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FOOD | Mac n’ Cheese for everyone

By 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the small space of Homeroom, a restaurant in Oakland’s Temescal district, begins to fill up with guests. Make sure you snag a spot early because by 5:30, the place is packed.

Homeroom is a restaurant for kids and for the young at heart — what they serve is mac ‘n cheese. There are many varieties for all tastes, and none of them come from a box.

Mac the Goat (Janice Rabe)
Mac the Goat (Janice Rabe)

Homeroom plays on its name. The décor is classroomy: “A is for Apple. B is for Beer. C is for Cheese,” hangs above the bar, a large blackboard takes up the entire back wall displaying a large outline of California and a “Bulletin” for the month’s special mac, paper airplanes hang above a vintage library card catalog holding “extra credit” near the entrance to the bathroom.

The “extra credit” is that with each mac ‘n cheese purchase you get one gold star. If you’d like, start a card to file in the filer and when you collect ten you get a free mac ‘n cheese.

Vegan mac n' cheese (Janice Rabe)
Vegan mac n’ cheese (Janice Rabe)

RJ Held, one of Homeroom’s regulars, recently went to Homeroom and added another gold star to his third, consecutive card.

“I usually come for lunch when it’s not as crowded,” Held said.

On a Friday during peak hours, expect your wait time to be around 35 minutes to an hour for a table, 5 minutes for your server to arrive, and another 15-25 for your food. There’s no room to wait indoors (a minor snag in Homeroom’s set up) but there are heating lamps, and guests are invited to grab a drink from the bar while they wait. Drinks range from a selection of local micro-brewed beer and wine to Boylan’s soda and organic limeade— house-made with fresh lime juice.

Try the Big Apple ($6.00) Homeroom’s version of a snakebite — a drink layered with hard cider and stout. The crisp apple of the cider and the creamy stout blend well together, creating an appetizing, flavorful drink at a great price. The crowd at Homeroom on this Friday is on the younger side, with a median age in the late 20s. Very hipster chic, the cool kids, and the only way you can tell a server from a patron is that the servers wear short, black aprons. This is a skinny jean, Converse, and vintage t-shirt kind of place. It’s eclectic, quirky and current.

Sarah Javed, from Hayward, fits the guest profile. This is her second time dining at Homeroom.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Javed said. “I like the ambiance, it’s pretty chill.”

Javed came just to get Homeroom’s Smokey Bacon Mac, a mac with smoked cheddar, jack cheese, and bacon.

“It’s that good,” said Javed after being teased by her boyfriend about the distance they drove.

There are many other flavors of mac ‘n cheese at Homeroom. The Little Mac ($5.50), big enough for an adult, has all the flavors one would imagine an all-cheddar mac ‘n cheese to have, with nothing special. It’s kind of gritty (cheddar is a hard melting cheese) but it’s as it’s supposed to be. Like mom’s — if your mom took the time to make homemade macaroni and cheese and not the neon-orange powdered variety that comes from a box.

Mac the Goat ($9.95), named for its chevre (goat cheese), is excitingly tasty and textural. The chevre adds elegance and a velvety creaminess while still maintaining the tangy bite one prefers in goat cheese. The chives in this dish add a slight crunch with their mild onion flavor, and the breadcrumbs that crown the mac are a final added texture. Many guests find themselves going straight for the top half just to get at the breadcrumbs.

“I think [the macs] should always come with breadcrumbs,” said server Liz McAlpine.

Another mac with breadcrumbs is the Ivy Leaguer ($14.95) a very creamy dish with the tiniest hint of truffle. For the hefty price tag, one might expect a truffle explosion and not just a trace of the distinct flavor.

Keegan Amit, an art history major at Mills College, wanted a little more truffle flavor.

“Some bites are better than others. But still, it’s slightly disappointing,” Amit said.

The Gilroy Garlic ($8.95) on the other hand well exceeds expectations. The creamy gouda with sharp pecorino and a generous amount of garlic is a best-seller.

“HELLO garlic!” Amit said. “Wow! The first bite is intense.”

If for whatever reason you keep away from cheesiness, Homeroom has not forgotten about you. The Vegan Mac ($8.75) has an oddly creamy texture with a certain nuttiness, and it’s several shades darker than all of the other macs.

“It’s always that brown. It’s made with an entirely different béchamel,” McAlpine said.

The delicious Grasshopper Pie. (Janice Rabe)
The delicious Grasshopper Pie. (Janice Rabe)

Béchamel is a sauce made from butter, flour, milk, and sometimes cheese as in mac and cheese. McApline explained that Homeroom’s vegan béchamel consists of nutritional yeast, soymilk, tofu, soy sauce, and a few undisclosed spices (presumably what gives it its “nutty flavor).

“It confuses me to an extent,”  McAlpine said. “It is very nutty. But vegan people love it. If you go into it expecting cheese you won’t like it. But vegans never go into it expecting cheese. It’s not for everyone — I for one love cheese.”

One item on the menu most can agree on are the Brussels sprouts. Made with apple cider vinegar and topped (or not) with bacon, the Brussels sprouts come out halved and expertly roasted.

Rounding off the menu are the desserts. If there is still room in your stomach after conquering your mountain of mac ‘n cheese, go for the Grasshopper Pie: mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate cookies, and chocolate sauce. Or try the Banana Cream Pie— bananas, caramel, pudding, and vanilla wafers (it’s best stirred up to mix the caramel throughout). Both come, adorably, in little mason jars.  

Homeroom creates comfort-food-inspired dishes that have appeal for kids and adults alike. So go ahead, grab your own card and start earning some “extra credit.”