When last week I spoke to mac-and-cheese expert Stephanie Stiavetti, she bemoaned cooks’ reluctance to add seafood and Asian flavors to their customized mac-and-cheeses. Entries at this weekend’s Mac-Off suggested her concerns weren’t unfounded: Competing restaurants were far more likely to use pork than shellfish, and a bottle of Sriracha at the Southern Season station was the rare nod to Eastern cuisines.
But Mosaic, which my fellow judges and I unanimously selected for the Critics’ Choice award, at least made smart use of panko. The bread crumbs added an attractive texture to a mac which was already distinguished by jalapeno heat. In a field of very creamy entries, Mosaic’s mac stood out for its complexity.
The People’s Choice award went to Crave, which has won the prize every year since the event’s 2009 debut: Folks are fools for classically-cheesed cavatappi — and reminding voters that Esquire‘s already deemed Crave’s mac “life-changing” probably doesn’t hurt the restaurant’s annual chances.
Competition for the Best Use of a Local Ingredient award wasn’t as fierce as I might have wished — vegetables were in notably short supply, although Poogan’s Porch nicely elevated its mac with the addition of crisp fresh scallions — but New Moon Pizzeria earned the victory with its standout fried mac-and-pimento cheese balls, made with locally-produced pimento cheese.
Still, the many attendees clutching cardboard trays of mac-and-cheese probably considered themselves the winners. An attendance estimate isn’t yet available, but the event did a fine job of cultivating a laid-back atmosphere and enthusiastic participants. According to Andrea Dekker, marketing director for organizer A Snappy Event, cities from South Carolina to Wisconsin have inquired about hosting Mac-Offs of their own.