Macaroni. I’m not talkin about the feather stuck in Yankee Doodle’s cap, but the cheesy pasta dish. The one that’s somehow both originally Italian and OG American. The one that, when I see it on a menu, takes superhero force of will not to order. And I’m no hero. There it is, on the table in front of me, every time. I hope it’s good, but even if it’s mediocre I will scarf it down.
212 E Grand Ave, Escondido
But this time I’m in luck, because the mac and cheese is fantastic. The place is H Brothers, so-called because the brothers in question figured Hedayati would be tough for people to remember. The gastropub opened a couple years ago in Escondido’s little downtown district along Grand Avenue, which we might call up and coming if it weren’t already called historic. Equipped with a patio, stylish dining room, and an artistically repurposed upright piano, the place serves local libations alongside a menu that checks a lot of comfort food boxes: burgers, smoked brisket, and pulled pork.
And that made-from-scratch mac and cheese, an $8.49 serving boasting cheddar, provolone, basil, and bread crumbs. But the first step of its success is a creamy béchamel base, ensuring every millimeter of elbow pasta wears a cheesy coat. Finding this sort of silky smooth mac experience is exactly the reason I keep ordering it everywhere I go.
There’s a second secret weapon at work here as well, and that’s Wisconsin cheese curds, which mostly melt into the dish, but offer the occasional added glob of gooey goodness. Their presence reflect another specialty of the house: poutine. The H Brothers have a bit of French Canadian heritage, so they serve a pair of poutines. One of them smothers a pile of French fries and cheese curds with a white, flour-based country gravy, plus fried chicken nuggets to round out the Southern-styled poutine.
It's good, but better is the Quebecois faithful original, which simply covers fries and goopey cheese curds with a cornstarch and beef stock brown gravy. Like the mac, it’s a simple dish, all cheese, sauce, and starch. This one happens to be gluten-free, but I assume that’s just a coincidence, because it’s just as rich and comforting.
Not everything on the crowd-pleasing menu is so heavy: there are salads and wraps to go with the sandwiches, smoked meats, and daily specials. Not everything is as great as the mac, but these brothers seem earnest about their from-scratch recipes, and where they get their ingredients (often locally). They even make their own Memphis- and Carolina-style BBQ sauces, and I wound up alternating between both while enjoying the brisket; not because the beef needed it, but because I couldn’t figure out which I liked better.