Remember that time I judged the Texas Mac Off? What do you mean, I never blogged about it? Well, pull up a chair and have a seat, because I have quite a cheesy tale to tell.
Slung low in the sky, the midday sun fought to burn through the haze and humidity typical of a Texan summer. Undaunted, a dozen brave souls set hot plates and chafing dish heaters ablaze, igniting molten vats of gooey orange sauce, thick with ambition. The stakes were high, with competitors vying for cheese-covered fame, glory, but most importantly, the golden noodle trophy.
Over 300 hungry souls came to get their mac on, to taste and test oodles of noodles. Gluten-free, vegetable-based, whole wheat, and classic white pastas all vied for the title, each one smothered in equally diverse mixtures of spicy, savory, crunchy, gooey toppings. For the casual bystander, this was merely a celebration of the classic childhood treat, but for me, Jessica Morris, and Rolando Garza, my fellow judges, this was serious business.
Personal preferences aside, just how do you evaluate the proper degree of sauciness? Just what constitutes the perfect cheesy flavor? How important is it to stick with the classic preparation, or should more points be assigned to innovations that depart from the expected orange essentials?
By the time the 12th, and then 13th rich, creamy cup was delivered, my head was spinning. Yes, they’re all good, but which ones are great? Which single entry was the best? Coming to an agreeable consensus just among the three of us was fraught with disagreement, dissenting opinions strongly argued as we huddled over cheese-smeared papers smudged with undecipherable ink stains. Luckily, it was a close call at the top, and any of the dominant macs would have been fully welcomed on my dinner plate again.
Innovation won out over classic comfort in the end. First place went to Megan Gross with her blazing Buffalo Cauliflower Mac N Cheeze. Just one point separated this spicy blend from my person favorite, which ultimately came in second; the previous year’s winner, as it turned out, Megan Bee with her Classic Mac and cheeze with a cheezy crumb topping.
It was simply the platonic ideal of the art form in my eyes. Tender yet toothsome pasta tubes, generously sauced without becoming soupy, decadent, slightly salty, savory, and oh so cheesy. Crunchy cheese-infused breadcrumbs sealed the dish in a toasty, slightly nutty blanket, perfectly balancing out textures and flavors. If it hadn’t been pushing 100 degrees in the sun, I could have eaten that whole chafing pan of noodle goodness myself.
Easily the most creative, avant-garde edible was actually a dish not entered for consideration. Mac and cheese ice cream scooped out by Austin’s favorite vegan parlor, Sweet Ritual, blew out all the stops for what one might expect from the average mac. Mercifully sweet rather than full-on savory, this inspired frozen creation laced umami notes through nutritional yeast-spiked breadcrumbs, mingling amidst a smooth base glowing with a heavy turmeric glow. Fearless foodies clamored for a spoonful, curious, shocked, and ultimately delighted.
As with any good, spirited competition, there were clearly no losers in this crowd. Everyone went home in a fully contented, if slightly sweaty state of cheesed-out bliss. Think vegans can’t get their mac on? You should really go to the next Texas Mac Off and taste for yourself.
Cool Beans; The Warrior and The Outkast Taco with Street Corn
Milky Way Shakes; Oreo Borealis Milkshake
Bistro Vonish; BBQ Seitan Sandwich
Curcuma; Raw Pecan Taco and Iced Golden Mylk
Dark Side of the Shroom from Judahlicious, San Francisco, CA
Cali Roll from Au Lac, Los Angeles, California
Raw Bruschetta from Counter Culture, Austin, TX
Thai Zucchini Linguine from Core Kitchen, Oakland, CA
Acai Banana Soft Serve from Banán, Honolulu, HI
Sweet and Savory Flaxseed Cones from Raw Daddy, Bay Area, CA
(As I begin packing my bags for the next great adventure, it’s becoming clear that if I don’t share the last roundup of photos from my time in Texas now, I probably never will. There are still many more photos from my time in the “friendship state”- If you’re interested in seeing the full set, browse on over to my Flickr album.)
Vegan Breakfast Platter with Vanilla-Pecan Pancakes from Kerbey Lane Cafe
Garden Breakfast with Tofu Scramble from Bouldin Creek Cafe
Vegan ‘Harvey P’ Rueben from Shhmaltz
Beet Mushroom Walnut Burger from Counter Culture
Avocado Carpaccio and Black Bean Taco from Tyson’s Tacos
Vegan Crab Cakes with Smoked Vegetables from Lady Luck
The Classic Vegan Cheese Detroit-Style Pizza from Via 311
Spicy Veggie Prawns with Collard Greens from Nice-N-Ful
Cauliflower Steak with Curried Lentils and Caramelized Onions from Hyde Park Bar & Grill
Jackfruit BBQ Plate from Unity Vegan Kitchen
Zombie Sundae (with Chocolate-Chai and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream) from Sweet Ritual
Austin Cream Pie Donut from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich (with Chocolate Chip Cookies) from Moojo
Currant Scone and Iced Chai Tea from The Steeping Room
Chocolate-Dipped, Coconut-Covered Frozen Banana from Bananarchy
Birthday Cake Cupcake (Strawberry Cake with Almond Whipped Topping) from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop
Chocolate, Carrot, Lemon, Coconut, Cookie Dough, and Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Sugar Circus
Dreamsicle Cupcake from Capital City Bakery