There’s a new kid on the block in the mac and cheese game and it comes from one of the South’s favorite restaurants: Chick-fil-A.
The restaurant rolled out the new side dish nationwide on Monday, Aug. 11, and in Gainesville, it’s been a hit since. If you can pass on the waffle fries with your chicken sandwich on your next trip to one of the two Gaineville locations, try the mac and cheese — or get both.
We don’t judge here.
“It just blew up,” said Renee Ginn, marketing director at Chick-fil-A. “I know many Chick-fil-As ran out of product last week.”
That includes the Jesse Jewell Parkway location. But if they just count the weekend — Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday — Ivan Grunewald said the Jesse Jewell location is averaging about 220 orders of mac and cheese each day.
“I had to make some trade deals with the other Chick-fil-As to get some mac and cheese because we didn’t have enough to go into the next day,” said Grunewald, operations director at the restaurant.
Ginn said it’s mostly high school and college students ordering it. One of those customers who’s been enjoying it since it came on the menu last week is Jasmine Rios.
She was trying it out for her third time on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
“For fast food, it’s pretty good,” Rios said.
She used to get fries with her meal, but plans on substituting it for mac and cheese from now on.
“I was thinking of getting both, but I decided no, I’m not doing that today,” Rios said. “That’s what I did the other two times. I got my fries and then a side of mac and cheese.”
Her sister, Adriana, was there sitting across from her and ordering it to try for her first time from her phone.
It’s the first new permanent side added to the menu since the superfood side in 2016, but has been tested in six different markets for the past couple of years. Ginn said after its testing period, it was recommended by 100% of operators.
It seems like an obvious side option at a restaurant that specializes in chicken, but Chick-fil-A doesn’t like to rush things.
“It just boils down to having that perfection,” Ginn said. “Chick-fil-A is about that top quality, trying to be the best and so I think that’s why it takes so long.”
The cheesy goodness is prepared in-house daily. Even though the noodles come prepackaged and frozen with the mix of cheddar, parmesan and romano cheeses, it doesn’t mean the dish is something to scoff at.
It’s thawed, dumped in a pan and baked and then topped with Monterey cheese just before it comes out of the oven, giving the dish a cheesy crust you’d hope for.
It’s served in a container with a lid to keep it hot and steamy and when you break through the cheesy crust and scoop out a bite, the stringy cheese comes with it. When you eat it, you really feel like it could be something from your own mother’s kitchen.
“It’s like that Southern style,” Ginn said.