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I Heart Mac And Cheese Is Opening In Fort Lauderdale, Offering Up Comfort Food That Will Make You Feel Like A Kid Again

A local chef is looking to kick a popular comfort food classic up a notch when he opens a mac and cheese bar in Fort Lauderdale later this month.

I Heart Mac and Cheese will be a fast-casual eatery, where guests can customize their bowls with all sorts of toppings before the dish is tossed into an oven and baked to order.

Chef and owner Michael Blum came up with the concept after finding huge success with mac and cheese bars when he was in the catering business.

"People went crazy over it, of every ethnicity, age group, size, you name it," he said, noting eventgoers would flock to the mac and cheese bar over gourmet options like filet mignon.

Whether customers are going for a classic $3-$4 bowl of mac and cheese, or topping it with artisan cheeses and other gourmet ingredients like lobster, short rib or truffle oil, they can ultimately walk out of the store having eaten as cheaply or as costly as they'd like.

Vegan cheese and meat-free toppings will be available, and even the pasta will be customizable, with wheat and gluten-free options for health-conscious or sensitive eaters.

Opening up shop in a 17th Street shopping plaza full of fast-casual competitors—Chipotle, BurgerFi and Panera, to name a few—Blum says he's confident that mac and cheese, a personal childhood favorite, is the next big thing. That's why he's aiming to open eight to 10 locations in South Florida, starting with Fort Lauderdale, before franchising the concept all across the country.

"Hamburgers and pizza are a billion-dollar business, but with mac and cheese, you can't find anyone doing this on a corporate level," he said.

Chef Blum, who owned the nationally recognized Michael's Kitchen in Hollywood before it closed in 2007, has been making lobster mac and cheese since before it was cool, he says. In 2013, he helped open The Tipsy Boar, a Hollywood restaurant whose Maine lobster mac and cheese has been named the area's best by Broward-Palm Beach New Times.

So, though the customizable mac and cheese experience will be the restaurant's focus, I Heart Mac and Cheese will offer one to three specialty chef's bowls every week.

Examples include Cuban pulled pork mac and cheese—made with fontina, provolone and Swiss cheeses and topped with pickles and bacon—and the Philly cheese steak mac and cheese, made with white and yellow cheddar, provolone, caramelized onions and pretzels.

Such artisan dishes drew a lot of attention when I Heart Mac and Cheese participated in the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February

But the mac and cheese creations won't be the only items the eatery will offer.

The comfort food-focused restaurant will also be part salad bar and baked potato bar. Plus, for dessert, expect a variety of ice cream cones filled with scoops of raw cookie dough—eggless and edible—for the ultimate in comforting indulgence. 

I Heart Mac and Cheese will offer seven wines on tap, four Funky Buddha beers, and three additional taps for cold brew coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and iced tea (the latter two will be used to make Arnold Palmers). To make sure no one's drink gets watered down, the restaurant will have flavored ice cubes (coffee, lemonade, and tea), which Blum is particularly excited about.

The dairy-themed restaurant decor features what Blum calls an "urban chic" design, from black-and-white cartoonish wallpaper and concrete slab tabletops to a signature chandelier made of vintage milk bottles from the 1930s.

"Every fast casual restaurant was looking the same," said Blum, who wanted I Heart Mac and Cheese to offer a more refined ambiance.

The storefront also offer a communal dining table at the center of the restaurant made from a 90-year-old tree that had been cut down in North Carolina, and a small retail section, where customers can buy flavored salts the restaurant uses for its cheese sauces and branded root beer-flavored candies.

I Heart Mac and Cheese; 1489 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale

(Restaurant photos by Lyssa Goldberg. Food photos courtesy I Heart Mac and Cheese.)