Saturday, February 18, 2012

Albany, NY: Mac & Cheese Bowl

Now in its third year, the Mac & Cheese Bowl features samples of macaroni and cheese from area restaurants, competing for either the Judge's choice or People's choice awards. Proceeds ($15 entry fee) go to the Food Bank, which is getting $35k from this year's event.

Here is some random advice: the ballroom gets crowded. Very crowded. Imagine walking through midtown Manhattan, but give all those imaginary tourists little plastic cups of mac & cheese that they have to stop to get more of every few feet. With this in mind, please don't bring your kids in strollers. Get there early (the line was quite long at 11am) and we saw some pros who brought small trays (think of tray like containers your Chinese takeout comes in sometimes) so they could get in, collect some samples, and then go find a corner to enjoy them in. We started out getting our own sample cups, but by the end of the hour we spent there, four of us were sharing one sample.

The mac & cheese ranged from simply traditional to fancy (Yono's offered "Duck, Duck...Goose" - Long Island Duck Confit, Goose & Port Wine Sausage & Hudson Valley Foie Gras Mornay Sauce). I tasted mac & cheese from 29 Capital Region restaurants; some tasted like it came from a box and others were closer to the fancy side of the spectrum, mixed with nacho toppings, hot sauce, bison, lobster, pork, and, of course, bacon (well, not one with all of those things in one dish, but you get the idea).

My favorites were:
  1. 677 Prime's Double Bacon Cheeseburger mac & cheese

  2. Jack's Oyster House's Spanish-style Mac-n-Cheese with Manchego, Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers and a Potato Chip Chive crust

  3. Chez Mike's Cheddar-Apple “Kugel” mac & cheese

Now, I just wish that the weekend after, these restaurants would add these to the menu! I am dying for my own full portion from Jack's. Instead, I think I'll be trying this recipe I found for Cajun Mac & Cheese (mac & cheese spice, andouille sausage, and peppers). And the left-overs are definitely being made into fried mac & cheese bites.

I'm already looking forward to next year and am dreaming of staggered entry times and post-event macaroni menus.

See also: Results at TableHopping

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