By DEVIN WEEKS
COEUR d’ALENE — One man summed up the Macaroni and Cheese Festival with four simple words.
"Holy geez, it's fantastic," a smiling Joe Sullivan of Hayden said.
Or did he mean "holy cheese?"
Yes, cheese was on the minds — and in the mouths — of the more than 1,500 guests who flocked to the inaugural Macaroni and Cheese Festival in The Coeur d'Alene Resort Plaza Shops on Saturday afternoon.
More than a dozen restaurants set up mac and cheese stations where guests tantalized their taste buds with a variety of gourmet spins on the old classic. Several local breweries were also present to provide those 21 and older with hearty beverages to cleanse their palates between samples.
"The seafood mac, the pork belly mac and the mac balls were pretty good," said David Peach of Coeur d'Alene, who attended the festival with his mac and cheese fan girlfriend, Amanda Fisk. "Our favorite was Sweet Lou's."
"Yes, they had a bacon mac," Fisk said. "We voted for Sweet Lou's as the best."
Peach said with how busy it was, the festival was an obvious hit.
"It was a good idea for them to do it," Peach said. "What else is happening in January?"
The Mac and Cheese Festival, presented by the Coeur d'Alene Downtown Association, was the brainchild of the association's board.
"It's so fantastic to have this many people here in January. We never even dreamed it to be this big, but we're ecstatic that it is," said Downtown Association events coordinator Emily Boyd, who wore a shirt that read, "Will work for mac 'n' cheese.” "Mac and cheese is just such a common food that everyone can love. The majority of the population, I think, loves mac and cheese."
Chris White, general manager and chef for Cosmic Cowboy in Coeur d'Alene, served his visitors a premium mac and cheese with pork belly and Cougar Gold cheese. He and his staff made this recipe especially for the festival.
"We liked it so much we put it on our menu," he said. "People can come in for a limited time and get it on our menu as well. We're all scratch-made, in-house cuisine."
He said the Mac and Cheese Festival was fun and a great way to engage with the community.
"It seems like there are a lot of people from out of town, so it's neat to interact with everybody and share our food," he said.
Visitors had opportunities to vote for their favorite mac dish. Boyd reported that Taphouse Unchained won the Golden Noodle award for its macaroni and cheese balls.