By Nina Malone

Did you ever, as a guilty pleasure, sneak off and down an entire box of mac and cheese? One bite of Ash’s Naked Noodle and Cheese, and you’ll never eat the boxed variety again.

Never.

Ash’s Naked Noodle and Cheese, which just opened in downtown West Chester, is a delight for anyone who loves noodles. Or cheese. Or both. Who wouldn’t love a mac and cheese base that includes cream cheese and sometimes mascarpone? The restaurant is the brainchild of Ashley Melillo, also executive chef and owner of The Bistro at Our Town in Exton. Eight weeks ago she thought it might be interesting to start a separate mac and cheese station in the Bistro since those dishes were so popular. A tip about an open space in Dub-C was all it took for Ash to bring cheesy delights to the borough.

I sampled three of the baked selections, the cheese-stuffed bread and a decadent salad. In addition to baked items, hungry patrons can create their own mac and cheese with a plethora of add-ons or simply top The Naked Noodle (penne) that’s been lightly tossed in olive oil with the same mouthwatering options. The quaint, eclectic restaurant also offers salads and desserts; everything is homemade. Thirsty diners may BYOB, or choose from a selection of Stewart’s sodas, fresh iced tea or bottled water.

First up: Cheesy Bread. More like a cheesy submarine: it was almost two feet long and stuffed and slathered with seven cheeses. Yes, seven! Yet despite all that gooey goodness, the oven-baked Italian baguette still maintained its texture and muscle.

Next up, the “plain” Grilled Cheese. That’s if you consider “plain” to be six cheeses (gruyere, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, Swiss and goat) dressed with a mini crostini grilled cheese. All Ash’s dishes are made with penne, which hugs the cheese better than traditional elbow-style noodles. Well, the penne positively nestled the goat cheese, which was the star. The goat cheese brought a slight sweetness and a subtle tang to the finish. If there weren’t two more nearly four-pound offerings before me, plus salad, I would have eaten the entire thing.

Ash’s Naked Noodle and Cheese offers 19+ toppings of make your own selections (which can be layered, topped or tossed), yet many of those are also incorporated into the baked dishes. Witness The Mushroom “Muenster,” which highlighted tender portabellas and muenster cheese on the penne and cheese base (seen below, to left). Again, the noodles were cooked to perfection, as was the beefy portabella, which partnered splendidly with the muenster and added an earthy depth to the dish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to be outdone, the final baked offering was The Decadent Crab (seen above, to right), which paired brie and jumbo lump crab, a fitting marriage. Remember, all these toppings must highlight, not overwhelm, the base: no small task. But Ash and her chef, Matt Piccone, hit it out of the park. The thin slices of brie mingled with the crab, and magically did not melt into the rest of the dish. There was just enough pungent brie, but not so much to steal the show. At this point, I was delighted with the prospect of leftovers!

Last, but not least, I tried the Harvest Chopped salad. Having something green after pounds of cheesy wonderfulness seemed beside the point, but lo and behold: the delicate field greens, apple slices, walnuts and mandarin honey dressing was garnished with – you got it – cheese! Two super-generous slices of brie. Since the rest of the salad was mild and sweet, the slightly smoky brie added a great contrast. I took seconds.

Managing Partner Jillian Godfrey runs the front of the restaurant, and notes the prices were kept reasonable to attract foodies, families and students alike. They range from $5 to $12 plus toppings, and $7 to $24 among the baked items; everything is available in medium and large, including take-out. And might I note the leftovers held their own on night two. Anyone who loves noodles, cheese, creative toppings and a friendly neighborhood restaurant atmosphere should give Ash’s Naked Noodle and Cheese a try.

Find Ash’s Naked Noodle and Cheese at 18 S. Church St. in West Chester. Follow them on Facebook by clicking here. Hours of operations are as follows: Sunday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.