot that made it feel so desolate. Regardless, the scent of raclette cheese teetered on the side of chemically acrid. The absence of background music and all-white decor made it feel more like a doctor’s waiting room than a minimalist oasis. The little color in the room was provided by a neon sign that read “Cheese is Rad,” which paled in comparison to other New York City neon signs, like that of NoLiTa’s Tulo House.
I ordered the French Onion Mac ($8), an intriguing-sounding combination of macaroni, bacon, caramelized onion, gruyere and, of course, raclette. With French cuisine among my favorites, I was excited to try it but was let down after the first bite. The full-bodied gruyere was far too rich to be a base for a pasta sauce. This coupled with the sharp notes of the raclette made it an unpleasant experience. The onions were difficult to find and the bacon’s smoky profile did not pair well with the raclette. Lingering over the whole dish was an abrasive saltiness that made me concerned for my sodium levels.
Murray’s Mac and Cheese could have been a true innovator of one of the U.S.’s favorite comfort foods. Instead, it appears as more of a cash grab, taking advantage of trends. There’s no explicit reason it’s called a pop-up, as no specific limited run is outlined. Like its neon sign, Murray’s Mac and Cheese Pop-Up tries to make an impact, while really saying nothing at all.
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