Fortunately, we had the expertise of multiple year Mac & Cheese Bowler (our friend, Shannon) to help us craft a strategy and provide extremely helpful tips! The #1 tip was to only taste one noodle initially. If you like the sample, go for it. If you don't like the sample, trash it. There is too much good mac and cheese out there to waste stomach space on so-so samples. Genius!
Ironically, our first stop - Wolff's Biergarten - turned out to be our favorite of the whole day. They boasted a five cheese concoction topped with crumbled bacon. It was as good as it sounds...and, subsequently, the only sample I tried a second time. So good.
Most of the samples blended together after awhile. Lots of pulled pork and sriracha found themselves in the mix. The most bizarre of the day was a Big Mac version of mac and cheese - um, no thanks! It was the only one where I totally recoiled at the taste. The spicy versions weren't too high on my list either, but some of them weren't so bad. Valente's Three Little Pigs gave samples that included three cheeses and three meats - surprisingly not terrible...and actually good enough for third-place as it turns out.
The longest line was for Druthers Brewing's fantastic creation - a chicken-and-waffles mac and cheese. It featured a fried nugget of chicken and seven-cheese blend macaroni soaked in sriracha-maple syrup on a bed of country gravy with a red velvet waffle on the side. It bested Wolff's by a mere 2% of the ballots cast for first-place at the competition. Definitely a tasty sample with a fantastic presentation! Besides judging the actual samples, Bowl attendees were also asked to judge the overall display at each booth. Mazzone Hospitality won the award for best display, but we thought that Elegant Touch (pictured below on bottom left) was most unique.
The second best tip of the day was actually given weeks in advance - arrive early! We were there when the doors opened. It really made a difference that first hour. After that, the crowds became nearly unbearable. The crowd was estimated at more than 2,500 people for the seventh annual event held inside the gymnasium at Siena College. Thankfully, we hit most of the booths before the crowd became unmanageable.
What is your favorite type of mac and cheese?