Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Hi everyone!

Just wanted to say Merry Christmas and share this cool gift I got from my aunt and uncle.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  I hope that 2015 brings all of you many new adventures, experiences and delicious meals.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Interview: Homeroom Owners Allison & Erin

Happy Holidays to all my loyal readers!  It’s been so fun to have so many of you share new recipes and ideas since I started this blog earlier this year.

As a holiday treat for you (and me!), I have a very special post to share.  This week, I scored an interview with the owners of Homeroom!  This past Tuesday, I met owners Erin Wade and Allison Arevalo, to sit and chat with them about how Homeroom came to be, what they love about their menu, and what they foresee for the future.

It goes without saying that I was beyond excited for this interview.

Yummiest note-taking session ever
When I arrived, Erin was pretty busy covering as manager due to some pre-holiday lunch rush.  I met her at the new Homeroom To-Go location, located just about a half block down from the main restaurant.  I could tell that business was already picking up for the day, even at the To-Go location.

Homeroom opened in February 2011, so the restaurant's four year anniversary is coming up.  As we walked to sit at the restaurant, I asked Erin about any event plans they might have for the milestone.  She mentioned that they plan to open an event space within the To-Go location soon, but they’re not currently positive if they’ll have it ready in February.  That’s one of the next big events on the horizon for the restaurant.

After sitting at the bar in the busy restaurant and placing an order of the Gilroy Garlic Mac, arguably Homeroom’s signature dish, I asked Erin if she and Allison had ever expected Homeroom to become as popular as it has.  Humbly, Erin replied that they “didn’t know it would be as popular in terms of customer volume or in terms of press interest.”

With owners Allison (left) and Erin (right)
It’s easy to see, however, how popular Homeroom has become in just four short years.  Whether at lunch or at dinner, the place is nearly always packed, a great sign for good food.  Also, the young restaurant has been featured in many popular Bay Area blogs, prominent Bay Area news papers and magazines, as well as some national press such as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

Yet, Erin and Allison both seem to be very down to earth people.  The success of their restaurant hasn’t appeared to go to their heads.  Erin explained a little bit of their backgrounds to me and how their experiences have helped shape their vision for the restaurant.  Erin completed her undergrad studies at Princeton and Allison had worked as a server in New York.  They had both spent a fair amount of time on the east coast before they eventually met here in California.  Not long after meeting, they decided to open a restaurant. 

Erin described how influential their New York background was as they developed the restaurant.  She explained how every restaurant in New York places a great importance on ambiance and customer service and that focus was something they wanted to bring to the Bay Area.

“We wanted to create a place with affordable food, but could also be a cool place to take a date,” Erin mentioned.

I moved on to talk a little bit about the restaurant’s menu and inquire as to whether there had ever been any flops while experimenting with new combinations.  Erin described a time when she and Allison were developing The Mac and Cheese cookbook, and they wanted to try making something with alpine cheeses to create a kind of fondue taste.  They tried adding bacon and caramelized onions, but soon discovered that fancy cheeses aren’t always very good for making mac and cheese.  “It was kind of a relief to discover that you don’t need fancy, expensive cheese to make a good mac,” Erin revealed.

At this point, Allison joined us at the bar, and I was eager to ask both of them what their favorite dishes were on the Homeroom menu.  Allison said, “It switches depending on my mood.  Right now I like the Maximus…and the current staff pick…we call it the Spicy Crab Roll.”

Erin replied, “I like the Classic Mac.  I grew up on it, and ours is the best version.”

I went on to ask how they choose and develop some of their monthly items, like the staff pick or the monthly special or their seasonal beer selections.  Allison and Erin both explained that for the staff pick, they generally let the staff come up with ideas and then they take a vote.  For monthly specials, anyone might come up with the idea, whether the kitchen manager, another employee, or one of the owners.  Then it’s discussed at a managers’ meeting where they make a decision.

Their holiday season beer selection
 To describe how they choose their beer and wine in more detail, Allison and Erin introduced me to one of their managers, Bryan Wingen, who’s been with Homeroom since they opened in 2011.  “Breweries came to us,” he explained, and then he went on to talk about their First Friday events, which celebrate their Homeroom release of a particular beer.  Personally, I’ve never actually been able to make it to one of these First Friday events, but I know from their website that it’s a pretty cool shindig.  Erin mentioned that for both beer and wine, “[companies] will bring us free things to try and we’ll generally save them to taste in a meeting.”  She continued to say that they get so many different brands and types, but they only have so many taps, so they often have to save them.

