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Posts made in: 'Tournament of Mac and Cheese' (59) Currently Viewing: 41 - 50 of 59

August 29, 2014 at 10:19am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Masa in Tacoma

Masa's Mexi Mac Chimichanga Style will set your mouth ablaze. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Following on the successful heels of the Weekly Volcano's Tournament of Burgers, our editorial staff will present a new NCAA Basketball tournament-like contest next spring.  Once again we'll host a number of daily games that pit one restaurant against another, leaving it to the readers to decide the final outcomes all the way down to a final four and then a grand championship. (For newbie readers, Olympia's Westside Tavern edged out Tacoma's Maxwell's Restaurant in the final seconds of this year's Tournament of Burgers.) 

The competition for March 2015 will pit 64 South Sound restaurants that offer the ultimate comfort food - macaroni and cheese.

My goal is to report on a South Sound mac and cheese dish every week up to the tournament - to spread the cheesy word, ease into tournament research and, obviously, build hype. Today marks my 18th mac and cheese dish. Eighteen is also the number of pounds I have gained.

Following on the heels of Pacific Grill's Mexi Mac + Cheese, I present another South of the Border version — Masa's Mexi Mac Chimichanga Style ($11.99).

Masa's Mexi Mac Chimichanga Style registers a combination of nuclear engineering and stoner imagination. Spiced creamy cheese sauce, pico de gallo and seasoned beef or chicken arrives bubbling in a hot skillet. Oh, and macaroni. Which is to say there was macaroni, before Masa's fryer set to work breaking down molecular structures of each ingredient like a cheesy Chernobyl, melting them into a hot tub of awesomeness. At first crispy, then creamy with an explosion of spice, their semblance to a chimichanga may tempt you to bust out a Mexican Hat Dance. No one here will judge.

MASA, 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.254.0560

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

August 22, 2014 at 10:59am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Pacific Grill

Pacific Grill's Mexi Mac + Cheese is creamy delicious. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

The line between ethnic cuisines is blurring faster than an eye chart after a bottle of tequila. America may be the melting pot of the world, but that doesn't mean it's necessary to throw anything that's handy into the double boiler, does it?

What Mexicans have been calling burritos since the first Taco Time opened, oh, about a thousand years ago, only now they've been reincarnated under the name wraps. At least that's what they call them when they fill them with Caesar salad, corned beef and cabbage, and chicken soup with matzo balls, all things which God wouldn't have created had he known someone would end up stuffing them in a tortilla.

Speaking of Mexican, adding Dorito crumbs and iceberg lettuce to elbow macaroni and dubbing it "Mexican mac and cheese" probably got someone into Princeton, but it's just wrong.

You won't find any piñatas or enormous velvet sombreros hanging from the ceiling at Pacific Grill, but I'll be damned if Chef Gordon Naccarato and crew haven't fused America and Mexico into one helluva Mexican mac and cheese dish. The "Mexi Mac + Cheese" ($13.95) blends sharp white cheese and Fontina, cumin, smoked paprika, corn, black beans, cilantro with radiator pasta and tortilla strips. I opted for the extra $2.95 pulled pork, which obviously pairs well with the savory dish. So delicious.

Ondelay! Ondelay! Bring me another because I just raced through this semi-creamy mac and cheese delight faster than Speedy Gonzales could turn El Gringo Pussygato into OMG Cat.

PACIFIC GRILL, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, lounge open later, 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.627.3535

August 15, 2014 at 10:30am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Red Robin

Red Robin adds mac and cheese to its pork riblets. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Someone got their ribs in my mac and cheese! And that someone has a beak.

In the South, mac and cheese often accompanies barbecue ribs. It's as common and someone sticking their chocolate in peanut butter, or something. Red Robin, the local franchise that built its reputation on gourmet burgers, offers the Southern combination ($13.99) - meaning, like many Southerners, it treats its mac and cheese as a vegetable.

The ribs are the star of this dish, although a diminutive star. They're riblets - tiny tender triple S pork riblets. The meat fell off the bone and into my smile.

The mac and cheese, with its three Italian cheese sauce of Romano, Parmesan and assaigo, was topped with half-melted shredded mild cheddar. It felt and tasted like a sidedish.

