From The North Shore Weekend newspaper
The mood was light at the North Shore’s New York delicatessen, Max’s Deli, at lunchtime on a weekday. Outside, rain fell in sheets as people either ran from their cars without an umbrella or nimbly stepped over puddles holding tight to one to keep it from blowing away.
Through the door, and a ringing bell alerts you to the obvious: you’ve entered deli heaven. A regular sight is seeing the place packed from wall to wall with ladles of matzo ball soup, towering pastrami sandwiches, briny pickles, chatty diners. And on this day it was no different. One of the regulars even started doing an impromptu standup (“Do you know why you can’t keep Jewish people in jail? They eat the lox”—part of his shtick, the owners told me) for a confined table.
Amidst this hubbub, the brothers Morelli found time out of their busy schedules to sit in the back of their establishment. Taking seats next to one another at an oversized round table, Joey leaned over, and with a broad smile and a nod said: “He’s the chef; I’m the knucklehead,” intimating first to his brother, Greg.
Third generation pastrami butchers, “The Food Fight Brothers,” as they fondly refer to themselves, have been co-owners of the Deli since they took it over in 2011. With a rich history having been in business over 25 years, Max’s Deli has once again partnered with the non-profit volunteer organization, Stand Up For Kids, to host the 3rd Annual Cheesy Noodles Mac N’ Cheese Contest on November 23rd, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at this very establishment.
When asking Greg why they settled on “Mac N’ Cheese” three years ago, he stated, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the obvious: “It’s yummy.” But it’s also more than that; he relented, “We brainstormed a way to raise money for homeless teens in downtown Chicago.” Macaroni and cheese being a fun, easy dish for competing restaurants to prepare.
This year, esteemed chefs come together from all over the North Shore to showcase their very own specialty macaroni and cheese dishes, which will be tasted and judged by “the People” and a panel of local celebrity guest judges. (Full disclosure: I’ll be one of the judges.) Those competing will be Highwood’s new Barrel Crossing Tap & Grill; Nick’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill of Wilmette; Pinstripes in Northbrook; Remington’s Chicago; and Valley Lodge Tavern of Glenview: all hoping to beat out defending champion, Chicago’s Smoke Daddy, who won both People’s Choice and Judges Choice last year.
Over 300 people attended last year’s event, which raised over $3,000 for Stand Up for Kids Chicago, which provides crisis intervention and basic survival necessities for at-risk and homeless youth through national and local outreach.
“I plan on making this year’s Mac N’ Cheese event the best yet,” said Abbey Cross, Executive Director of Stand Up For Kids Chicago. “If we can meet our goal of $5,000 we can help 50 of Chicago’s homeless youth stay in school for a month, or five stay in school for the entire year! How amazing would that be?”
Unlike past years, Max’s Deli won’t be competing. Choosing instead to play host: preparing appetizers, a make-your-own S’Mores Bar, and serving beer, wine and soft drinks. But they’ve included their recipe below for those to make at home.
Said Joey, “My brother’s the master at adding a real simple twist to something, and not over-complicating it—it’s just great, man.”
Tickets to the Cheesy Noodles Mac N’ Cheese Contest are available by calling 773-817-1684 or visiting StandUpForKids.org. Max’s Deli is located at Crossroads Shopping Center, on 191 Skokie Valley Rd in Highland Park.
Max’s Deli’s Famous Cheesy Noodles
1 cup each, shredded 4 cheeses (Swiss, cheddar, Muenster, Parmesan)
6 cups 2% milk
¼ pound unsalted butter
Sprinkle white pepper
Bring milk to a simmer and fold in cheeses, butter and pepper. Simmer 30 minutes. Refrigerate sauce for 24 hours if possible to allow sauce to come together. Cook your favorite noodles in salted water. Enjoy!
Cheesy Noodle Bar:
- Perfect for a kids party or maybe a super bowl bash!
Try such fun topping ideas as: edamame, corn off the cob, jalapeños, bacon, broccoli, hot dogs, sriracha, roasted garlic