The Homeroom To-Go location just recently opened earlier this month, after one and a half years of development and construction.  I asked Erin and Allison how it has affected their restaurant location.  Erin replied, “It alleviated traffic.  It would be crammed here,…hard to hear phones.”  Allison added, “To be able to sit at the bar without people waiting for their pick-up orders is great.”  I had to agree.  At this point in our interview, the lunch crowd had really picked up, yet, we had been undisturbed at the bar.

I asked about any future plans they have for the restaurant.  They’re already incredibly popular, they have a cookbook, and now a to-go location.  What’s next?

“Our plan is to have a good answer to that question,” Erin replied with a bit of a laugh.  “We’re not sure yet.  We’re really lucky.  We love our business and our lives.  It’s hard to up-end that.  It’s not that we haven’t thought of it, but we are so happy right now.  Maybe 5-10 years down the road we might do something, but for right now we love what we’re doing.”

Allison agreed, adding, “We don’t want to become unmanageable.”

Employees busy at the counter and kitchen during the lunch rush
 At this point, I bid my farewell to the owners, who I know had a lot to do.  I was incredibly grateful for the time they took to speak with me.  I stayed at the bar, enjoying my mac and cheese and watching the kitchen employees working away, creating some delicious plates.  I realized that this was my first time sitting at the bar, and I couldn’t help but think how cool it was to watch the cooking and the dance of the busy servers at the cash register and order pick-up.

There are servers at Homeroom that I’ve seen working there for years, not always common at restaurants, so I took a quick moment to ask one of them a question.  Stephen Taylor has been at Homeroom almost two years and when I asked him to describe Homeroom, he said, “The staff is incredible.  The owners treat us very well and that’s why we all get along so well; we’re all very happy.”

Who wouldn’t be happy when you work in a place like Homeroom?  I get the feeling that it’s not just great food being made here.  It’s great memories, whether for the customers or the owners and employees themselves.

With that, I’ll wish you all the best of memories this holiday season!  Cheers and happy eating!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Social Kitchen & Brewery

Social Kitchen & Brewery
1326 9th Avenue, San Francisco

Nice presentation on a hot skillet
This past weekend, I was really craving mac and cheese, so I thought it'd be fun to try a recommendation I saw on a blog that I often read.  They had been mentioning several great places to get mac and cheese in the city and East Bay area.

So I found myself at Social Kitchen & Brewery to try their Truffle mac and cheese, consisting of mozzerella, fontina, and white cheddar cheeses, along with truffle oil.  It's also usually served with English peas, but I'm not a huge fan of peas, so I asked for them to hold on those.  I also got the applewood smoked bacon optional addition.

Such high hopes...
I was pretty excited to try their bread topping.  It was definitely some fried tempura breadcrumbs.  I'd had tempura breadcrumbs before, but never fried.  But the excitement pretty much stopped there on my first bite.

I was hit with a wave of oil taste.  It was like the cheese didn't have a strong enough flavor or didn't mix enough on it's own, so I felt like I was just hit with a strong taste of truffle oil, mixed with fried breadcrumbs.  Very bland.

Once digging into the mac some more and really stirring it around, it got better.  You had to make sure you got a really cheesy bite to make sure you got all the flavor.  Otherwise it just tasted like you were eating some oily noodles.  I'm not sure why it didn't all come better mixed together, but it was definitely more tolerable after putting in some stirring time.

Anyway, if you find yourself at Social, I would opt for one of their other delicious looking menu items (I want to go back for the tempura sweet potato fries!).  The mac and cheese needs a little more work before it can rank very high on this blog.

Happy eating!  Hope you've got some warm, gooey pasta plates in your holiday plans!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exploration: Beer Pairings

The holidays are already upon us and that often mean appetizers, and if you are lucky, some yummy pasta.

A standard cheese pairing is, of course, wine.  Not into the typical wine and cheese pairings?  Here are some ideas for beers to pair with you next mac and cheese experience.

Much like with wine pairing, a good rule of thumb is that the stronger the flavor in your cheese, the heavier and more complex you can get with beer.

