SOUTH LOOP — A new South Loop restaurant is adding a little bit of flair to your favorite comfort food.
Top This Macaroni & Cheese, a delivery-only restaurant from Virtue’s Erick Williams and chef Demarr Brown, quietly launched from Williams’ Mustard Seed Kitchen space, 49 E. Cermak Road, in late October.
Brown teamed up with longtime mentor and James Beard award-winner Williams to put a deliciously rich spin on an already indulgent dish. Their macaroni and cheese, a holiday staple, is upgraded with premium toppings such as teriyaki pork belly, which is Brown’s favorite, and crispy bacon or beef & gravy.
There are 10-12 toppings, but for those who like to keep it simple, regular mac and cheese topped with breadcrumbs and chives is also on the menu.
“The idea came about kind of casually. Chef [Williams] and I were just sitting around talking about random things — like ‘What if?’ — and mac and cheese comes up,” Brown said. “Then we’re having all these different ideas. ‘What if we just did mac and cheese with all these different toppings?’ Six months later he’s like, ‘All right, we’re doing this.'”
Each entree weighs about a pound and costs $14-$18. Delivery is limited to the South Loop, Downtown and Streeterville area, though Brown and Williams said they hope to expand the boundaries over the next few months.
For Brown, chef de cuisine at Virtue, cooking was a way of connecting with the women in his life, including the aunt whose macaroni and cheese recipe would serve as the inspiration for Top This.
Brown was a fan favorite during his stint on Top Chef Houston last season, his “cool, calm and collected” style winning over viewers, much to his surprise. He was inspired by Emeril Lagasse as a child.
“Emeril would be cooking a chicken one minute and playing drums the next. I really got excited about that kind of stuff,” Brown said.
When Brown’s mother noticed he’d taken an interest in cooking, she’d give him “Chopped”-style challenges, buying random ingredients for him to push his culinary limits — resulting in comical outcomes, he said. Brown recalled creating a dish with shrimp, cottage cheese and pimento on a bed of lettuce that was admittedly horrible, though his mother was a kind judge, he said.
Brown eventually took his talents to Le Cordon Bleu — then known as as The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago — and landed his first kitchen gig at mk. That’s where he met Williams, who was the chef there. After a stint at Roister in the West Loop, Brown joined Williams at Virtue in 2018.
“It’s been a long time of just kind of figuring out each other. Something he introduced is having uncomfortable, honest conversations,” Brown said of his relationship with Williams. “Things that people wouldn’t generally want to talk about, we force ourselves to talk about. … We give each other that space, that grace that really works well for all of us.”
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