RED ROBIN, various locations including close to Tacoma Mall, Lakewood Towne Center and two Puyallup locations, redrobin.com

August 8, 2014 at 11:52am

Mac and Cheese Madness: The RAM Restaurant and Brewery

The RAM Restaurant and Brewery serves a sturdy mac and cheese. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Artisan ice cream, craft beer, food trucks, artistic cocktails: South Sound dining is either emerging from or headed into a culinary construction zone. But many South Sound restaurants refuse to reject the notion of comfort food. And sitting at the very top of the comfort food pyramid is mac and cheese.

Today marks the 15th mac and cheese dish I have tried since launching this Friday series in May, as a precursor to the Weekly Volcano's Tournament of Mac and Cheese in Spring 2015. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the RAM Restaurant & Brewery's version. ...

Ever been to a barbecue in someone's backyard and someone brought macaroni and cheese in a floppy foil pan? So wrong. If the RAM brought its mac and cheese in said pan, the pan would surely collapse with the contents possibly injuring a small child. Curly, swirly meaty Cavatappi macaroni is the star of The RAM's mac and cheese - a huge, heavy pile of it with a Parmesan and cheddar cheese sauce in a supporting role. Each Cavatappi noodle could feed a small family.

The RAM calls its mac and cheese "creamy, cheesy, ooey-gooey" on its menu. It's not. The spoon riding shotgun is laughable. The noodles topple off the dish-to-mouth device. Sure, the cheese coats the noodles, including some Panko breadcrumbs, but after the noodles disappear, not much remains in the bowl.

No, it's a meat and potato kind of mac and cheese. Each mouth full is filling and satisfying. Did you get sacked twice, hit four times and run around like a maniac last night? This mac and cheese can heal. Are you fighting a tropical storm in a swimsuit while juggling a Mai Tai? This is your reward.

Additional flavor can by added to The RAM's housemade recipe ($8.99) in the form of blackened chicken (2.99), roasted jalapenos (99 cents), hickory smoked bacon ($1.99), blackened prawns ($4.99), sautéed vegetables ($1.49) and sautéed mushrooms ($1.99).

Do some heavy lifting today.

RAM RESTAURANT & BREWERY, locations in Federal Way, Lacey, Lakewood, South Hill Puyallup, Tacoma, theram.com

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

August 1, 2014 at 12:15pm

Mac and Cheese Madness: Bar Bistro

Bar Bistro serves its rich and creamy Bistro Mac and Cheese in small and large portions. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Like wine, you can tell much from mac and cheese by smell, color and presentation, and though you may balk at using connoisseur techniques for such an Americana-addled food, it helps. With that in mind, take a drive over to Bar Bistro in Midland between Tacoma and Puyallup. Within the confines of the sleek bastion of delicious food and craft cocktails, I was served a beautiful, aromatic, tasty creamy mac and cheese in a fancy wide bowl. I stepped outside to check if I was in downtown Tacoma or Seattle. Nope, farmlands still surrounded the joint.

"Chef Jason Blessum takes fusilli pasta, roasted garlic puree, heavy cream and a balanced blend of smoked cheddar, aged white cheddar, pepper jack, Parmesan, Asiago and Romano cheeses, tops it with bacon bread crumbs, shaved Parmesan, then garnishes it with grape tomatoes and basil oil," says Bar Bistro owner Eric Poulin.

The Bistro Mac and Cheese ($12/$18) is a creamy delight. The al dente pasta is added to the cream, garlic puree and cheese mixture off heat until melted through. I enjoyed the dish as is, skipping the chorizo, jerk chicken or crabmeat additions. It doesn't need the extra flavors.

I'm also happy to report Bar Bistro has a Craft Beer Club. Text CRAFTBEER to 72727 to join. You'll receive a free craft beer after purchasing five. Bar Bistro has 20-plus beers, including local brews. Harmon Brewery will be in-house toward the end of this month for a four-course IPA dinner paring with a bonus summer blonde during the reception. Craft Beer Club members will receive the latest details on reservations and early bird specials on beer dinners and events.

