Local restaurants and vendors gathered in Downtown Binghamton on Thursday to celebrate the versatility of a classic comfort food: macaroni and cheese.
The third annual Mac & Cheese Fest, a fundraiser hosted by the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra, was held at the Holiday Inn on Hawley Street. Over 40 vendors, restaurants and breweries tabled at the event with giveaways, drinks and food samples.
General admission tickets sold out before the day of the event at $30 each. For restaurants and vendors, the event was free to participate in. Guests were given unlimited access to mac and cheese samples, as well as five beer-tasting tickets for people over 21. The festival was structured as a competition, and visitors voted for their favorite mac and cheese dishes in five different categories: “The Big Cheese,” “Judges’ Choice,” “Kids’ Choice,” “Classic Mac” and “Out of the Blue Box.”
The large number of participating restaurants demanded some innovation from competitors who wanted to stand out, and the festival saw many chefs bringing themed or unusual mac and cheese dishes to the table.
Sabrina Lounsavang, a freshman majoring in nursing, tabled with The Good Bao alongside her brothers, who own the Henry Street restaurant.
“Since we are an Asian restaurant, we decided to do a little bit of an Asian take on mac and cheese,” Lounsavang said.
Mac and cheese is not something the restaurant would ordinarily serve, but for the competition, they fried helpings of macaroni in egg roll wrappers and paired them with a sweet, tangy sauce. Because of the feedback they got at the festival, Lounsavang said they were considering making it a permanent fixture.
Other restaurants showcased in-house favorites. The Colonial, located on Court Street, brought their truffle mushroom mac and cheese, which has been on their menu for two years. According to restaurant owner Alex Jaffe, the dish is popular at the restaurant. The Colonial has attended the festival every year since it started, and in 2016, they won the “Kids’ Choice” award with their imitation of Kraft mac and cheese.
“Out of all the Binghamton food events, this is my favorite,” Jaffe said. “I love seeing mac and cheese being done really well by all the people involved.”
Votes were tallied and winners were announced via Facebook later in the evening. Each winner took home a mosaic plate made by artist Emily Jablon of Jablon Studios, a local gallery. Mooney’s Sports Bar and Grill was the overall crowd favorite, taking home the “Big Cheese” award. Kampai Japanese Steakhouse, Park Diner and Restaurant, CopperTop Tavern and The McKinley won “Out of the Blue Box,” “Classic Mac,” “Kids’ Choice” and “Judges’ Choice,”respectively.