The repeat champs of the Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, Valente's.
You might expect that after sampling 30 different varieties of mac-n-cheese, one might be sick of it. Well, you’d be right. But it was fun while it lasted. The MHK staff, along with about 1,500 other hungry people, crammed into the Albany Marriott to try the region’s best mac-n-cheese offerings from 30 different restaurants. There were a lot of unique and interesting versions of the classic comfort food, many of which were delicious, while several missed the mark.
Provence featured two kinds: a fairly standard lobster mac-n-cheese, and one that should have been better than it was – shredded duck with apples and caramelized onions, but it ended up just being too sweet. Ilium Café’s was quite good, made with capicolla. Creo’s version had chorizo, poblano peppers and tomatoes, and was very tasty. Another great one was the Standard’s buffalo chicken mac-n-cheese. The MHK has not had great experience with the Standard, but this dish was terrific. The Wishing Well advertised a bacon horseradish dish with tomato chutney; while it was very short on horseradish and bacon, the chutney was great and overall it was a very tasty version. Birch Hill Catering’s lobster-mac had big chunks of lobster meat – very nice. Our favorite though was from another surprising source – Wolff’s Biergarten. Not known for having quality food, they made a delicious, simple mac-n-cheese with just ham and two different cheeses. But the flavors and texture were great.
Among the disappointments was 677 Prime, one of the top restaurants in the area. Their dish had good flavor, but the pasta was so overcooked it was almost slimy; very unpleasant. Farmer Boy Diner offered nothing but a run-of-the-mill version, which tasted just fine, but really lacked anything memorable. And there were others with overcooked pasta, very oily creations, and even one that was served cold (unintentionally, I presume).
A nice treat was Perraca’s Italian ice cart – they provided welcome refreshment from the rich, savory pasta samples. The overall winner went to defending champion Valente’s, with their meat and cheese-heavy Three Little Pigs Macaroni & Cheese, featuring soppresatta, prosciutto, pancetta, provolone, Parmigiano Reggiano and mascarpone cheeses. For us it was too salty with all those meats – but I guess it’s not surprising that it won, considering how much salt everyone likes in their food. The Standard took second place and Wolff’s came in third.
The event benefited the Regional Foodbank of Northeastern NY, and while the final tally isn’t in, it’s a safe bet that they will get a nice chunk of change donated. Hopefully next year they will either sell fewer tickets, or move it to a larger venue, as it seems to be growing in popularity each year. All we here at the MHK know is that we won’t be eating any mac-n-cheese for a little while.