TAMPA — The mayor who welcomed food trucks to Lykes Gaslight Square and dyed the Hillsborough River shamrock green has a new party planned for downtown Tampa.
The city's first-ever "Mac & Cheese Throwdown" will feature casseroles from more than two dozen local restaurants on May 10 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Other cities have similar contests, and one in Albany, N.Y., is in its fifth year. Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he encountered the idea during a city trip last year to Aspen, Colo., where the city's mac and cheese festival draws thousands and served as the backdrop for a viral video.
"I'm like, I'm going to do this in Tampa," Buckhorn said Wednesday. He said the event will "give families another reason to come downtown to explore."
Local chefs will compete in three categories: "classic mac," "brews and mac" for recipes paired with craft beer, and "wine and cheese," featuring high-end cheeses. Chef Greg Baker of the Refinery will head the panel of judges. The crowd will bestow a "People's Choice Award."
The event, scheduled from 4 to 10 p.m., is free and open to the public, with proceeds from mac and cheese sales benefitting the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk.
There will be live bands, craft beer and wine and games. If successful, the idea is for the throwdown to become an annual event.
Officials say the lineup so far includes Holy Hog Barbecue, Anise Gastro Global Bar, Sunny Side-Up, Bamboozle Cafe, Cigar City Brewpub, Splitsville/Tina Tapas, Doormét, Yacht StarShip, Taps Restaurant Bar & Lounge, and Malio's Prime Steakhouse.
Restaurants that want to participate should call Shaun Drinkard at Friends of the Riverwalk at (813) 221‑1539.