Be prepared to toss the Kraft and Velveeta. Just $15 grants admittance to the Mac-Off, where you can find cheesy pasta goodness beyond your wildest dreams.
Sponsored by The Claque, the fourth annual macaroni and cheese competition took place on Sunday, November 17th at Littlefield in Gowanus. Chefs with varying degrees of experience (anyone could enter) carefully prepared pounds of their unique mac n cheese concoctions, all vying for the number one spot in the hearts of city dwellers. From 5:00-8:00PM, NYC’s hungriest embarked on the quest to find the tastiest dish of all.
Among the drool-worthy offerings were “Punk’n Awesome,” a pumpkin mac made with cheddar, pecorino, and sage béchamel, and an “Everything Bagel” mac, complete with poppy seeds, scallions, and smoky cheese to mimic salmon. Both were decadent and impressively creative. My favorite, in name and in taste, was “Cheesus Christ Superstar,” a mac with kale and a delicious fried onion crunch. An optional sprinkling of bacon topped it off—and I appreciated that unlike many, this station took care to make sure that vegetarians (like myself) could still sample their dish. There were far too many macs for my liking that incorporated duck fat or had meat already mixed in. I only have the patience for so much picking around!
It might seem unlikely, but I feel like I did not encounter the same shape of pasta twice. The fifteen or so offerings were so diverse in more than just taste—texture, color, shape, etc. I loved a jalapeño mac just as much as I loved a classic, cheese-only variety. It was great to experience such variation among dishes, especially given the quantity of noodles I was to consume. I returned to my favorites probably four times apiece, since the little bowls we were given upon entry only allow for one measly scoop at a time. I say measly, but I don’t mean the implied negative connotation—I like having a bite of this, a bite of that. I’m just noting that it slowed me down.
I attended the Mac-Off last year, which significantly colors the remainder of my review. I thought Huckleberry Bar, a Williamsburg joint where the competitions was held both in 2012 and 2011, was the perfect venue for the event. The unpretentious, casual nature of the Mac-Off lends itself better to the homey feel of Huckleberry Bar, where there is a small garden enclave out back with some (albeit, not much) seating. Last year, my friends and I befriended a few guys from The Bedford and even took turns manning their delicious caprese mac n cheese station for them. We were able to sit down on benches and eat more leisurely.
At Littlefield, there was virtually no seating with the exception of a few stools by the bar, and it felt a lot more cramped since all vendors were stationed in one, very dark room. The space did not seem much bigger than when you combine Huckleberry Bar’s interior and exterior, and there were definitely fewer mac n cheese contestants rather than more. I was slightly disappointed by this, as I thought a location change meant a definite upgrade. Event publicity boasted “bigger and better than ever,” so I also anticipated even more competitors. I know now that this solely meant more eaters. There were supposed to be additional tickets sold at the door for $20, but I believe no one who hadn’t purchased one in advance (including some sad friends of mine) was let in since the space quickly reached capacity. (The ticket price also increased $5 this year, but I didn’t so much as a bat an eye at that. It is still a very affordable event where you can easily more than get your money’s worth).
Nevertheless, the food is what’s most important on a night like this, and the chefs definitely delivered on quality. The only mac n cheese I didn’t think was fantastic was one that incorporated coconut. I’m all for creativity, but this was perhaps a stretch, and I found it pretty dry. The complimentary beer I guzzled on my way out was great, and I thought Littlefield was a cool spot—I just didn’t think it was the best choice for this particular event. However, had I no frame of reference, I would share nothing but accolades!
By: Emily Giove