The biggest moment in American Sports is just a month away, and if history repeats itself, the Superbowl will be the most watched television event of any kind this year, as it is pretty much every year.
But things are a little different in the era of COVID-19, and I for one would not be heading out to the sports bar or throwing a big shindig. I expect a lot of smaller scale events, with Superbowl viewing limited to families at home or small groups of friends in comfortable “pods.” But whether there are two or twenty people at your house, it wouldn’t be the Superbowl without some decadent gameday snacking.
I have been covering the topics of regional specialties and mail order foods for 25 years for numerous publications, including Investor’s Business Daily, Forbes, USA Today and many others. I wrote a column on American regional cuisine for many years for the nation’s largest newspaper, and I am literally the only person on earth that has written both a New York Times bestselling book about food (Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating & What You Can Do About It) and more recently an acclaimed book about sports fandom (Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Understanding). I have lot of specific expertise in the subject of stadium food, team foods and fan foods, so this is advice you can trust for delicious results.
You can stick to standard options like nachos, but one way to really get into the big game theme is to go with regional specialties based on which teams are playing. This is harder because you have to wait to start planning until the AFC and NFC Championships games are concluded, but fortunately, the NFL give you an extra off week to prep. There are still too many teams with mathematical possibilities of post season play to cover them all, so here are team specific choices for the most likely candidates (based on the eight divisional leaders going into Week 17).
Kansas City Chiefs: Obviously Kansas City-style barbecue, which is basically an exceptionally well-executed amalgam of other regional styles plus one local specialty. In Memphis the focus is ribs, in much of the south pulled pork and in Texas beef brisket, but in KC they do all of these, do them well, and also created “burnt ends,” the city’s famous delicacy. These are bite sized chunks of brisket cut off after smoking, re-seasoned on all sides with dry rub and smoked a bit more, so each is a little self-contained brisket flavor bomb with lots of powerful outside “bark.” You can fire up your smoker and make ribs, brisket, pork shoulder and/or burnt ends for the game, or, to have the best of the city’s famous barbecue shipped, you can’t do better than Joe’s BBQ. Many critics think is the nation’s best BBQ eatery anyway, and it is certainly a shining example of the KC style that ships very well.
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo wings are so obvious it seems like low hanging fruit, but for authenticity the best way to go is to order from one of the city’s premier spots, since most homemade or store-bought wings cannot hold a candle to the real thing. Buffalo chicken wings are fried but not breaded, which is why they are crispy, but most attempts outside of Buffalo are baked or roasted, which just isn’t as good. But deep frying can be a massy affair, and the easiest way to do it yourself might be air-frying. This is one worth ponying up for mail order, especially since the prices become very reasonable in larger quantities, and the beauty of wings is that they transcend the Bills and work well for whatever teams are playing as they are the signature football watching food across America, and Superbowl is the single biggest day of the year – by far – for chicken wing consumption.
The place that invented the Buffalo chicken wing is the Anchor Bar, which ships in all sorts of quantities, offers four heat levels plus bbq wings, and is the least expensive of the authentic Buffalo options. However, their packaging is lackadaisical and last time I got them half the included bleu cheese containers arrived smashed, resulting in a leaking box, big mess and dip shortage, so plan on back up sauce (in Buffalo and the northeast the default is bleu cheese dressing, while just about everywhere else in the country has adopted ranch). However, many locals think the wings are better at longtime rival Duff’s, another venerable Buffalo institution -and I agree. Duff’s wings are shipped via Goldbelly.com and thus more expensive (Goldbelly is the nation’s leading website devoted to delivering signature foods from a dizzying array of renowned restaurants and producers across America, and they have an excellent selection, but compared to in-person dining or places that ship themselves, the prices tend to be high, sometimes crazy high).
Green Bay Packers: In a nutshell, bratwurst. Fried cheese curds would be a good choice too, but this is a bit messy to make at home and outside the Midwest and northeast, good curds can be difficult to find. Bratwurst on the other hand is easy to find, but to amp things up beyond the supermarket brands, I suggest two really standout producers for mail order. KC Cattle Company is a veteran-owned family company that raises domestic wagyu (Japanese breed) cattle and then makes to-die-for wagyu bacon cheeseburger brats. Porter Road is another great mail order supplier for a every kind of meat, and this Nashville-based artisanal butcher shop works with local southern family farms that raise drug free natural meat, and they make an impressive array of hot dogs and sausages, something virtually impossible to find in hormone and antibiotic free pasture raised craft version at the supermarket. They are delicious, and options include both beef and pork versions of bratwurst plus andouille, kielbasa, and Italian (sweet and hot).