For example, an aged Gouda will pair will with a heavy stout or porter because the flavors are strong enough in both to stand up to each other.  A more delicately flavored cheese, like a Havarti, will be better suited with a lighter beer, like a Pilsner.

It's basically all just about balance of flavors.

Here's some quick recommendations to get you started:

- Wheat Beer (tip: the more smelly the cheese, the more complexity you'll want in your wheat beer)

Monterey Jack, Havarti
- Pilsners

Mild/Medium Cheddar
- Brown Ales
- Belgian Ales
- Cider

Sharp Cheddar
- Pale Ale

Aged Cheddar
- Stout
- Porter

- Stout
- Porter

- Dark lager
- Bock

- Pale Ale
- Amber Ale
- Amber Lager
- Cider

- Lager
- Bock
- Porter
- Stout
- Brown Ale

As with wine pairing, you'll want to keep in mind what kind of flavors you are adding into your mac and cheese (veggies, bacon, garlic, etc.).  Those flavors will have to compete with your beer choice just as much as the cheese does, so it's important to keep that in mind while cooking and choosing a good beer pairing.

Do you have a favorite beer and cheese pairing?  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

President Pardons "Mac" & "Cheese"

Source: Today
President Obama pardoned two turkeys yesterday: Mac & Cheese.

How awesome is that?!

Had to share the news with everyone, of course.  Myself and friends of You Don't Know Mac are very happy about this story.  Thanks for the share, Dad!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Enjoy a good, cheesy side dish if you can :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recipe: Mac & Cheese "In A Mug"

I recently found a recipe on Pinterest for making single serve Mac & Cheese in a mug in the microwave. 

Since I have a massive amount of dry pasta sitting in my cupboard, and hardly any time to make a full bechamel sauce these days, I figured I'd give this microwave option a try.  Can't have the blue box all the time...

I had just had a party where I served cheese and wine and crackers and there was a bit of cheese left over, so I figured this might be the perfect opportunity to try the recipe.

Not to mention, I was really excited to not spend a ton of time cooking since I had just spent the entire morning preparing for guests to arrive, and then spent a fair amount of the evening cleaning up afterwards.

First, the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of dry elbow macaroni to be mixed with 1/4 cup of water in a large mug (or in my case, bowl) and then put in the microwave for 6 minutes, stirring at 4, 2, and 1 minute left.

I noticed that I needed to use a lot more water than the recipe called for.  My noodles actually started to cook and harden after 2 minutes.  I would probably try 1/2 cup water for every 1/3 cup pasta next time.  Reminder to self: will need to experiment with ratios...

Then, add 1/3 cup cheese (the recipe calls for shredded Cheddar Jack, but I just used the leftover sharp cheddar cubes I already had).

I placed the noodles and cheese back into the microwave for another 30 seconds.  Then, after a simple stir and a splash of milk, it turned out pretty great, other than my noodles that were a little hard, but I'm guessing that's from the moment when they almost cooked without water. 

In the future, I would probably want a little bit more in my serving, but it's not too hard to mess with the proportions.  Not a bad idea for a lazy night after work when I need a quick bite.

1/3 cup pasta

Adding 1/4 cup water

Time to add 1/3 cup cheese

Give it a stir...

Add some milk and done!
Enjoy, readers! :)  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

San Francisco is all about the Mac this Saturday

Attention San Francisco Bay Area residents: a Mac and Cheese festival is happening THIS Saturday.

This Saturday from 11am to 5pm, the Soma Streatfood Park will be hosting the Great SF Mac and Cheese Throwdown!

Source: Soma Streatfood Park

I already have so many things going on this weekend, but I'm dying to find time to attend this event.  The cost is $5 for general admission and one tasting or $20 for general admission, 5 tasting tickets and one beer/soft drink.

Source: Soma Streatfood Park
According to the description, the following restaurants and food trucks will be represented:

Bacon Bacon
Adam's Grub Truck
Country Grill
Oui Chef
Dusty Buns
Smokin Warehouse
Me So Hungry Too
The Grilled Cheese Guy
Korean BOB CHA
Carribean Spices
Firetrail Pizza
Lil Burma

We'll see if I can make it over there this weekend.  You can be certain that if I do, there will be a post written about it.  If you are now intrigued and super hungry, you can visit the festival at this address on Saturday: 428 11th Street, San Francisco.  You can find more details about the event by visiting their official website.

