TAMPA — Hundreds braved a summer-like swelter on Saturday, pouring into Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for the Mayor’s Mac & Cheese Throwdown.
The crowd of mostly 20-somethings lined up to taste cheesy pasta concoctions featuring blue crabs, jalapenos — even beer. The lines for ice cream and brews were nearly as long as the lines for the star of this show.
Friends of the Riverwalk, a non-profit group that coordinates with the City of Tampa to publicize and accessorize the city’s waterfront walking trail, will reap the benefits of the event.
“We walk three miles on the Riverwalk nearly every week, so I’m happy to participate in this,” said Kate Powell, who lives in downtown Tampa and was working on a second tasting of macaroni and cheese.
“I love the idea of a Mac & Cheese Throwdown,” said Rachel Buchanan of Tampa as she ate macaroni and cheese from Eats! American Grill.
“The Riverwalk, itself, is a great idea,” said Todd Soto, also of Tampa. “I love that it will connect this whole area.”
Drew Shaw, an Eats! manager, kept busy at the back of his booth stirring up batches to feed the masses. “We call it our Red, White and Blue House Blend,” he said, describing the gigantic pan of goodness. Eats! filled its macaroni and cheese with bleu cheese, beef, bacon and hot sauce-sauteed onions.
Amy Stack of Tampa stopped by with a group of friends on their way to the Tampa Bay Rays game in St. Petersburg. “We made it a point to get here first, though. I think this is awesome and I love that you get to try so many different dishes.”
The Mayor’s Mac & Cheese Throwdown included a competition among local restaurants. A panel of judges, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, chose the winner, Holy Hog as the top dish.
Meanwhile, Ulele won the People’s Choice award, and the Kids Choice award went to Fynn’s on Franklin.
Money raised from the event will be used to add more touches to the Riverwalk, such as shade structures and docks already built along completed portions of the walkway.
The Riverwalk was conceived in 1975 by then-Mayor Bill Poe and its final phase includes the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza segment. The $10 million final phase will connect Curtis Hixon with MacDill parks. All told, Riverwalk will stretch 2.2 miles from the Tampa Bay History Center in Channelside to the southern edge of the Tampa Heights neighborhood north of downtown.