Monday, February 21, 2011

Average Joe's picks for the Mac n Cheese Bowl

Best Display:
Every restaurant tried to catch your eye on Saturday. Many of them used large banners supported by wooden poles while others covered almost every square inch of their tables in business cards and menus. At the end of the day, only one display really broke free from that mold. Jack’s Oyster House used an ice sculpture which was both classy and memorable. And yes, it was real, it was dripping.
Verdict: As much as I liked Valente’s “Three little pigs” sign, this one wasn’t even close, the ice sculpture was great. An easy win for Jack’s.

Mac n Cheese Gold Medal:
Valente's of Watervliet came out on top last year and after sampling its entry this year I understand why. In fact, I think they should hold onto their crown and walk away from this as repeat champions. They put an Italian American spin on the dish, complementing three types of meat with three types of cheese. Their mac had pancetta, prosciutto, soppressata, mascarpone, pecorino and aged provolone.
Verdict: Two thumbs way up, make them repeat champs. I had it early in the day and nothing topped it.

Silver Medal:
Saratoga’s Wishing Well restaurant was the first of Saturday’s many mac n cheese recipes I had that used bacon. It was also the most memorable of that group. They combined the American classic with bacon, horseradish and topped it all off with some tomatoes. The sweet from the tomatoes contrasted nicely with the horseradish’s bite.
Verdict: I thought this was the best mac n cheese in the house until I made it to Valente’s.

Bronze Medal:
Creo’s recipe seemed like a no-brainer to me. I was waiting for somebody to combine Buffalo wing sauce with mac n cheese from the moment I walked through the door. Buffalo sauce isn’t just for wings any more, it’s also the base for countless dips and a topping splashed over pizzas everywhere. Creo’s offering added Buffalo wing sauce to red hot panko bread crumbs, blue cheese and smoked turkey. I’m a big fan of Buffalo wing sauce so I might be a little bias here, but it wasn’t too hot so the flavor of the sauce came through without overpowering the cheese and other ingredients. The bread crumbs add some nice texture and the turkey is a welcome reprieve from the many, many restaurants that used bacon.
Verdict: This one was definitely a keeper. They had a hot and a mild variety available and I preferred the hotter variety.

Final thoughts:
Picking a winner was definitely no small feat. I didn’t dislike any of the recipes I tried and quite a few stuck out in my mind. The Marriott was a little crowded but it was still easy to move around and there were no long lines to speak of. With such a large draw it must have been a success for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and I hope it comes back again next year. If you missed out this year, bring a friend and check it out next year. It was $15 well spent.

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