Fancied-up versions of one of America's favorite foods have been making appearances on restaurant menus the last few years, and Ithaca-area restaurants will get a chance to show off their macaroni and cheese specialties at this Saturday's Foodnet fundraiser. The Mac 'n Cheese Bowl, associated with the national March for Meals campaign of the Meals on Wheels Association of America, is this Saturday afternoon at the Ithaca High School cafeteria.
"Our mac 'n cheese is an all-time favorite among the seniors," says Foodnet Meals on Wheels lead cook Gary Armstrong, who helps prepare nutritious meals that are delivered to area senior citizens and other shut-ins who can't cook for themselves or get out of the house for meals. Foodnet's macaroni and cheese will be just one of sixteen versions available for sampling, as Tompkins County eateries vie for the title of best mac 'n cheese.
The offerings range from the delicious but straightforward Foodnet Mac 'n Cheese and Lansing Market's Chunky Mac & Cheese to BBQ-inspired entries like Bookers Backyard's Big Pig Mac & Cheese and Ithaca Ale House's Pork Belly Mac 'n Cheese, to fancier entries like Cornell Dining's Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese with Bacon Lardons, Premier Catering's Smoked Cheddar & Clam dish, and Sodexo Ithaca Dining Services's White Cheddar Black Truffle Bow Ties. Some other participants include Rogues' Harbor Inn, Bandwagon Brewpub, Crossroads Bar & Grille, Mahogany Grill, Longview, Cayuga Medical Center, and Northstar Pub.
Foodnet Meals on Wheels executive director Steve Griffin says the Bowl fits the organization's mission perfectly. "It affords our organization an opportunity to connect our mission as a meal provider for needy older residents to an activity where the emphasis is on a nutritious, much-loved dish," he says. "We are using our Mac 'n Cheese Bowl to raise awareness of senior hunger and raise money to help us carry out our mission."
Volunteer event coordinator Jake McNamara, a recent addition to Foodnet's board of directors, credits fellow board member Lorraine Johnson for the idea. "She heard the Foodbank event in Albany was a huge hit. It's massive, with 30 restaurants, $20 tickets, tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorships, and a whole conference center. We thought we'd start with a smaller-scale, family-oriented event." He and Johnson are working with the rest of the board to ensure a successful event. "It's been great to work with such committed people, and we hope that lots of people come out to the event, and to support Foodnet, this weekend!"
Besides the cheesy goodness, attendees will be able to enjoy live music from Transistor Radio London, the Evan D. Williams Band, and Robin Burnett, and Crossroads the Clown will make an appearance. Tickets are available in advance from Foodnet, the Lansing Market, and Wegmans, and cost $10 for adults or $8 for children under 12 in advance, or $12 and $10 at the door, respectively, and a raffle will feature prizes donated by local businesses that weren't able to participate.
Each ticketholder is entitled to six 3-ounce tastes from the available offerings, and additional tasting coupons will be sold for $2 each. McNamara says "The restaurants are donating the food, and we are incredibly grateful to them!" Entrants will compete for prizes in vegetarian and non-vegetarian categories. The Mac 'n Cheese Bowl is noon to 4pm on Saturday, March 22nd, at the Ithaca High School cafeteria at 1401 North Cayuga Street.