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Bite

Bite of the Week: Tomato Pie Mac N Cheese at Spotted Salamander

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$12.95. 1531 Richland St. spottedsalamandercatering.com.

Before coronavirus, one of my go-to lunch spots was Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering. Chef Jessica Shillato’s culinary chops paired with her flare for creative Southern cooking made it a delight for this Midwesterner-turned-Columbian to begin to explore new dishes.

That’s why it was a letdown when Shillato closed her cafe for a few weeks during the pandemic, opting instead to only do family-style take-and-bakes and a few pop-up meals I wasn’t able to partake in. Luckily, for me and you, she reopened her cafe last week for what’s been the best carryout dining experience I’ve had this pandemic.

True to my Midwestern roots, I’d never had tomato pie and certainly never seen it paired with mac and cheese. Shillato and her staff’s concoction is a delightful pairing of the two, with the tomatoes’ sweet-meets-acidic punch spiking the dish with a bright energy. Per most mac and cheeses, the dish is gratifyingly heavy — a creamy, rich mess of cheese and pasta. The pie crust is reminiscent of a flaky pot pie, yet thicker and richer. Between the three elements, it’s an indulgent mess in the best way.

While a satisfying meal in its own right, the pickup experience was one of the safest I’ve experienced yet. One orders and pays online, arrives to get their food, calls the staff and they then drop your food off at a numbered table and return inside. You proceed to grab your food and drive off happily. No touching, no close-up interactions — just cheesy tomato pie bliss.

David Clarey joined Free Times in November 2019 as a food and news writer. He's constantly fighting competing desires to try cooking food at home and spending his entire paycheck on Columbia restaurants.

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