BAR BISTRO, noon to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 1718 99th St. E., Tacoma, 253.537.3655

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

SEE ALSO

Flair to Midland: Bar Bistro is worth the drive

July 25, 2014 at 9:24am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Maxwell's Restaurant + Lounge

Maxwell's Restaurant + Lounge serves a creamy "max + cheese" loaded with bacon. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Macaroni and cheese. What began as an inexpensive school cafeteria lunch for most of us has turned into my obsession: try as many South Sound mac and cheese dishes before the Weekly Volcano's Tournament of Mac and Cheese in March 2015.

Though the classic mac 'n' cheese consists of elbow noodles and cheddar or American cheese sauce, there are so many variations - topped with breadcrumbs, baked into individual mini casseroles, made with upscale ingredients such as truffle oil and lobster. Frankly, I love them all. My nirvana: the magic moment when the cheese has cooled just enough to prevent the roof of my mouth from fusing to my fork.

One of the top restaurants in Tacoma must have one of the top macaroni and cheese. So it is written; so it is done. Maxwell's Restaurant + Lounge's "Max + Cheese" ($9) is perfection. Perfectly cooked macaroni is lovingly married to sharp cheese and bacon with a crunchy breadcrumb topping. Is it blasphemy to say I'd skip Maxwell's award-winning Walker Burger and have a second helping?

"We make it to order with care," explains Maxwell's Executive Chef Hudson Slater. "Every Max + Cheese ordered is very important. The pasta is al dente; the sauce is rich and creamy and has a great cheesy flavor from the sharp white cheddar. The toppers help too. Crispy bacon, toasted breadcrumbs and fresh scallions."

It is hard to go wrong with the flavors as long as you make it correctly, which Slater does. It's creamy but holds on the fork. It's crunchy, but light on the breadcrumbs. The fresh scallions pop. Oh, and the bacon. ...

P.S. Maxwell's server Kent Bolden was named Best Server by our readers in our 2014 Best of Tacoma issue.

MAXWELL'S RESTAURANT + LOUNGE, 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday, 454 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.683.4115

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

July 18, 2014 at 11:23am

Mac and Cheese Madness: King Solomon's Reef

The mac and cheese at King Solomon's Reef is simple, good food. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Longtime Olympia residents are well acquainted with King Solomon's Reef where everyone and their brother - at least in Oly - has had a job at The Reef and, at some point in their adult life, participated in its 6 a.m. happy hour. (Today, the lounge opens at 10 a.m.) Good homemade food - such as fresh pies and chicken fried steak - and the intimate bar that holds more stories in its walls than Rupert Murdoch has secrets are the reasons this bar is so epic. It has been known as a place of solace and debauchery and gritty bartenders.  Clientele has ranged from state workers to gutter punks, with everyone rolled into one non-judging, loving ball of humanity.

If I were to cast judgment, I'd say The Reef's mac and cheese is simple, good food. The menu describes the dish as "a bowl of macaroni noodles and our own creamy multi-cheese blend, mixed together with a crispy top." Indeed. Efforts to reveal the cheese blend ingredients fell short, but I can tell you it's a buttery, oily bowl of comfort.

It will no doubt be voted in as one of the 64 best mac and cheese dishes in the Weekly Volcano's Tournament of Mac and Cheese next spring.

KING SOLOMON'S REEF, 8-3 a.m. daily, 212 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.742.3199

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

July 11, 2014 at 9:38am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Topside Bar and Grill

Topside Bar and Grill's creamy Coastal Mac & Cheese / photo credit: Pappi Swarner

In May 1670, Prince Rupert, cousin of King Charles II, acquired the fur rich lands of the Hudson Bay in northeastern Canada to "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay." Its first century of operation found Hudson's Bay Company firmly ensconced in a few forts and posts around the shores of James and Hudson Bays. Natives brought furs annually to these locations to barter for manufactured goods such as knives, kettles, beads, needles and blankets. By the late 18th century competition forced HBC to expand into the interior. In 1824, HBC chief factor John Work happened upon pink flower-covered hillsides flowing down to Puget Sound. He called the area Chilacoom, a variation of the resident Indian chief's name. In March 2012, John O'Reilly took over the Steilacoom space that formerly housed Jake's Bar & Bistro, where he had a stint tending bar, and renamed it Topside Bar and Grill. In honor of the town's British connection, O'Reilly secures Coastal Mature Cheddar from Ford Farm in the UK on the Ashley Estate located between Dorset Downs and the Jurassic Coast as his main ingredient in his Topside Coastal Mac & Cheese. The milk in the cheese comes from cows that graze on lush pastures, which makes the milk rich, creamy and perfect for making cheese.

