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Favorite Dish: The Cuban Mac and Cheese From Newly Opened I Heart Mac & Cheese in Fort Lauderdale

If you love the marriage of pasta and dairy that is mac and cheese a new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale specializes in customizable, made-to-order versions of everyone's favorite childhood comfort food.

At one-week-old I Heart Mac & Cheese founder Michael Blum is aiming to be the Chipotle of mac and cheese. To prove it, the South Florida chef has built a fast-casual restaurant model devoted to the dish, with a menu based on an original macaroni and cheese sauce recipe he created decades ago.

Located in the Southport shopping plaza off 17th Street, the one-of-a-kind eatery is like walking into a dairy-filled dream. Walls are plastered in a white-and-black wallpaper with caricatures of cows, chickens, eggs, and cheese. Vintage glass milk bottles hang from a handmade chandelier. Reclaimed wood and stone tables give the dining space an earthy, pastoral appeal. It's a beautiful space to stuff your face.

To keep things moving, the restaurant offers a fast-casual, assembly line-style order format. It starts with the basic bowl priced at $3.95, a sizable 16-ounce portion of pre-cooked elbow pasta drowned in a generous helping of his secret cheese sauce. Things get more pricey once you start tacking on any of the 20 or so specialty add-ins including a variety of cheeses, meats, and veggies.

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The menu also offers several chef's creations instead. Among the more adventurous options is a South Florida favorite reinvented: the Cuban Sandwich bowl. As the name would suggest, it's basically a sandwich deconstructed into a bowl of cheese and noodles, clumps of pulled pork and cubes of ham mixed with — for an added kick of flavor — bacon. The best part might be the chef's mojo sauce and pickles, each lending a dose of seasoning and salt.

I Heart Mac & Cheese is located at 1489 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 954-533-4195, or visit iheartmacandcheese.com.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.

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