We Belgians are well known for our exquisite national cuisine. That also makes us a bit snobbish.
When I moved to Canada four years ago, I did not know what to expect with regards to food. I knew Vancouver is rich in Asian restaurants and has some of the best sushi in the world. But is that “Canadian” food?
I thought Canadian food meant steak or salmon with fries and a side salad. The fast food variation would be a burger. As we Europeans know only McDonalds, I thought a “Mac” means a burger.
When the Kerrisdale Mac Shack opened a year and a half ago, I thought it was another burger joint, and a “Mac & Cheese” would thus mean a cheeseburger. But what I found at the Mac Shack is more related to our good old lasagne.
Macaroni and cheese a medieval dish
Macaroni and cheese originated as a pasta and cheese casserole dish in medieval Italy. Various internet sources claim the dish was brought to America in 1787 by Thomas Jefferson from his tour as minister to France and was first served in the White House in 1802. The earliest American printed recipe for the dish in 1824 advised to cook the pasta in a mixture of water and milk. Kraft Dinner was introduced in America in 1937 and found its way into most North American households.
I, however, had never heard of Kraft Dinner until my children returned from play dates in Canadian families. I bought it once, and thought the processed cheese sauce abysmal. So what to expect from the Mac Shack?
The restaurant at West Boulevard and 38th Ave. is cozy and bright. You order at the counter in fast-food style, and the food is delivered to your table. We had a comfortable bench with lots of space. Only the music could have been a touch more silent.
The Mac Shack passes the taste test
I chose the Lobster Mac, Helena had ravioli in tomato sauce and Tessa a kid’s classic Mac + Cheese. All three dishes were beautifully presented and the baked cheese was perfectly crusty.
All three sauces were very tasty, albeit a wee bit too salty. Helena’s ravioli was excellent and she said she preferred it to the German version (called Nudelauflauf) I sometimes cook at home. Tessa’s classic Mac & Cheese was a bit flat for my taste, but she loved it.
I appreciated the great sauce in my dish, and the abundance of lobster meat, peas and cherry tomatoes. However, just as with last week’s Marpole goat curry, the chef took too much liberty with onion. Again, this dish could have been near perfect without the large chunks of barely sautéed onions.
We paid $32.96 before tips and our plates were squeaky clean when we left!
The Mac Shack a single-location restaurant, for now
Kathy Tsakumis opened the restaurant in 2011 together with her siblings. The idea came from one of the co-owners, who had seen a similar concept in the U.S.
The response to the Kerrisdale restaurant has been very good, said Tsakumis. “Lots of people are passionate about Mac & Cheese. It evokes a home-feeling,” she said.
The restaurant offers great value for families, who count as one of the biggest customer groups. But also high school and university students, quick business lunchers and seniors belong to a group of loyal customers.
The Mac Shack is a single-location restaurant, but a petition on their website asks for input where the public would like to see a second branch.
The menu offers the possibility to create individual combinations, including gluten-free and vegan options for a surcharge. But the classic dishes will not change any time, soon.
People who get to know and love their favourite dish, don’t want to see it disappear, said Tsakumis. But there is always one dish-of-the-month for offer, for those who want to test something new.
Report and photos by Katja De Bock
Would you like to see a Mac Shack in your neighbourhood?
Do you have a national dish which closely resembles Mac & Cheese?
Let me know in the comment box below!