Many thanks to my friend, Marissa, for passing this along to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Woody loves Mac and Cheese!

So I stumbled across this really funny photo of a toy Woody doll (a really weird looking one at that) taking an iPhone photo of what looks to be some kind of pasta dish.  I'm going to go ahead and pretend it's mac and cheese so I can post it here and have it be related.

The photographer has done a bunch of funny photos with Woody and other toys, too.  You can check them out here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Picán

2295 Broadway, Oakland

Got my mac as a side dish to some delicious fried chicken
Just yesterday, I visited Picán in downtown Oakland with some co-workers for lunch.  We were celebrating finishing up a project and our supervisor thought it'd be nice to have a little reunion.

I was told the fried chicken was great, as well as the mac and cheese, so I thought I was going to have to choose between the two.  But it turns out, mac and cheese is really only served as a side dish (or so I saw), so I didn't have to choose. My fried chicken came with it anyway.

Picán makes their small side dish (and yes, it is pretty small, but again, it's a side, not a full meal like some places serve it as) with smoked Gouda.  There wasn't really any fancy about the topping, but it felt like it had a big of a baked cheese texture which was pretty tasty.  The sauce was very creamy and very rich.  The flavor was a bit one dimensional since it was just Gouda, but since Gouda is a pretty strong flavored cheese it's pretty great on it's own.

Definitely worth ordering if you find yourself there for lunch (or dinner).  Try to find something that includes it as a side dish or substitute.  Also, just so you know, they have a GREAT cocktail and bourbon list.  I'm looking forward to one day going back to try some more of that, too!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: Sauce

56 Belden Place, b/t Bush & Pine St., San Francisco

My super delicious, cheesy lunch
Oh wow.  I've got a good one here.  Sauce in SF has now broken into my Top Ten!

I tried this place last week with a friend of mine while on a lunch date in the city.  She had mentioned the burger was good, but then pointed out that they had mac and cheese on the menu.  I was in the right mood, so I ordered it, not sure what to expect.

What I got was a great EXPLOSION of flavor.  The dish combines six different cheeses together (I'm still not sure exactly what they are), along with ham hock and some great herbs and breadcrumbs.

The consistency was great, and the portion size was pretty decent.  The price for the portion ($10.50) was a little high, but I was able to overlook that after my first bite.  I pretty much started to think about where it fell on my ranking scale almost immediately.

Definitely the best mac and cheese I've had in the city so far.  I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the Financial District anytime soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Stanfords

1300 South Main Street, Walnut Creek

My Sunday Happy Hour Mac
Oh, Stanfords.  The Walnut Creek happy hour go-to when you need something familiar.

Seriously, happy hour is one of the best things going at Stanfords.  They have a pretty extensive food and drink menu during happy hour and I recently found out that Sunday is all day happy hour.  I think I've found my new place to watch sports on a Sunday for cheap!

One of their happy hour menu staples has long been the mac and cheese.  I hadn't had it in a while, so while I was watching the NLCS baseball playoff game this last weekend with some friends, I figured I'd give it another shot.

One thing I forgot about Stanfords' happy hour menu is that while it is extensive and there's a wide selection for cheap prices, the serving sizes are not very big.  The mac and cheese was $5 and what I got was basically what you expect for $5 on a regular menu.  Something small.

Rubbery noodles are not my fave
Stanfords makes their mac and cheese with traditional elbow noodles and swiss, fontina, and cheddar cheeses.  They add bacon and bread crumbs, and as you can see from the photo above a garnish.

How was it?  Eh.  The noodles were a bit rubbery in texture and the cheese didn't really have a lot of flavor.  Not the worst mac and cheese I've had, but not that great either.

My advice: If you find yourself enjoying a happy hour at Stanfords in Walnut Creek, your best bet is probably the burger or the sweet potato fries with a spicy cheddar-bacon dipping sauce.  Yeah, go with the sweet potato fries.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Pantry Essentials Macaroni & Cheese

Pantry Essentials Macaroni & Cheese
Boxed, available in most grocery stores

Here's an interesting review.  Not a restaurant, but a simple boxed mac and cheese variety.

It doesn't always have to be the gourmet stuff, you know.

