Take one of the most ubiquitous foods from childhood, wrap it in a heavy coating of batter, plunge it into boiling oil and what comes bubbling to the surface? Crispy and delicious, it's a near-perfect winter comfort food.
Yes, it's deep-fried macaroni and cheese.
The deep-fried version of the meal is ideal because it puts all that gooey deliciousness inside an easy-to-eat package, says chef Bryan Burke.
"Everyone loves mac and cheese, but you want something you can pick up and eat," says Mr. Burke, co-owner of Reggie's Old Fashioned Sandwiches, a restaurant in Toronto that put deep-fried mac-and-cheese sticks at the top of its chalkboard menu when it opened in March 2008.
Sure, any old cheese stick is just as easy to eat, Mr. Burke says, but ordinary cheese sticks don't have the novelty or, more importantly, the nostalgic appeal of mac and cheese. "It brings back childhood," he says. "And it's unique. It's like a cheese stick but it's not a gooey boring cheese stick."
The deep fried mac and cheese sticks at Reggie's, made with swiss, mozzarella and two-year-old cheddar to maximize gooeyness, are one of the restaurant's most popular items, Mr. Burke says.
Society Restaurant and Lounge in Vancouver throws some heat into its mac-and-cheese balls thanks to a hint of jalapeno peppers.
Among Society's finger-food offerings, "it's definitely our best-seller right now," says executive chef Dominic Sylvain. "I probably make close to 1,000 a week." The balls are made with six kinds of cheese: mascarpone, cream cheese, mozzarella, aged cheddar, gruyère and fontina. The jalapeno helps give the mac-and-cheese balls a slight kick, Mr. Sylvain says.
Following in those spicy footsteps, the Loose Moose Tap & Grill in Toronto serves its crispy mac and cheese with chipotle ketchup.
Deep-fried mac and cheese has also cropped up on the fairgrounds of the Calgary Stampede in recent years, where those attending the so-called Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth have been drawn to the greatest battered food in hand. One poster on the foodie forum Chowhound.com wrote with glee about a trip to the Stampede that came with the chance to experience deep-fried mac-and-cheese triangles. "We tried them, and they may merit a return visit," he wrote.
Mr. Sylvain says it is no wonder deep-fried mac and cheese is beginning to appear on more menus. People are drawn to any new spin on an old staple. "Mac and cheese is something that everybody knows," he says.
Mr. Burke says he originally added deep-fried mac and cheese to his menu not because he wanted to draw on cozy nostalgia of childhood, but instead for a more adult reason. He figured the restaurant, on the fringe of Toronto's club district, would attract a late-night crowd looking for something a bit greasy to sop up the evening's excesses. "The original idea came from knowing we were going to have a big after-bar crowd," he says, adding: "I gave it a try, and it went off like a crazy hit."