Signature Dish: Mac and cheese aims to please at Mooney’s
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Signature Dish: Mac and cheese aims to please at Mooney’s

Aug 25, 2015

LE ROY — Restaurants across the country include macaroni and cheese on the menu, but it’s often a misnomer. That’s because the meal includes pastas like penne, shells, or tortiglioni, rather than the traditional elbow macaroni.

But at Mooney’s Sports Bar & Grill, 65 Lake St., the staff sticks to that tradition, serving up about 150 pounds of macaroni and cheese — in 24 varieties — each week. It dominates the menu and has become the signature dish in each of the restaurant’s six locations.

So why does Mooney’s opt for macaroni when so many others choose other pastas?

“The elbow holds up better than most,” explained Steve Cook, general manager of the Le Roy Mooney’s. “I don’t know about (everyone else), but I like my noodles al dente. When you bite into this, it’s not going to be mush in your mouth. You’re actually going to taste every individual noodle. Plus, it’s traditional. When you make macaroni and cheese at home, what do you use? Macaroni.”

Mooney’s began serving simple pub food at it’s Buffalo location, but quickly focused on the macaroni and cheese when it became a hot seller. The staff then collaborated on creating two dozen varieties. The Mooney’s Original — macaroni with cheddar cheese and topped with panko bread crumbs — is still available, but they added flavors like Philly Cheese Steak, Fried Bologna, and Lobster.

“Mac and cheese is our shtick,” Cook said. “That’s what we do.”

All of Mooney’s 24 flavors begin the same way, with a simple béchamel sauce (butter, flour and milk). Known in culinary circles as a “mother sauce,” this is the base. The macaroni and cheese, as well as whatever ingredients are needed for that particular dish, get added after the customer places the order. Cook says that is the key to why the macaroni and cheese is so popular.

“Other people will make a big vat of mac and cheese and warm it up,” he said. “This is made fresh-to-order.”

I tried the Kenny Pow Supreme macaroni and cheese, since it’s one of the best sellers and is named after a friend of the owner. The Kenny Pow comes with Italian sausage, onions, green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, pepperoni and bacon. It’s basically a supreme pizza mixed with macaroni and cheese. A tribute on the Mooney’s menu says that the restaurant will donate a portion of all Kenny Pow Supreme sales into a college fund for Pow’s two children.

At first glance, the macaroni and cheese, in any of its forms, is massive. With 2 cups of béchamel sauce, 3 cups of macaroni, the cheese and all of the other ingredients, it turns out to be about 6 to 7 cups of food. And we’re not talking about salad; this is rich, heavy macaroni and cheese. It’s certainly more food than the average person can eat in one sitting.

The dish is well balanced, though, as the panko bread crumbs provide a nice crunch to counter the creamy sauce and soft noodles. The added ingredients — in this case, the pepperoni, sausage, bacon and veggies — permeate through the entire dish, each flavor noticeable. And they certainly don’t skimp on the cheese.

The macaroni and cheese dishes at Mooney’s range in price from $8.50 to $9.50 for lunch and $12.99 to $13.99 for dinner.

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