Elbows Mac n' Cheese Opens To Much Hype in Brea--But Is It Good?

Categories: Local Eats

Elbows_Mac_N_Cheese.jpg
Courtney Hamilton
When Pigs Fly at Elbows Mac N' Cheese

For a restaurant that specializes in just one thing, Elbows Mac n' Cheese is busy in every sense of the word. On a Friday night, the downtown Brea, fast-casual restaurant is so packed that people prowl around patrons finishing their meals, waiting to pounce on soon-to-be empty chairs.

The menu is just as busy: It boasts nearly 20 varieties of macaroni and cheese, as well as some salads, sandwiches, and a carb-laden appetizer menu with five variations on French fries, not including the pretzel bites and fried mac n' cheese bites. They also inexplicably offer pizza and beignets.

The restaurant's desire to provide menu variety is overwhelming, a feeling that spills out into the tiny square space. It appears divided between two concepts: modern whimsy and rustic Americana. The child-like Comic Sans menu headings and ridiculous dish titles (Do You Want a Pizza Me, for macaroni with pepperoni), bright orange walls, and booths with orange and gray pillows are in stark contrast with the adjacent brick walls and raised wood tables.

While the pungent smell of cheese wafting through the air is potentially appealing, it's headache-inducing when coupled with the hype-driven crowd and busy space, stuffy from the sardine-packed bodies.

Once you manage to order at the counter and find a free table, your food will take much longer than a fast-casual place should, as the young servers circle the entire floor before figuring out who ordered what.

One could argue that Elbows Mac n' Cheese is still finding it's legs, and hiccups should be forgiven, but they've run a successful location in Cerritos for three years. Ambiance and service basics should not elude them.

Is the macaroni and cheese good? Sure: It's embellished noodles and béchamel. Even the blue-box variety of mac n' cheese is good. Elbows Mac n' Cheese is certainly a step above dorm room easy-mac, but you'll pay for that altitude. The regular portion averages $10, while the barely discernible larger portion is $12+.

According to the cashier, When Pigs Fly is the most popular macaroni. A mix of gruyere, swiss and applewood bacon, it comes out sizzling in an untouchably hot, round ceramic baking dish. Rich is an understatement: the dish should be followed by a prompt nap. The smoky bacon is a bit overwhelming, but bacon-fiends may enjoy that. The breadcrumb and cheese topping forms an impenetrable crust around the edges, made even more so by the flimsy plastic fork provided. Nevertheless, that textural contrast is welcome. Gruyere and swiss are wonderful melting cheeses, though their strong flavors compete with the smoky bacon. I made the mistake of downing this with a bottled cream soda: the cloying soda coated my mouth just as badly as the rich macaroni.

Easy Cheesy Caprese, a bruschetta and macaroni hybrid, is brighter, though I'd hesitate to call anything at Elbows light. Mozzarella, parmesan, garlic, basil and tomatoes mingle with the noodles, repeated in a decent bruschetta topping. It smells heavenly, but where flavors and smell are bright, texture lacks. This dish is soupier than When Pigs Fly, perhaps due to the higher water content of mozzarella. It also came out lukewarm because of the cold bruschetta topping.

The appetizers seem superfluous: who wants an order of fried potatoes on a stick right before a gruyere, bacon and noodle bomb?

As it stands, the only difference between brewery-restaurant macaroni and Elbows' is menu variety and ridiculous dish names printed in Comic Sans. And there is never a legitimate use for Comic Sans.

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Location Info

Elbows Mac n' Cheese

215 W Birch St, Brea, CA

Category: Restaurant

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28 comments
Ro Ar
Ro Ar

I'll try it, Yardhouse's Mac & Cheese is pretty iLL.

