Fusing the fast-casual Chipotle model with diners' unfailing love of melted cheese, the growing chain I Heart Mac & Cheese has opened its first Long Island location, on the ground floor of the New Village at Patchogue.
The eatery has a handful of tables and an assembly-line ethos: Customers choose their base (cavatappi pasta, quinoa, romaine hearts, Tater Tots, broccoli or cauliflower, or a combination between them) and then pick from various cheeses, vegetables, proteins and sauces to finish their bowl, which is sent through a machine to bake under hot air until oozey and melted (or, in the case of salads, dressed with vinaigrette such as ranch, sesame-ginger or mango habanero). Each bowl's base price is $9.75, and grilled cheese sandwiches are offered at the same price.
Chef Michael Blum co-founded I Heart Mac & Cheese in Fort Lauderdale in 2015, after his children asked him to take them to a dedicated mac-and-cheese restaurant "and I couldn't find one," he said. "They say if you can't find something, build it."
I Heart Mac & Cheese — which is owned by Steve Giordanella — has since grown to seven south Florida locations, and franchising is on the horizon for this year. Along the way, Blum (who trained at the Culinary Institute of America) has tinkered with the components, adding broccoli and cauliflower as a base just a few months ago, for instance. The chain's signature sauce, a blend of white and yellow cheddars, is gluten-free, and each location keeps separate cutting boards and knives for gluten-free diners.
Besides build-it-to-order bowls, I Heart Mac & Cheese has $9.75 specials such as a Philly Cheese Steak mac (short rib, red onions, mushrooms and melted Muenster) that can come on any base; the $18 bowl lobster and white truffle mac has lobster claw and knuckle meat tumbled in a lobster-infused cheese sauce that's finished with white truffle oil. Tomato soup and mini-chocolate-chip cookies are among the side offerings.
Come warmer weather, I Heart Mac & Cheese will have outdoor patio seating, "and the seating capacity will double," Blum said.
The eatery opens daily at 11 a.m., staying open until 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and midnight on the weekends.
I Heart Mac & Cheese, 3 Village Green, Patchogue. 631-730-6505. iheartmacandcheese.com.