The Automat or I Love Mac and Cheese

07 Mar

 As my sophomore year at Immaculata High School wound to a close I was nicely asked to not return in the Fall.


Automat (Photo credit: rsfrd)

This did not come as a big surprise.  I had logged more days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Staten Island Ferry than I did in a class room.  The last two years of my High School experience were done at Central Commercial, located on 42nd Street in Manhattan.  One of the first co-ed schools, it offered classes in business training.

One of the perks of this school was that it was nestled majestically between the News building on Second Avenue and Horn and Hardart‘s Automat on the corner of Third Avenue and 42nd Street.  For those of you who don’t remember automats, they were cafeteria style restaurants where the food was displayed behind small glass doors.  To purchase a sandwich or entrée you would put coins (yes I said coins) into the slot, which released the locked glass door, and you were able to remove your food.

My favorite was the macaroni and cheese.  They made it like nothing I had ever eaten.  My Italian Grandmother did all the cooking in our house and macaroni was either done with a red gravy or garlic and oil.  The automat’s mac and cheese was a creamy white concoction and ooh so delicious.

As time will, it flew by quickly from then until now, filled with all of life’s rites, pleasures and woes, but every once in a while I thought about that mac and cheese and the delight it brought.  I don’t really know if it was a culinary treat, or the memories surrounding that time in my life.

Over the years I made my own macaroni and cheese but it was never the same, or even close to it.  I once purchased a Horn and Hardart’s frozen entrée, but, nope, something was wrong.  I gave up hope.

Yesterday, the weather was terrible.  A good day to cook.  Out came the iPad to scan all kinds of recipes and suddenly the automat came to mind.  On a whim I looked up Horn and Hardart’s Macaroni and Cheese.  Much to my surprise and delight up came about ten links to it.  I haven’t made it yet, but you can bet I will.

Following I have put the recipe and history of the dish.  If and when you give it a try, please let me know what you think.

Horn & Hardart’s Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 2 or 3
Horn & Hardart was a Philadephia and New York restaurant chain that also had stores specializing in take-out. With the TV and radio advertising motto “Less work

for mother,” they actually pioneered the concept of prepared foods to eat at home. The restaurants were called Automats because, besides a cafeteria line,

they featured food behind tiny glass windows that was accessed by putting a few nickels in the slots. The last Automat — on Third Ave. and 42nd St

. — closed only about 10 years ago. It’s now a GAP. But New Yorkers and Philadephians old enough to have experienced Horn & Hardart have deep

nostalgia for many of its specialties. The mac and cheese is probably prime among them.

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
11/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons light cream (see note)
1 packed cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup crushed tomatoes (I used Pomi, you can use any canned product)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Dash cayenne pepper

(I used several dashes)

Dash white pepper
1/2 pound small elbow

macaroni, cooked until

barely done

    1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter   over low heat, blend in flour and cook about 2 minutes.2. Beat in the milk, then the cream and

cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes   to the boil and thickens. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in the cheese until melted, then   the crushed tomatoes, sugar and two peppers.

4. Stir in the macaroni.

5. Pour into a shallow, buttered baking   dish and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the surface browns,   25 to 30 minutes.

NOTE: This recipe   must have been broken down from one that made an enormous quantity,   which explains the small amount of light cream.

If you don’t want   to purchase a half-pint container of light cream just for two tablespoons,   simply add two tablespoons more milk.

You’ll never know the difference.   I also think it needs a little salt, which is not called for in   the recipe.


Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “The Automat or I Love Mac and Cheese

  1. joeyred51

    March 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm


    I worked in the Pan Am building and visited the automat many times on 42nd St. And, I love mac and cheese.


  2. MsSopia

    March 7, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    joey after I try the recipe I’ll post how it turned out. You might want to give it a try.


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