I have to admit that although I love local restaurants that are unique and have their own special flavors, I am also in love with some of the restaurants that seem to appear in tourist areas. Restaurants like Bubba Gump’s, which is based on the film Forest Gump, serves a wide number of different shrimp dishes in an atmosphere that is filled with memorabilia and film references. I have found Bubba Gump restaurants on both the Florida and Hollywood Universal Studios Citywalk, as well as on the Santa Monica Pier. The Hard Rock Café is filled with some of the most iconic artifacts from rock music, including clothing, records and guitars. I have been to the Hard Rock at both Florida and Hollywood Universal Studios Citywalk, as well as in Hollywood, California. I also know that my favorite resort in the Riviera de Maya is now transformed into a Hard Rock Hotel, but I have yet to visit since the transformation.
The one thing that these and many other restaurants and tourist attractions found in tourist areas have in common is a dish of gourmet macaroni and cheese that puts Kraft to shame. After taking some time to review some of these dishes, you will find yourself craving some of the more exotic versions – or maybe just going home and cracking open a box of creamy goodness and making something similar yourself.
Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Mac & Cheese
There is no doubt that getting a dish of Mac n’ Cheese from Bubba Gump’s is going to include shrimp. The whole point of the restaurant is to capitalize on the shrimp’n boat industry that was found in the film. The dish was small, which means that the portion was about right. The taste of the Cajun spices was delicious, allowing the creamy goodness to have a bit of a snap while also providing just enough of the shrimp tang to create an interesting twist. The dish can be replicated at home by starting with a box of deluxe mac n’ cheese, adding some parmesan, Monterey Jack, onion, and of course, shrimp. Top it off with some breadcrumbs, and while not exactly the same, the doctored up dish will resemble the delicious version at the Bubba Gump’s. However, you will miss out on the atmosphere and the joy of this deeply touristy location.
Hard Rock Café Twisted Chicken Mac n’ Cheese
This is my second favorite mac n’ cheese, as my first favorite is no longer available (we will get to that later). Where some twisted versions of mac n’ cheese have a bite, this one has a delightful sting. The cavatappi pasta is topped with a sauce that is spicy and just barely cheesy, creating a sense of the roasted red peppers and without distracting from that gush of flavor. This certainly isn’t for someone watching their calories as it comes in at over 2100 for the dish, but for that once in a while indulgence, it is one of my favorites.
I do have to say that my first dish at the Hard Rock in Hollywood (which inspired this article, but not soon enough to get my picture of it) seemed to be lacking in flavor and sauce. It wasn’t spicy enough, nor was the sauce spilling over the pasta as it was when I went to Citywalk at Universal Studios to capture an image of this delightful dish. With so much more flavorful, this dish had just the right amount of sauce so that it spilled over the pasta, without drowning the tender pieces. The chicken was grilled to perfection, and combining a piece of chicken with a piece of pasta and sauce was comfort food at its best, with just enough challenge from the zing.
I wouldn’t even try to copy this recipe because the original is too good. It would lead to disappointment, and with mac n’ cheese, it is never good to be disappointed. Add to this the Strawberry Basil Lemonade, and this is a meal to remember.
Disneyland Bacon Mac n’ Cheese Bread Cone
This one is a weird, wonderful treat. In the Cars area at the California Adventure in the Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California sits a group of cone shaped shacks that serve a wide variety of Americana inspired foods. In this nostalgia section, with grease pit influences and the smiling faces of the Cars animated characters are a half circle of raceway cone shaped window styled eateries that serve up basic and fantastical food items. In one of those little shacks can be found the Bacon Mac n’ Cheese Bread Cone, served in a bread cone shaped like an ice cream waffle cone, but instead filled with creamy mac n’ cheese with bits of bacon.
There are a number of chefs who have copied this recipe so that you can try to do it at home. It simply requires creating a cone, wrapping it with prepared bread from a company like Pillsbury, and then backing it so that it retains that cone shape. Then, simply fill with the prepared mac and cheese of choice. One such recipe can be found here:
I do have to say that the dish itself is nothing all that special. It is your basic cheddar mac n’ cheese with bacon bits. The flavor was warm and gooey, and it reminded me of the comfort food that was made at home on the days when mac n’ cheese was a little more than just the basic, inexpensive Kraft version. This is not something that is especially different, except for the cone of bread surrounding it. It was fun to eat, and I imagine that kids would be thrilled to eat something so familiar in such an unfamiliar way.
However, there are different versions of this served at different times. Depending on when you go to the park, the mac n’ cheese may be very different. While the bacon version is the standard, don’t be surprised if you go to Anaheim and find you are snacking on something completely different in that warm bread cone.
AMC Dine-In Theater Bistro Mac n’ Cheese
This one is no longer being sold at the AMC Dine-In Theater, and I am simply crushed. Instead, a Bacon Cheddar version is being sold, which likely has a broader appeal, but it does not have the heat and excitement that was found in the Bistro version.
Now, I do have to say that trying to eat mac n’ cheese in a dark theater is a challenge. The hope is always that the noodles and sauce will stay on the fork long enough to be eaten, without dropping un-ceremonially onto whatever outfit you picked for your night out. More than once the lights have come up only to find that I had a dollop – or worse a big noodle – sitting somewhere on my clothing.
However, the taste was definitely worth it! The spicy, white sauce and the pieces of chicken elevated this version of the mac n’ cheese family to a whole new experience. With the sauce sliding deliciously from pasta to chicken, each bite was a delight and experience. I would highly recommend this delicious entry into the mac n’ cheese world, but alas, it is no longer available. I guess I will just have to have the Crab Rangoon Dip from now on, a deconstructed version of Crab Rangoon that uses chips dipped into the Rangoon sauce, rather than eating the wonton wrapped appetizer.
But, hold on... There does seem to be an entry into the mac n’ cheese category that I missed. What is this BBQ Brisket Mac & Cheese Bowl that AMC appears to be promoting?
The Cheesecake Factory
Where there is tourism, (or, you know, a mall) it is likely that there will be a Cheesecake Factory close by somewhere. With the original Fried Macaroni and Cheese appetizer, it is possible that this list would be incomplete in its absence. The tasty delights of this appetizer comes at a bit calorie cost, with the four balls of gooey delight averaging about 1000 calories. However, the delicious combination of a fried exterior with an inner cheesy pasta can justify this once in a while bite of heaven.
However, if you are up for something heavier, don't pass up the mac n' cheese burger with those crispy, fried bites smashed over the top of a juicy hamburger patty. Honestly, it's not my cup o' tea, but for pure indulgence, it surely gets high marks.