Wow, can I just say that I will never tire of macaroni and cheese?
I was so happy when the organizers reached out to me to see if I wanted to go again this year, because how could I say no?! So I trekked over to the Binghamton Holiday Inn located right on the river Thursday, March 30 for some cheesy, filling fun.
This year, 25 restaurants participated by coming up with unique, creative mac and cheese dishes to compete to win a number of prizes. There were also 6 breweries, so adults were able to sample some great beers, as well. I brought a friend this time, and we had such a fun time trying almost every mac and cheese and then rating it and discussing what we liked best about each one. What makes this festival unique to me is that each restaurant comes up with such unique offerings that usually reflect their style and menu. Some that stick out to me were seafood macs, a delicious hard cider mac with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top, vegan macs, and mac and cheese decked out with pulled pork and delicious sauces. There really is something for everyone here; whether you like straight-up no-frills comfort mac and cheese, Asian cuisine, lots of meat, or are vegan.
I have to admit that I ended up not rating every mac and cheese we tried; we didn’t bring pens and it was hard to juggle typing each venue into my phone with my opinion, as well as holding my food and water bottle. I’m pretty sure last year there were pencils scattered across tables around the rooms, and that would have been awesome this year too because I don’t think a lot of people necessarily thought to bring their own pen.
Despite not being able to jot down every restaurant and which I liked and disliked, I do have two clear favorites that I remember and wish I could have an entire bowl of! Red & White Catering did a delicious, warm and gooey mac and cheese with sour cream drizzled on top, as well as a piece of scallion and red pepper jelly. Yes I know, who puts jelly on mac and cheese, right!? But it was perfect and rounded out the dish amazingly; it wouldn’t have been the same without it. My other favorite was from Park Diner – they made a really classic-feeling mac and cheese. There weren’t any bells and whistles, but I could tell it was heavily made from parmesan or romano cheese and it was just the ultimate comfort food. I could have sat down and ate a huge serving right there.
When you weren’t sampling local beers or the huge array of cheesy goodness, there were other things to do. A room out behind the makeshift bar with drinks you could buy was full of water jugs and bottles, which were free. It was a welcome refreshment and also a quieter space where you could take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the two main festival rooms. There was also macaroni necklace making, a photo booth, vendors with various things such as LuLaRoe leggings and essential oils, face painting, and – my favorite – a caricature artist.
Jon Ed Bon Fed is such a great guy, and an awesome caricaturist. We were hesitant to take any time away from our mac and cheese sampling (I know, I love to eat!), but he promised that it would only take a few minutes to draw us. So we sat down and immediately he put us at ease with his bubbly, humorous personality and stories from his decades of traveling around and drawing. I told him that I wrote for two cruising websites, so he got to work drawing me in my element – my office in front of the computer. 😛 I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed when, not only can an artist draw someone in just a few minutes, but they can do it while carrying on a normal conversation. I wish I could do that! Anyway, below is the artist at work, and then me with his creation – what do you think? Does it look like me? I think it does!
Overall, the second macaroni and cheese festival was a hit in my book. I was a bit surprised to see that there were fewer restaurants participating this year than last, and I’m sure there is a number of reasons that could be the case. Next year I’d like to see that number up again, as well as pencils at the tables again! But in general I loved it the same, sampled some to-die-for mac and cheese, and had a great Thursday evening. What is there not to love about such a yummy event?
P.S. If you’re wondering what the cruising websites I work for are, visit Cruise Radio and CruiseLine.com. 🙂 My love of travel extends not only in our local area, but far beyond the Finger Lakes as well!
In exchange for this article, the Binghamton Philharmonic allowed me to attend this event complimentary. All opinions are my own.