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt like I just needed something easy and comforting when I got home at the end of the day.  I usually have a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese sitting in my cupboard for just such an occasion, but recently I had purchased Pantry Essentials because it was cheaper and I figured I'd give it a shot.

Never again.

This boxed variety was so bland that I had to add extra cheese just to make it taste like something other than buttered noodles.  Here's a tip: if you find yourself with a really bad boxed mac, add some different flavors of shredded cheese, stick it in the microwave for 15-30 seconds, then stir.  That should help with the flavor.

My advice:  If you are reaching for a boxed variety in the grocery aisle, you're better off paying a little bit more for one of the bigger name brands, like Kraft, or Annie's if that's what you prefer.

Or you can just go find one of my Top Ten restaurants for mac and cheese and they'll make it for you.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mac of the Day: Baked Macaroni and Cheese in a Pumpkin

It's autumn.  Why not bring some of that fall seasonal flair into your mac and cheese?  I found this crazy idea while perusing the inter-webs.  Check it out!  It's mac and cheese baked in a pumpkin... IN A PUMPKIN.  I feel like this is one of the most unique mac recipes I've ever seen.  You can check it out for yourself at The Culinary Life.

Source: theculinarylife

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recipe: Homeroom Smoky Bacon Mac

Ready to go in the oven with breadcrumbs!  Yum!
For today's recipe post, I'm pulling again from the Homeroom cookbook.  This time, it's the Smoky Bacon Mac.  I made this dish for my parents recently and was excited to try something other than the Gilroy Garlic Mac from their cookbook.

This recipe calls for (I kid you not) a full pound of bacon.  That's a lot of bacon.  When you consider that each recipe makes about four servings, that means that each serving should have a quarter pound of bacon.  So, of course I was thrilled to make this dish.

The recipe also called for one cup of grated smoked cheddar and one cup of grated jack cheese.  I picked up a locally farmed smoked cheddar and a Clover organic Monterey Jack.

I learned a fun tip from the cheese expert at Whole Foods while I was shopping.  A quarter pound of chunk cheese will get you approximately one cup of grated cheese.  That's some knowledge to keep in your back pocket!

My smoked cheddar and Monterey Jack
There really wasn't much to this particular recipe other than whipping up the béchamel sauce as usual and then melting the cheese and massive amount of bacon in with two cups of the sauce.  It was pretty easy to make.  No special flavors to add or compound butters to make.  The experience of making it was pretty awesome, though. I could really smell the smokiness of the cheddar right away.  I had a feeling it would turn out pretty great.  Or, at the very least, smell great.

Because of my increased interest in preparing homemade mac and cheese lately (hmmm, I wonder why... haha), I decided to try something that the Homeroom chefs explicitly frown upon in their book: I used a reduced fat milk for my béchamel sauce.  Cue horrified screams.

I thought to myself, "Hey, the cheese is already pretty creamy, maybe the lower fat content in the milk won't matter." 

I'm not going to say that it drastically changed the texture of the cheese sauce, but I will say that I am now definitely in agreement with the Homeroom chefs that a whole milk béchamel sauce provides a much creamier texture than a reduced fat milk béchamel sauce.  I could tell almost instantly when I finished cooking the sauce, even before I added the cheese, that it wouldn't be as rich as some of my previous attempts with whole milk.

So, how did the overall mac turn out?  Not bad.  Definitely not as good as the restaurant quality, but not bad.  I would be really interested in finding out what smoked cheddar Homeroom uses at their restaurant.  There were actually a few choices for me, but I went with a local California cheese because I thought the softer texture would melt easier than the two salty English style choices I had.

And, for the record, we ate ALL the bacon.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Momo's

760 2nd St, San Francisco

Hey Giants fans!  Looking for some mac and cheese before or after the game?  Well, if you've ever been to AT&T Park in San Francisco, you've probably passed by a pretty popular restaurant and bar called Momo's.  On game days, this place is always packed.

Just this past weekend, I was at the park to pick up my Giant Race runner's packet (10k, yeah!), and then stopped into Momo's for lunch.  It was very quiet compared to what I'm used to seeing, but the bar area was still amusing since there were some rather drunk USC fans and the USC v. Stanford football game was playing on all the TVs.  I was careful not to let my support of Stanford shine too brightly around the drunk USC guys, but overall it was just kind of funny to watch their chagrin whenever they didn't like a referee's call.

