Mac and Cheese Madness: STINK's cheeseburger

By Ron Swarner on October 10, 2014

The seed was planted last April during our Tournament of Burgers Championship party at Meconi's in downtown Tacoma. After taking second place to the Westside Tavern, Chef Hudson Slater of Maxwell's Restaurant and Lounge suggested mac and cheese for the Weekly Volcano's annual food tournament.

The South Sound Tournament of Mac and Cheese is scheduled for March 2015.

There are few dishes in this world more comforting than a nice hot dish of macaroni and cheese. And the beauty of it is, the recipe has such a basic foundation - pasta and cheese - that there is no end to the possible variations. Macaroni noodles are the standard, but many varieties - shells, bow-ties - can work just as well. And though cheddar is nearly ubiquitous, adding to that classic cheese with other varieties can bring nuances of flavor, and mixing it up with add-ins such as bacon can intensify the taste and provide texture.

My love of mac and cheese is a deep-rooted affair, grown from a seed planted by my mother's awesome, greasy baked mac and cheese. Lines were drawn, allegiances were broken, and blood was shed as everyone vied for the mac and cheese. By the end of the meal bloated bodies were strewn across the dining room, covered with cheese.

My mom blanketed the casserole dish with tomato slices before baking it, and I used to think that this was how mac and cheese was supposed to be made. When the tomatoes were missing I'd reach for a bottle of ketchup to the horror of tablemates over the years.

My ketchup habit has withered but not died. It was rekindled yesterday.

In preparation for the Tournament of Mac and Cheese, I have been digging into a different South Sound mac and cheese dish every week. In early June, I visited STINK Cheese and Meat, an almost certain number one seed when 64 South Sound restaurants do battle in March. I waited for owner Kris Blondin's mushroom truffle mac to be the mac and cheese special for the week, which also was the week she tweaked her roux creating a combination of sharp cheddar and her standard cheddar with added cream cheese. Her truffle mac is on my top 10 dishes tasted of all time.

Yes, yes, back to the ketchup ... and variations. I hit the mac and cheese jackpot again yesterday. Blondin just tweaked her roux again, adding heavy cream to the base. After learning the news, I glanced at the special board.

"Kris, you're serving cheeseburgers?" I asked.

Nope, this week's special is cheeseburger mac and cheese.

"I was at Costco staring at Angus beef, pondering a new mac and cheese recipe. And I noticed those big bags of French onions. Sometimes you see things and it triggers your imagination," says Blondin. "And I'm a ketchup fanatic. I've always loved ketchup with my mac and cheese."

Blondin added the Angus beef and onions to her new base, baked it, drizzled ketchup and mustard, then topped the dish with sliced hamburger pickles as one would on a cheeseburger. The beef adds spark and body - complete with a little crunch, and the perfect touch of burnt edges. The base is richer with the addition of heavy cream. 

STINK's mac and cheese special, as well as its grilled cheese sandwich special, changes every week, and by week I mean Tuesday through Saturday. For the next two days, you may delight in the cheeseburger mac and German toasted cheese sandwich, which is a variation of a Reuben.

STINK CHEESE AND MEAT, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, its wine bar stays open later, 628 St. Helens, Tacoma, 253.426.1347

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

LINK: The answer to why this mac and cheese column exists