Coastal Mature Cheddar is sweet and salty. The texture is typical of English cheddar, rugged, crumbly and slightly crunchy. Topside chefs add it to their creamy mac and cheese base, mix it with firm penne pasta and top it with toasted bread crumbs ($16). The flavor is wonderfully, nutty with a slight sharp flavor. For an extra $6, you may add fresh Dungeness crabmeat or bay shrimp.

Served only at dinner, I suggest enjoying the Coastal Mac & Cheese from Topside's deck with a spectacular view of Puget Sound, and pair it with Ninkasi's Total Domination IPA.

TOPSIDE BAR AND GRILL, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 215 Wilkes St., Steilacoom, 253.212.3690

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

June 27, 2014 at 9:56am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Rosewood Cafe

Four cheeses and two wheels at the Rosewood Cafe in Tacoma. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Listen. Do you hear it? It's a subtle sound, but getting louder every minute. It's the velvety whirr of bicycle tires gliding over Northern Tacoma's roads, punctuated by the clicking of changing gears, with the occasional thud of a pothole, pedaled by people you know. If you follow the sound, you'll probably end up at the Rosewood Cafe, the neighborhood hangout between the Proctor District and Old Town Tacoma. During warm weather, cyclists often end their rides at the Rosewood. Sandwiches, salads, beer and wine don't get in the way, but offer rewards for time in the saddle. And it's all quite good, especially the mac and cheese.

Rosewood's mac and cheese arrives bubbling with cheddar, Havarti, Swiss and blue cheeses. The dish is elevated with nutmeg and ground mustard — topped with golden panko and grated Parmesan. Penne pasta provides a tender chew; the wide ends of the noodles slicked with cheese, which will have at least one string dangling from the fork. The shotgun-riding bread slices should be used to dig out the leftover cheese.

If ever there were a macaroni and cheese that could unite bicyclists and car drivers, it's this one.

ROSEWOOD CAFÉ, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, 3323 N. 26th St., Tacoma, 253.752.7999

June 20, 2014 at 10:27am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Top of Tacoma Bar and Cafe

Top of Tacoma Bar and Cafe's mac and cheese is a decadent delight. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Trying to form consensus on the best macaroni and cheese is like getting Congress to agree on anything. There is precious little bipartisanship where this concerned.

Why? Because we're all convinced we make the best. Or our taste buds are attuned to familiar flavors - our mom's mac; that prized recipe from our favorite magazine or cooking show; the heart-attack-on-a-plate from a beloved restaurant.

Seriously, though, my mom's mac is the best. I never tasted Asian spices until college. I thought all meat was dry. But, oh mamma, my mom's mac and cheese is effing tasty - greasy, burned edges, gloppy cheese and all. It sings the comforts of home.

Sunday, I visited another home - Top of Tacoma Bar and Café. The Top's Sunday brunch bursts with laughter, hugs and deliciousness. These 30- and 40-somethings truly enjoy each other's company, and the flavors concocted in the kitchen - a kitchen that sprouted Marrow Kitchen and Bar - may shock those fooled by the bar's surroundings. Jaime Kay and Jason Jones, partners with chef Kyle Wnuk at Marrow, own the Top - the best bar in Tacoma, according to the voters in our Best of Tacoma issue.

The molecular structure of the Tops' mac might be straightforward - cheddar and Havarti(!) topped with herbed panko - but it reminds me of a recipe by my second mom, Betty Crocker. The ubiquitous elbow macaroni ($9.50) is tucked into a small soufflé dish blanketed with herbed panko-crumb to foil the very generous, rich cheese concoction. And, because the Jones' know flavor pairings, prosciutto, pork belly, tomato or pesto may be added for an additional 75 cents. I chose pork belly. Wise. The long chewy strips take the decadent dish to the next level.

When I have the jones, I head to The Top and into the arms of friends and cheesy elbows. 

TOP OF TACOMA BAR AND CAFÉ, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 3529 McKinley Ave. E., Tacoma, 253.272.1502

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