Mac and Cheese Madness: Harmon Brewery & Eatery

By Ron Swarner on January 2, 2015

The Franciscan Polar Plaza ice-skating rink has, at its heart, attempted to bring life to a patch of land that has been, well, a little barren for the past few years. Tollefson Plaza has been criticized by many as a hefty investment with little return for the community. On-again, off-again efforts to turn the public plaza into something noticeably public have met with limited success. If downtown were brimming with daytime shoppers, Tollefson Plaza might attract a few people. But until then, organizers say, it's up to local organizations to make it a destination. Thanks to the Tacoma Art Museum, with backing from the Franciscan Health, Tollefson Plaza is full of life during the holiday season - although much of that life falls on its ass.

For the past three years I have booked live music every Saturday during the ice rink's run. I've witnessed amazing music, holiday cheer, hipsters falling right on their skinny-jeans bums, and couples, awash in love, rosy from the fresh air, celebrating their wedding proposals on ice. I've also seen a fare share on concussions and broken bones.

The musicians are good sports. Most Saturday nights have seen temperatures below freezing. Melodies have been twisted due to frozen digits and chilly deep breaths.

To accompany the new "Art of the American West" exhibit in the new Haub Family Collection wing at TAM, I booked bluegrass, country rock and old-timey bands at the rink. The Cottonwood Cutups, SweetKiss Momma, Shotgun Kitchen, The Rusty Cleavers, Dixie Highway and Forest Beutel added an awesome soundtrack for butterfly jumps, cherry-flips, layback spins - but mostly skating moves such as the unstable skating, the fall, the skid and the mixed-gender collision. This Saturday, Jan. 3, The Oly Mountain Boys bring it all home from 7-9 p.m.

What the hell does this have to do with mac and cheese?

While the musicians freeze their asses off, I typically take a long intermission and warm up with a Manhattan from a neighboring restaurant or bar. Two weeks ago, I made my way down Pacific Avenue for a delicious Manhattan made by lovely bartender Katie at Harmon Brewery & Eatery. It was there I discovered the Harmon's delicious creamy crab mac and cheese.

If ever there was a loaded dish, it is this. A huge dish full of cheese, Dungeness crab and nostalgia, and so hearty it can warm the coldest night. Elbow macaroni are enmeshed in creamy cheese sauce of Parmesan, Asiago, cotija as well as a cheddar/jack blend. A giant bowl arrives full of pasta, in what appears to be a simply creamy, cheese sauce flavored with Dungeness crab. But try to take a bite and you'll find that the stringy bits of cheese pasta are wholly enmeshed in the sauce. Better to take the scoop-and-shovel approach to eating this one. At $16.99, the giant bowl of comfort food will easily fill two bellies.

HARMON BREWERY & EATERY, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.2739

LINK: Video of Katie mixing a Manhattan at the Harmon

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

LINK: The answer to why this mac and cheese column exists