Sunday, October 02, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Mac My Cheese Fest a flop

Macaroni and cheese has had something of a renaissance in recent years, perhaps capitalizing on people looking to relive their youths with a nostalgia kick. Festivals have begun to pop up to capitalize and make bank, which is what brought the Mac My Cheese Fest to Ottawa City Hall this first weekend of October.

After putting in a few hours of catch-up at the office Saturday, I walked over to get my Mac & Cheese on. My first thought on arrival was how empty the place was. There was maybe three people in the fenced-in beer garden, and maybe 30 at best wandering the trucks or sitting outside the garden on the picnic tables and adirondack chairs. Fine was my first though; no lines for that delicious cheesy mac.

I walked right past the irrelevant donuts and churro stands and proceeded to survey the mac & cheese on offer. It all seemed fairly standard mac & cheese fare -- a mac & cheese base with a selection of add-ons, from chicken and hot dogs to beef and, of course, bacon.

After doing the loop, I came back to Smokin' R&R BBQ. I very nearly went for the double smoked bacon mac & cheese -- I love bacon, and that second smoke makes all the difference -- but at the last minute I took a shot and instead opted for the bison mac & cheese. Because with that lean bison meat, this is practically health food, right? After forking over an insane $16 (plus another $2 for a can of Diet Coke) I waited five minutes for my order, and then headed to an aforementioned Adirondack chair to dig in tot he cheesy goodness.

Well, not so cheesy, really. It had a creamy sauce, but I think they forgot the cheese when making the sauce. Oh, there was some shredded cheese on top, but it's not mac & cheese without a cheesy sauce. And this sauce was bland and not particularly cheesy. Nor was it really macaroni. It was a long, twisty macaroni-ish pasta. If it ain't elbow macaroni, it ain't mac & cheese.

Let me diverge for a moment. I mentioned the macaroni nostalgia kick that many restaurants are trying to capitalize on. Unfortunately, many of them are cheating by using not elbow macaroni, but some other pasta like penne or rigatoni. That's a bald-faced lie that should be illegal. It's false advertising. You're not serving me mac & cheese as advertised; you're serving me a run of the mill pasta dish. Mac & Cheese means MACaroni, it's right there in the damned name. Stop it, people.

Anyways, back to the disappointing bison mac & cheese. Not overly cheesy, not macaroni, topped with ground bison in a tangy sauce with diced onions and peppers. The topping was tasty, but I could have used some more of it. Particularly for what I paid for this entree.

Deciding a palate cleanser was in order to hopefully allow me to leave the festival on a higher note, I went to Upper Deck and ordered the deep-fried mac & cheese wedges for $6. Cooked fresh while I waited, here's what I ended up with:

While still over priced (about the same as they charge for the same thing at Cineplex VIP, although they top it with bacon and bring it to my seat) it was at least cheesy, and appeared to be stuffed with actual macaroni.

Next year, I will have to give the Mac My Cheese Fest a past. Overpriced with poor execution. And frankly, with the poor crowd I wonder if they'll even be back next year. It's a shame; it's not a bad idea. They really need to find a way to bake it as it would make a big difference over just tossing some grated cheese on top; put a cooking salamander on top though.

I should have known better, though. They have a mac & cheese booth at the CNE food hall; I've had it twice over the years and each time it disappointed. I will stick to making my mac & cheese at home,.

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