Looking forward to my first bite
Originally, I thought I would get a flat bread pizza, but then I noticed they had their own version of mac and cheese on the menu.  In my continued effort to expand my local mac and cheese knowledge and recommendations, I decided to order it.

Momo's version is probably the densest, creamiest and heaviest mac and cheese I've had yet.  In fact, almost too much so.  The heaviness of its sauce is probably the only thing keeping it from making my Top Ten.  I couldn't even finish it, it was too filling.  However, if I had to pick between too creamy and not creamy at all, I'd probably choose the former.

The flavors included gouda, cheddar and small pieces of Black Forest Ham.  I really enjoyed the ham since it felt like a mix between the usual kid classic cut-up hog dog and the crowd-pleasing bacon options that you usually see in mac dishes.  The gouda flavor seemed to be overpowered a bit by the cheddar.  I'm not sure that I would normally pair those two particular cheeses together.  Cheddar, depending on the type, can have a pretty strong flavor on it's own.  While gouda also has a strong flavor, it just seemed to be a bit stomped out by the cheddar in my particular serving.

It just looks so fun!
One thing I really loved about Momo's version is the overall look of it.  The large corkscrew noodles poking out every which way, surrounded by an abundance of ham bites and sprinkled with delicate breadcrumbs just made the dish feel fun and spontaneous.

So, if you ever find yourself by the ball park and are looking for something other than the typical game day hot dog, try Momo's Mac and Cheese.  Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: The Mac & Cheese Festival


The Mac & Cheese Festival
August 23, 2014
Avila Beach, CA

Oh man, where do I even begin?  A friend of mine mentioned this festival to me last year.  I believe this is the second year that they've had the festival in the greater San Luis Obispo, CA area.  Last year it was located in Paso Robles, and this year, to my sheer delight, it was held in Avila Beach!  Avila just happens to be one of my favorite beaches ever, so it was an easy decision to buy a ticket to this year's festivities.  They have plenty of festivals all over the country, however, so if you are interested and don't live in California, rest assured that there is probably a festival located not too far away. 

The other great part of this event?  Ticket sales benefit the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, dedicated to providing pediatric healthcare and research.  Makes the approximately $60 ticket price a little more understandable.

Our awesome tote bags for the festival
My friend and I arrived early to hit the beach across the street from the festival venue before the 2pm opening.  The weather was awesome!  We even brought along our "You Don't Know Mac" tote bags.  They looked pretty awesome on the sand!

Then, just before 2pm we began walking over to the festival entrance and there was already a crazy line!  There were hundreds of people waiting to get in.  Everyone got a wristband and had their bags and IDs checked (no one 21 or younger allowed due to alcohol).  Were handed an etched wine glass and a plastic plate with some plastic utensils and then we were left to fend for ourselves amongst many other hungry mac and cheese lovers.

The line to get in the entrance

Our Mac and Cheese Festival complimentary wine glasses (also useful for beer!)

The festival stage for hours of live music

As we walked in, the first thing I felt was overwhelmed.  There were tents and booths everywhere!  It was hard to know where to start.  It seemed that lines for each booth had just sprung up out of nowhere.  So my friend and I hit one of the first open booths with a shorter wait, which ended up being a winery (there were also free wine and some beer tastings at the event).  Then we hopped in the next line, which was much longer, to get our first bite of festival mac and cheese.  After that, it was a whole lot more hopping around and waiting in lines.

Here were my reviews for what we tried:

SLO Brew
SLO Brew offered a couple options, one with tri-tip and one vegetarian.  They used Bleu cheese with accents of caramelized onions.  The onion flavor was a bit strong and the sauce wasn't very creamy.  I enjoyed the tri-tip version best, and I was impressed that the meat flavor didn't totally overpower the cheese. They also added a small amount of breadcrumbs on top.

Sea Venture
Sea Venture offered one of the three deep fried varieties at the event.  Theirs included lobster filet bites, 5 cheeses (including American and mozzarella), and some sneaky onion pieces.  My particular piece was a little too lobster-y, but my friend liked hers.  I tried a bite, and it seemed a lot more reasonable.  I suppose it just depends on which piece you happen to end up with.  I didn't actually end up finishing my piece because it was so full of onion and lobster I could barely taste any cheese.

Spike's Pub
By far the most interesting and original dish at the festival, Spike's Pub went the vegan route, making their entry with green chiles and using beer instead of cheese sauce.  I'm not sure how they added the beer flavoring exactly, but it ended up tasting more like a light pasta than a mac and cheese.  It was an interesting idea, however, and the flavor was good for whatever it was.  But it was not mac and cheese.

McPhee's Grill
This ended up getting my vote.  McPhee's entry included flavors of pork, chicken and shrimp, and somehow it all blended together really well.  At one point my friend yelled out, "It's a gumbo!"  It also had a really good creamy texture which I'm particularly fond of in my mac and cheese.

Apple Farm
Apple Farm decided to use goat's milk, which, unfortunately, I don't think worked in their favor.  I haven't met too many people who are fond of goat's milk in their mac and cheese.  I had a hard time judging it.  It had great consistency, but I just wasn't a fan of the mixture of goat's milk, pancetta and asparagus.

Paso Catering Co.
One of the other deep fried varieties I tried while at the festival, Paso Catering Co. took it up a notch by including a chipotle aioli dipping sauce.  It was delicious!

Jeffry's Catering
Jeffry's Catering took a unique twist on the dish by creating the Paso Mac & Cheese steak dish.  I had a chance to ask the chef how he came up with the recipe.  He explained that he had spent a lot of time on the East Coast and ate Philly cheese steak every day.  He wanted to find a way to incorporate that into his recipe.  When asked about why he decided to participate in the festival, he mentioned the great cause that it benefits, and also the fact that it's one of the most publicized food events in the greater San Luis Obispo area, with radio ads practically every 15 minutes.  I really liked Jeffry's Mac & Cheese steak.  It had great texture and the meat was really tender and flavorful.
Ventana Grill
I wasn't really sure what to make of this one.  All I could taste was crab.  The cheese wasn't very flavorful so I couldn't quite figure out what it was.  I wasn't necessarily Ventana Grill's biggest fan, but I heard other tasters loving it.

Gardens of Avila
Gardens of Avila was our last mac try of the day.  It included ham, snap peas and parsley.  It had a pretty good creaminess.  I'm not usually a fan of peas, the snap peas were pretty good.  I wouldn't say it was super creative.  It felt a little bit like a fancy version of a typical cheddar, peas and bacon dish. I couldn't figure out what kind of cheese it was.

I would have liked to have spent less time waiting in lines, but I'm not sure how you would plan the event to avoid that.  It also would have been helpful if each vendor had been required to have a board listed the ingredients/flavors in their mac and cheese.  Sometimes I just had to guess because they were moving so fast trying to get through the lines of people.

As far as the wine and beer tastings, there seemed to be a surplus of wineries.  There were actually more wineries than there were mac and cheese vendors, which was a little odd.  My friend wished there had been more beer tasting options.  There was only one beer vendor that had free tastings.  Other than that, there was another brewery selling their drinks.  That was a little disappointing.

Overall, I'm glad I attended the festival.  It was pretty fun to see so many other mac and cheese fans all gathered in one place.  Plus, it was really fun to tell all my co-workers, friends and family that I was attending a mac and cheese festival.  The reactions were pretty priceless.  Everything from "Wow! That's awesome, I didn't know that existed!" to "...Really?". 

Now I just have to find a new festival to attend...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mac of the Day: Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese

I promise that a big long post about this past weekend's Avila Beach Mac and Cheese Festival is in the works and will be posted soon, but since I'm still in a pasta coma, here's something to hold you over until that lands.

Today's MOTD is the Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese from Icon Grill in Seattle, WA.  I enjoyed this mac last fall on my trip and really enjoyed pouring the molten cheese over the pasta dish already boasted four other cheese flavors.

Icon Grill's Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese

They also had a Hog Wild Mac N' Chz that my travel partner enjoyed.  I think the Ultimate was our favorite, though.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: Tiburon Tavern


Tiburon Tavern
1651 Tiburon Blvd., Tiburon

I get a lot of recommendations for places to try mac and cheese, and usually, these are the places I end up wanting to try and write about.  Every now and then, however, I'll happen to find myself surprised by a restaurant's menu.  I'll see mac and cheese and just HAVE to try it.

