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Indulge in the Mac Daddy of mac and cheese

SANTA FE, N.M. — Forget the Kraft boxed stuff that many of us grew up with. Theo Gio shows us that macaroni and cheese, the king of comfort food, can be incredibly yummy – even for people well past their childhood (or returning to it).

I stopped by Macalicious with a friend who already had been there twice and was eager for a return visit. When I asked why she liked it so much, she simply said, “Wait until you taste it.”

Oh, Mama. These dishes are so satisfying that you want to hug them close, then go down for a nap afterward. Ten variations on mac and cheese, plus a vegan version, are on the menu, along with grilled cheese sandwiches and salads. My friend had enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich there previously,and assured me that they’re wonderful.

On our visit, she returned to a previous order she had enjoyed: the four-cheese version (small $8) of the featured dish, which boasts Gouda, fontina, Parmesan and ricotta. The creamy combination can send you to cheese heaven, topped off with a crisp, crumbly topping that adds texture to the dish.

I was drawn to the carbonara version (small $9), which included bacon, portobellos and baby peas mixed in with the macaroni, and is baked with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. It was a perfect combo for my taste, with the mushrooms meaty and well-sized. And bacon – well, who doesn’t like bacon? The peas made me feel as if I was getting a veggie balance to the starchy and cheesy dish.

I think the quality and variety of the cheeses is what raises these dishes above the run-of-the-mill mac and cheese, along with the creative combinations of added ingredients.

Santa Fe, Greek, Mexican and Buffalo chicken are among the other versions, tempting customers back for more.

For dessert, we tried the Candy Bacon on a Stick ($3) – which was exactly what it sounds like: a piece of bacon dosed in a sugary syrup and threaded on a wooden skewer. The secret ingredient, red pepper flakes, added a heat that kind of snuck up on you well after you swallowed a bite. With our small size entree, we still were able to bundle close to half of it away to take home and enjoy later. After all, that’s pretty filling food. The mac and cheese dishes also are available in large (serves 2) or party (serves 3-4).

The building itself enhances the feel of home. Macalicious is in one of those small houses along Guadalupe Street (with no parking other than nearby streets), with six small tables that can be pushed together or apart for different size parties. Barstools also are lined up at a bar off the main room, which for now only offers soft drinks, coffee and similar such beverages.

The walls are painted a warm combination of yellows and oranges and reds, decorated with framed posters of Zozobra. At the time of our visit, Gio was running a one-man show, taking orders, cooking and clearing off tables. While he can get a little rushed as the customers fill the tables, he still tries to be responsive to questions and comments. Gio indicated that he hopes to expand to a larger space at some point, but for now is just trying to get established and slowly build up his customer base as he adds to his equipment and furnishings.

We wish him luck, for his menu presents a creative expansion to the dining choices in the City Different.