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People may be yakkin’ but the mac be lackin’

Amanda Su and Karen Wang

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If you’re looking for a step up from trusty Kraft Easy Mac, any Bay Area foodie will point to Oakland, where you will find Homeroom: a cozy and moderately priced macaroni and cheese-centric restaurant. With a four star rating on Yelp and 3728 reviews, Homeroom has “evolved from a small community shop to a Bay Area destination” since it’s debut in early 2011, according to its own website.

Ambience:

As is typical in Oakland, it takes a short walk from a nearby parking lot to get to Homeroom. We were greeted with the sight of a modern, red-trimmed building partially surrounded by typical patio seating. A peek inside revealed two more worlds: a bar seating section with one long table and hanging lights, the peak of hipster decor, and a side seating area, constituent of various booths and tables.

The few commonalities between the three areas were the crowded atmosphere, noise and classroom theme. Despite not dining at peak hour, Homeroom feels crowded, since the tables are packed tightly. Adding to the crowded feeling is the noise level; a high population density coupled with blaring indie music inevitably led to a rather loud environment.

What makes Homeroom stand out is its classroom theme decor. Above the long table in the bar seating section lies a rather humorous play on elementary school rhymes: “A is for apples, b is for beer, c is for cheese!” The rest of Homeroom also evokes memories of elementary school rooms. One large chalkboard dominates the main wall in the side seating area. It consists of various motifs and symbols; spells out seasonal specials and advertises the Homeroom cookbook. This seating section also consists of various mismatched chairs — all reminiscent of the plastic, primary-colored chairs that pervade kindergarten classrooms nationwide.

Service:

Regarding service, we can’t complain. Right as we reached the door of the restaurant, a waitress greeted and seated us immediately, asking about our seating preference: outdoors or indoors. We arrived and were seated around 6:45 p.m., but by the time we left, there was quite a long line around 7:40 p.m. Thus, how quickly one might get seated could be different depending on time of arrival.

As we were seated, our waitress placed our menus on the table for us to peruse. Although the wait staff was a little busy and we had to wait a couple minutes before our waitress came to take our orders, when we asked about portion sizes, she was very helpful in patiently describing the size of specific desserts. When we requested separate bills, she was also very understanding and made sure to remember. We then waited for around 10 to 15 minutes for our macaroni to arrive. After the waitress brought out the food, she made sure to warn us about the hot plates so that we wouldn’t burn ourselves. Then, we were free to eat.

Food:

With Homeroom claiming to have the “best mac and cheese” and a formidable Yelp profile, we entered with understandably high expectations.

While some of their claims — particularly the one of being the “extra creamy, and extra cheesy” — are undeniably true, it would be nothing short of fallacious to grant Homeroom the title of “best”.”

Karen Wang: 2 out of 5 stars

The Vegan Mac with Soyrizo (a vegan version of chorizo) and breadcrumbs arrived after a week of anticipation, yet left behind a weak impression. The vegan “cheese” sauce is made in-house out of nutritional yeast, soy milk, tofu, various spices and soy sauce. It was aesthetically stunning, with a coating of crisp breadcrumbs. However, the flavor was immediately overwhelmed by the saltiness of the sauce, which evolved into a vaguely sour and stale aftertaste. The second and third consisted of the same overpowering saltiness and aftertaste. Thank goodness for the self-serve water carafe.

The Soyrizo, a meatless imitation product that’s often hailed as one of best vegan meats, would have been a delicious add-in if not for two things: the saltiness and the meager portions. Adding Soyrizo cost $2.50, which seemed reasonable if not for the fact that such a price bought approximately half a dozen paper-thin slices of fake sausage (to clarify: this was an outrageously small amount). Despite this, there were no complaints; the salt from a fair amount of sausage would have made the dish inedible. The saving grace was the breadcrumbs, which came at the charge of $0.75. This was worth the money, as it neutralized some of the intense flavors and offered a sweet relief from the sickly, overly creamy texture of the mac n’ cheese.

Overall, this dish was a disappointment: its strong, confusing flavors and unsettling texture were enough to induce gagging, but failed to make Homeroom a memorable experience.

Amanda Su: 4 out of 5 stars

The White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with baked bread crumbs, bacon and spinach was an experience.

After a week of salivating at the thought of eating something besides my daily packed leftovers, I was ready to eat the moment our waitress set down my plate. The first forkful had the perfect ratio of baked, crunchy bread crumbs and thick melted white cheese, coating the perfect amount of macaroni noodles. My eternal fondness and remembrance of that first experience could be attributed to my intense hunger that day, but regardless, it made a good first impression.

However, as the meal went on, I found myself feeling weighed down by the intense richness and flavor of the cheese, the large portion size and the thickness and heaviness of the entire dish. With the first bite, the cheese was sharp, shocking and freshly satisfying. But sadly, with the bites following, the surprise and enjoyment that came with sharpness of the flavor died down and my taste buds were tired and in defeat. For a person who is at most a connoisseur of the mellow artificial flavor of Kraft Mac and Cheese, the richness was a bit overwhelming.

The dish did redeem itself, however, with the baked bread crumbs that created a thin crust on top of the cheese. They acted as a flavor buffer and crunchy texture complimented the thick creaminess of the cheese well.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible meal but while it felt like I was gaining 10 pounds with each bite, I also felt like I was losing just as many each time because of the amount of work and physical effort that went into consuming the dish. (Note: after microwaving and eating leftovers the day after we went, I found that while the texture was not as pleasing, the richness died down and it was much easier to consume the other half)

Overall:

Both of us only ate about half of our dishes. The portion sizes didn’t seem too large when they were set on the table, but the combination of gag reflex-inducing richness and intense flavors made the feat impossible for both dishes.

Tips:

Regardless of our less than excellent Homeroom experience, there must be some credit given to the hype surrounding Homeroom and the hour long waits that appear during popular hours.

For the optimal experience, we recommend the following: Choose add-ins that don’t add salt and balance out the flavors instead; this includes pineapple, broccoli, and breadcrumbs. Go at an unpopular hour; we didn’t personally experience this, but many Yelp testimonies warn of hours of waiting during peak operation times. Lastly, share with a friend. It’s a rookie mistake to think a Homeroom mac is easy to finish. Half of one is more than enough to fill one up.

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People may be yakkin’ but the mac be lackin’