Cincinnati Bengals: Cincinnati’s famously unique style of chili would be the top pick, and it’s easy to order from the best known of the local specialist restaurant chains, Skyline Chile, which is sold through the mail order Ohio food website Cincyfavorites.com (as well as in lots of regional supermarkets across the Midwest). They make it easy with a variety of bundles and kits, like chili dogs, but thin Cincinnati chili is not for everyone, so if you want to go for something really world class that will wow guests, order up some Graeter’s Ice Cream from the same site. Graeter’s is the best larger ice cream brand in the country, made in tiny artisanal batches with finest ingredients, the best chocolate chips ever (in many flavors) and is just stellar!
Tennessee Titans: The Titans play in Nashville, so Nashville Hot Chicken comes to mind, and one of the city’s most beloved restaurants, Hattie B’s, ship via food delivery site Goldbelly. But be warned, it really is hot! Alternatively, Nashville’s Peg Leg Poker BBQ makes the nation’s best “Memphis style” dry rub ribs (sorry Memphis!) and ships them via Goldbelly.
Dallas Cowboys: Dallas does not have the kind of signature food cities like Buffalo and Kansas City enjoy, but it is arguably the best steakhouse city in the country/world, with many world-class emporiums of red meat in every style, serving everything from real Kobe to dry aged grass-fed Texas beef to ultra-aged meats. For many years I have had the pleasure of contributing regularly to American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, and I wrote a culinary travel feature on the Dallas Steakhouse Scene for the very last print issue before the airline pulled the plug last year – read it here. There are lots of great places to get high-quality mail-order meats – all far better than your local supermarket – but for steaks it is hard to beat famed butcher Allen Brothers – which actually supplies several of the Dallas legends. I just chose Allen Brothers beef for my own festive New Year’s Eve dinner at home, and they have every kind of steak you could imagine for your big game bash. For instance, a strip steak would be a great cut to choose if making one individual steak for each guest, and Allen Brothers offers the following options: USDA Prime (boneless or bone-in); USDA Prime Natural (boneless or bone-in); Aberdeen Angus grass fed; Allen Brothers own signature angus; USDA Prime dry aged; Wagyu mixed; Wagyu full blood; Wagyu dry aged; and full blood Australian wagyu. That’s just for strip steaks!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay is known for its excellent Cuban food and Ybor City was the once thriving epicenter of the domestic cigar industry, powered by Cuban immigrants. So, the great Superbowl choice is a Cubano, the classic Cuban sandwich, but with a Tampa twist (Genoa salami is added to the traditional roast pork). You don’t have to mail order for this one, just follow this recipe from leading culinary site Serious Eats (to which I have contributed, FYI) for a Tampa-style Cubano. But if you don’t want to cook, you can also order Cuban sandwich kits from two famous restaurants, Versailles and Sanguich de Miami via Goldbelly, but be forewarned that both eateries are in Miami, not Tampa, but your friends will not complain (or notice).
Los Angeles Rams: This is tough one, first because the food at the new state of the art of the SoFi Stadum – this year’s Superbowl host – has been widely panned. But more importantly, like Dallas, Los Angeles doesn’t really have signature cuisine. Instead, it has a whole lot of signature restaurants featuring everything from donuts to tacos to Jewish-style deli sandwiches, and iconic spots as varied as Pink’s hotdogs and Spago. You could go all Wolfgang Puck and serve up some pizzas with smoked salmon, but I’d opt for a French Dip sandwich, the signature at LA’s legendary Philippe The Original French Dip which has been serving its iconic wet dripping sandwiches for more than eleven decades (since 1908). A classic French Dip is roast beef, usually with cheese, on a French roll that is dipped into au jus gravy, and it is very easy to replicate at home (I like to make the roll into garlic bread for an extra flavor dimension). But Philippe also offers roast pork, turkey, leg of lamb, pastrami and ham versions, with options for Swiss, American, cheddar, Monterey Jack or bleu cheese, each dipped in its respective roast juices. You can check out their menu for inspiration here, and replicate at home, or for the most authentic version, you can order the original beef version in kit form via Goldbelly.
Tomorrow in Part 2, I’ll cover the best game day choices that are not team specific, just great football classics.