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Big-Game Buffets


Free big-game seats. Where? Your place, where the admission’s free, the food’s there for the taking, and the beer’s on ice out back. A seat in a stadium box would be gridiron paradise, but a seat in your own home eliminates traffic jams and security hassles. Plus, as Point Loma resident and NFL Football Hall of Fame tackle Ron Mix expertly adds, “You can watch televised replays.”

Bring on the chips and dips and plenty of other good stuff to eat—like Mexican casseroles, barbecued beef, maybe a soup or stew. All are substantial dishes chosen to see us through the screaming and moaning we do when our team’s winning or losing. Anything goes when planning a football get-together menu, particularly if you can eat the food standing up or slouched in a recliner, plate on your lap.

Local football party pros—and four of the nation’s top celebrity chefs—give us a glimpse of what happens in their homes on the day of big games, and what their guests like to eat.

“Food’s an important part of watching the game with friends,” says Mix. “Usually, homemade Mexican food—enchiladas or carnitas are very big. Everybody else cheats and goes to a place like El Indio for food. But my wife, Patti, makes her enchiladas from scratch. Dessert’s goofy but good: banana splits.”

Two bars, one inside and one out, keep a big crowd from missing a play, says veteran hostess Vivian Shrum of University City, who has more than 25 Super Bowls and untold other big-game spreads to her credit. Husband Carter has made the indoor bar into a serious sports bar in the family room, decorated with tons of football, horse-racing, baseball and golf memorabilia.

“Everybody brings something,” says Vivian, “everybody shares. We provide the wine and hard liquor; everybody brings their own beer. The guys man the bars. The party starts about an hour before the game and goes as long as anyone wants to stay. With 40 people, you need five or six hors d’oeuvres. There’s always guacamole, salsas and chips and a wickedly rich baked garlic-and-mushroom dip.”

Vivian prepares Mexican chicken lasagne in advance, which she stashes in neighbors’ refrigerators, to serve during the third quarter. The designated “Dessert Queen” brings a must-have chocolate-and-butterscotch pudding, served during the fourth quarter.

The morning of the game, first stop for Luke Sandri of Ocean Beach is Costco, to pick up new propane tanks, beer for the guys, wine for the women. “Costco is dangerous if you’re on a budget,” he says. “You’ve got to show restraint: Keep it to hamburgers and steaks. But for a really big game, like the Super Bowl, I’ll pick up a $40 shrimp platter, some hard salami, cheese and crackers for that munchie thing that goes on during the game.”

“There’s no being picky about the menu at my house,” says Jay Schweikert of La Jolla, who keeps game day pretty much all guys, every one a barbecue and football fanatic. Foods on the table during halftime: one or two half-pound burgers per guy, well done, with grilled red onions and sharp Cheddar cheese melted on top, French fries and a ton of homemade baked beans.

“Food’s really important, part of our celebration, but we’re watching the game here, not sticking thermometers in the burgers for medium-rare requests,” Schweikert says. No chips and dips—“The guys make such a mess of it.” And no need for a special dessert. “Beer is dessert.”

“I love my Chargers. You can hear me screaming when the games are on,” says great-grandmother and sports fanatic Rosa Lee Stiles of Southeastern San Diego. Whether or not the Chargers make it to the Super Bowl in 2004, Rosa Lee’s house will fill up, as usual, for the season’s games.

“We put out chicken wings with ginger/brown sugar hot sauce, and my homemade sweet potato pie,” she says, adding that she and her son, Leslie, do the cooking—things like teriyaki meatballs, potato salad, collard greens, tempura-fried mushrooms and homemade vanilla ice cream. They eat after the games. “Food’s important,” