At 4th Street Art’s 2nd Annual Mac & Cheese Cook-off, Plenty of Different Takes on a Classic

MORE PHOTOS:

On Sunday afternoon, the lactose tolerant of Jersey City rejoiced: if you could find $5 in your wallet and tear yourself away from football, you could stuff yourself silly with macaroni and cheese.

“Mac2: Return of the Cheese” was the second annual macaroni and cheese cook-off to benefit the 4th Street Art & Music Festival. Thirteen entrants, including restaurants and individuals, offered their personal take on a classic American comfort food.

If you were looking for that iconic blue box of Kraft Easy Mac, 190 Christopher Columbus Drive, a raw space donated by Del Forno Realty, was not the place to find it.

The judges — Ward E councilman Steve Fulop, the Star-Ledger‘s Peter Genovese (of Munchmobile fame), and yours truly — chose one overall winner in the Restaurant category and another winner in the Individuals category. Participants were judged on taste, texture, originality, and overall cheesiness.

Hoboken’s Kelly Deal, a bartender at White Star Bar, won the best Individual entry with her Devil macaroni and cheese, which impressed us with its spicy yet not overwhelming kick.

The cheddar, pepper jack and parmesan cheese blend earned its heat with jalapeno, cayenne, hot sauce and paprika. A vegetarian for 10 years, Deal wanted to make something that would rival the bacon-laced mac & cheese entries.

“At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this — I’m not known for my macaroni and cheese,” Deal said. “I’m known for getting people drunk.”

LITM’s truffle oil-laced mac & cheese won us judges over, and earned the chef an award for best Restaurant entry. Other ingredients in the decadent yet uncomplicated recipe included cheddar and nutmeg.

“This was a lot of fun; the best part was tasting all the other entries,” LITM hostess Gail Boykewich said. “Our macaroni and cheese was simple yet flavorful. The chef developed it just for this event.” (The winning dish is now being worked into the restaurant’s regular lineup.)

In addition, we awarded three Golden Spoon Awards to the cheesiest, most creative, and most comforting entries.

Union City’s The Good Life Lounge won the award for “Cheesiest,” with a recipe that was more cheese with macaroni as an afterthought, like ziti floating in cheese soup.

The Golden Spoon for the “Most Creative” entry was awarded to Delenio and the restaurant’s Italian spin on macaroni and cheese, which resembled baked ziti more than Kraft Easy Mac. The addition of tomato sauce distinguished it from the other entries.

White Star Bar won a Golden Spoon for “Most Comforting” — their no-nonsense recipe had little more than chewy elbow macaroni and gooey cheese. The staff wasn’t ashamed to admit that they used processed cheese product in their recipe.

Even the opinionated participants had the opportunity to vote for their favorite entries. The People’s Choice Award for best Individual entry was given to “Doctor” Paul Goodman and “Nurse” Katie Vacante, who served a mac & cheese that wasn’t necessarily cheesy but very complex in its flavors and texture. The Lamp Post won the People’s Choice Award for best Restaurant entry.

Organizers Chuck Daly, Sophie Penkrat, Marc Caterina and Anne McTernan planned and executed this popular event — a fundraiser for this coming weekend’s 4th Street Art & Music Festival — for the second year in a row. Daly and Kevin Bannon, who DJ at Lucky 7 Tavern on Wednesday nights, played music while a diverse crowd of artists, foodies and hungry locals sampled the goods.

“A lot of local artists eat and drink at White Star,” Deal said. “Today, I’ve seen about half of my regular customers.”

Laryssa Wirstiuk

is a writer who teaches creative writing at Rutgers University. Born and raised in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, Laryssa moved to Jersey City because she was curious about the city where her mother was raised. Check her blog Craft Your Drafts.