Amanda Vandenbergh
Amanda Vandenbergh

Well honestly, that's as far as I got in the review. The picture told me enough that I need to go here! Not on a Friday night :)

Pamela J. Arterburn
Pamela J. Arterburn

The reviewer is just describing ANY restaurant in downtown Brea on a Friday night. It's not a fair criticism.

hopegriffith7
hopegriffith7

Is Hype so Bad?  A Review of the Review:


This food critic is armed only with a scowl that is evident from the first description of a bustling crowd: "the restaurant is so packed that people prowl around patrons finishing their meals, waiting to pounce on soon-to-be empty chair." I guess this reviewer has never been to downtown Brea on a Friday night when every restaurant is packed. The reviewer then turns to the menu, finding it "overwhelming" (is variety bad, too?) but listing only a few offensive options: "They also inexplicably offer pizza and beignets," an insult the writer can barely stand.  (I think the reviewer would prefer downtown Brea's Bruxie that serves waffles with their waffles, but if a party of three has one waffle-hater, they would opt for Elbows Mac n Cheese, which offers other options for the macaroni-disinclined.)  


The reviewer's nastiness employs the unfortunate use of OC condescending snarkiness, critical of even the font style "The child-like Comic Sans menu headings and ridiculous dish titles (Do You Want a Pizza Me, for macaroni with pepperoni)" and dishes: "The appetizers seem superfluous: who wants an order of fried potatoes on a stick right before a gruyere, bacon and noodle bomb?"  No postive point survives the critic's poison pen: "It smells heavenly, but where flavors and smell are bright, texture lacks."  Some negatives are just unfair; criticizing a macaroni-and-cheese themed restaurant for having "carb-laden" options is like going to Disneyland and complaining about all those rides.


 My guess is that the writer comes from the caustic school of the infamous Irene Viriblia of the LA Times, a critic who was so perpetually negative that one restaurant owner refused to serve her and said:  "We find that some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hard-working people in this industry to lose their jobs."  Would it be so bad to admit that something is good once in a while? 


Perhaps downtown Brea, where every restaurant on a Friday night is "headache-inducing when coupled with the hype-driven crowd and busy space," just isn't this writer's thing. But a good review needs  more than a wrinkled up nose and a bad attitude to be convincing.  As another reader noted, "While the author isn't a fan, I think this article sold me on it!

R Joseph Cervantes
R Joseph Cervantes

I find this article confusing. If the writer thinks "Even the blue-box variety of mac n' cheese is good", there is a huge issue and a red flag with this article. I've been a customer at the Elbows' Cerritos location since it opened up. I've eaten plenty of Mac n Cheese at different restaurants, both chain and mom and pop. Elbows is very rich and delicious for that same reason. If you love the "blue box" and live for the taste of orange/yellow dyed fake cheese with the hint of cardboard, then of course this place is out of your league. Plus if the wait time is too much then hop on over to the Cerritos location.

Marion Sistrunk
Marion Sistrunk

While the author isn't a fan, I think this article sold me on it!

Bob Newman
Bob Newman

If the OC Weakly doesn't like it, it must be good!

Diane Caneso
Diane Caneso

BuzzRadio Steve we need to go here!! \U0001f374

Valentino Vicente
Valentino Vicente

There's one in cerritos Bob Perham. I've been wanting to check it out, but Zaldy's not big on Mac n cheese...Let's go sometime!

Amanda Vandenbergh
Amanda Vandenbergh

I am obsessed with anything mac and cheese. But, I think I'll wait until the hype dies down, because I certainly wouldn't like someone hovering over me, waiting for me to leave my seat. I prefer to savor my meal.

Heather Honnen Terry
Heather Honnen Terry

I've yet to visit the Brea location but can't wait. My guess is the busyness is due to the extreme newness of the Brea store. Give them a break. It will slow down. All new novelties are crazy busy initially. I've never had a dish I did not like at elbows. Well I'm not particularly fond of the benets but everything else has been amazing. For a carb loving Mac and cheese connoisseur I'm willing to pay the $12....I always get at least one or two more meals out of the one dish.

Michelle Reynolds
Michelle Reynolds

As a long time Elbows Cerritos customer I can tell you YES. It IS good. This reviewer obviously hates mac n cheese, small business, and America.

slop101
slop101

Downtown Brea's the worst!

hopegriffith7
hopegriffith7

The writer could have said "the restaurant is busy with eager patrons looking for seats" and it would have meant the same thing.  

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