Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mayor's Mac & Cheese Throwdown a tasty time in Tampa


A few hours into the battle that had local restaurants competing for the distinction of best macaroni and cheese in town, Heather O'Reilly already had a favorite in mind.

She liked the jalapeno mac and cheese from Holy Hog BBQ. Judges liked it too, naming it Best in Show.

But the dish from Jazzy's BBQ was another strong contender for O'Reilly, 34, of Tampa.

"It's gone," she said with a laugh, pointing at her and her friend's plates. "We ate it all."

More than 20 area restaurants brought out their best mac and cheese concoctions for the hundreds gathered at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Saturday for the inaugural Mayor's Mac & Cheese Throwdown.

Food has become an important part of getting people downtown, and not just in Tampa.

Other cities like Los Angeles, Albany, N.Y., and Austin, Texas, have their own versions. Mayor Bob Buckhorn got the idea for Tampa's after visiting Aspen, Colo., and seeing a similar event.

"I got on the phone right away and said, 'We're going to do that in Tampa,' " he said.

It's another step in trying to build off a growing foodie and craft beer culture. He wants to see downtown Tampa become an "18-hour-a-day city where people live, work and play," he said.

"Each of these is a small piece of a much larger mosaic," Buckhorn said.

The city began the Mayor's Food Truck Fiesta in 2011, bringing to town a trend Buckhorn first caught on to during a trip to New York City four years ago.

Fast-forward to 2013 and, a website all about how to successfully start a food truck, named Tampa the second-best city in the country in which to open a food truck.

Atmosphere matters as much as the food does. JP Phillips, 40, and Shauna Phillips, 36, of Tampa don't go downtown often on the weekends, but events like food fests or the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival draw them there.

"Downtown is nice. We look for events to come to, to bring the family," Shauna Phillips said.

O'Reilly and her friend Jessica Smith, 31, of Tampa go to a lot of food events around the city, like the Tastes of South Tampa and New Tampa.

"We're foodies at heart," Smith said.

They go to look for local restaurants they haven't heard of so they can try them later.

"We try to look for things that aren't chains," Smith said. "It's something different to do, and it helps local businesses."

Andy Salyards, owner of Urban Brew and BBQ in St. Petersburg, has noticed that attitude since opening the restaurant 11 months ago. He took part in the throwdown to start building some buzz in Tampa, too.

"People are starting to appreciate small businesses more and things made from scratch," he said. "We work in the neighborhood, we live in the neighborhood. Eating something from your neighbor instead of from someone you've never seen, it makes a difference."

Judges on Saturday also gave honorable mentions to Mott & Hester Deli Co. and Ulele Restaurant & Brewery. Ulele took home the People's Choice award, and Fynn's Bar & Grill was named Children's Choice.

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at

Mayor's Mac & Cheese Throwdown a tasty time in Tampa 05/10/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open


    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to win the British Open and usher in a new era of golf.

    Matt Kuchar plays out of the bunker on the 18th hole and finishes with bogey for 1-under 69. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.
  5. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill


    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.