That happened just recently while eating lunch with a friend in Tiburon.  We went to Tiburon Tavern, located inside the Lodge at Tiburon.  I've always wanted to try this restaurant, simply because their outside patio looks so cool and comfortable.  Due to some unseasonal drizzle, however, we found ourselves dining inside at one of their booths.  I was happy to find that the interior seating was just as inviting.

We looked over the menu and there were several items I wanted to try, but then my eyes glanced to the edge of the menu, toward the listed "side" options.  There it was, Macaroni and Cheese with "herb bread crumbs".  As if I haven't already had enough mac and cheese lately, I ordered it.  It was just one of those days where I just HAD to try it.

So many breadcrumbs!
Sometimes when you order a "side" item, it ends up being huge, so I was actually a little worried about this being too much food for a "light" lunch.  Who was I kidding?  I had given up "light" the moment I said "macaroni".  I was pleasantly surprised when our dishes were presented and the mac was served in a dish just perfect for a lunch time bite.  Instead of being some huge platter, it was the size you would expect in a small cereal bowl.  It was still filling, however.  I left very satisfied and wasn't hungry again for several hours.

The cheese was okay.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it had an unfortunate, thick Velveeta feel to it.  If that's what you have a craving for, however, it's great!  I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with mac and cheese.  No matter what the flavors are, it's still cheese.  Yum.

It did have a really good, creamy texture.  It also had the most unique noodles I'd ever seen.  Perhaps they were slightly over cooked and just falling apart, but they looked like some odd version of a corkscrew.  And the bread crumbs, while not anything to write home about, were piled on top with abandon, which I always appreciate.

If you ever find yourself at Tiburon Tavern and looking for a small side to share, get yourself a spot on the outdoor patio and an order of the mac and cheese.  It's not the best I've had, but I wasn't disappointed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Mac & Cheese Festival... It's Coming!

In less than two weeks, I'll be at the Avila Beach Mac and Cheese Festival


I bought my ticket probably well over six months ago.  I cannot wait to get down there and try all the different variations from restaurants all over the California Central Coast

I've never been to the Mac and Cheese festival, but they have them all over the country now.  Apparently there's a contest and you can vote on your favorite mac after your unlimited 1 oz. tastings at the different vendors' booths.  There's also live music as well as beer and wine tastings by local breweries and wineries.  It's going to be a blast!

You can fully expect a big post about it when I'm back.  Who knows, maybe I'll even have to live Instagram it, or start a Twitter account for this blog so I can live tweet it!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: The Vine at Bridges

Source: The Vine at Bridges

The Vine at Bridges
480 Hartz Avenue, Danville

Watch out Bay Area, Danville just upped their mac and cheese game.  Last night, I had a fantastic butternut squash mac, called the Mac n No Cheese, at The Vine at Bridges.

The atmosphere was trendy, definitely appealing to the Tri-Valley demographic.  My friend and I managed to snag one end of a high-table, even though the place was close to packed.  We had originally planned on just doing a wine tasting (they are a wine bar first and foremost), but then when we saw the small plates menu, decided we would split an order of the Mac n No Cheese.  My friend prefers not to eat cheese, so the butternut squash was a welcome substitution.

The Mac n No Cheese
I've only had one other butternut squash mac that I really loved, and that was at Mua in Oakland.  Unfortunately for Mua, Vine's version is far superior.  The noodles were cooked to perfection, not too soggy or hard.  The creamy texture is definitely better, and, if that wasn't enough, they added bacon bits.  The butternut squash and bacon pairing really put them over the top and Vine has now landed a spot in my top ten!

Besides the pasta, the best part of the evening was a great conversation with the general manager, who also happens to be a level three sommelier (if you don't know what that is, go watch Somm on Netflix, it's awesome).  We must have spent close to a half hour or longer talking about different wines and the California wine regions and how they affect taste and quality.  That kind of individual attention and appreciation for what they do at Vine really upped my respect for the wine bar.

Enjoying some Chardonnay
 They also had a great dessert menu.  My friend and I split the flourless chocolate cake, which was actually pretty fluffy for being flourless.  I'm used to something much more dense.

At first, the restaurant just seemed like your standard, hip Tri-Valley spot, but after a great conversation about their wines and their menu, I found myself eager to return for another helping of their Mac and No Cheese as well as some more great wine stories.

I'll be back for sure!