If everyone has a vice, then mine is cheese. I love cheese. In all forms really, from blocked to stringed and from melted to crumbled. There is no experience comparable to walking through a farmers market and finding a brand new cheese that you had no clue existed, like a beer-infused gouda, or a jasmine-infused goat cheese — but anyway, I digress.
I don’t want to call myself a cheese connoisseur, but then again, I do. Beyond just cheese, I love mac and cheese. A soft-shell pasta with a warm, delicious cheese is possibly the only food combination that can truly warm the soul.
With all this being said, the prospect of the Mac & Cheese Fest more than excited me, it was truly the best thing that could have happened to me. Actually to the entire Binghamton area. So I got my ticket and I waited. After weeks of anticipation, the day arrived. I showed up to the Holiday Inn, ready for an experience like no other. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. I had to park in the Boscov’s parking lot just to walk over to the hotel.
I finally found my way to the event, but my nose realized it before anything else. The beautiful, sensuous, delectable aromas filled my nostrils and once they arrived there was no turning back. I waited in line, but I soon realized that before I could feast on any food, I had to feast my eyes first. The main ballroom was filled with people — cheese-lovers young and old.
The walls were lined with vendors serving samples of their various concoctions. I had a score card with me, listing each of the 32 participating restaurants. Vendors included student favorites such as Lost Dog Cafe and hidden gems such as Enfield’s Restaurant. There was a lot to take in and that was just the atmosphere. Now on to the main event: the food.
Before I begin, I should probably explain what I look for in a good macaroni and cheese. For me, there are a couple of factors that make a good macaroni and cheese. I care about sauce. It must be cheesy, it must be flavorful and it shouldn’t taste manufactured or from a box (not that I don’t love a good box of Kraft, but there is a time and place for everything people). I also care a lot about the consistency of pasta. There is no reason to get a mush; it should never be like the macaroni was stepped on before entering the bowl. And if there are additives, their presence should never detract. I’m looking for the crunchiest of crunches and the most potent barbecue sauces.
I began my journey by trying an old favorite and finding something new in the Lost Dog. As far as dishes go, I was impressed. Even despite the plastic cups that all portions were served in, this tasty treat still looked presentable. Lost Dog called this “Hot & Crunchy Cheesy Mac” and I was impressed by its delicious cheesiness. This dish consisted of elbow macaroni, cheddar cheese, Havarti cheese scallions and Frank’s RedHot Sauce. I usually can’t handle spice, but this I could deal with.
I moved on to try what The Colonial had to offer. At this booth I was greeted by large shells in a yellow cheese sauce. Daring. Yet as I let my taste buds do the work, I was disappointed. Big shells demand big taste, and these did not hold up. Yet with this small cup behind me, I was determined to move on and find salvation in these creamy sauces.
I ventured over to a booth that brought me back to an elevated place of hope and love. The food at a place called Kristofor’s Restaurant impressed me to no end. As I took the first bite, I was amazed by what flavors hit my taste buds. I went back again to make sure it was as good as I first thought. It was.
Some restaurants went in the direction of adventure, with Galaxy Brewing Company putting poached pears into its dish. This was, for lack of a better word, crazy. It was sweet and not bad. I don’t know if I’d order it in a restaurant, but for the novelty I’m glad it was available. One restaurant, Lampy’s Mediterranean Grill, featured a white chocolate dessert mac and cheese. You could taste the sweetness and it was surprisingly cold.
A definite standout of the night was from Belmar Pub. Their mac and cheese featured barbecue pulled pork, and was topped in crushed rich crackers. Delicious.
While it was impossible to try every type, the end of the evening I found myself stuffed to my gills. All in all, Mac & Cheese Fest was a religious experience. I might have been breaking Passover, but this was the most spiritual I’ve felt in weeks.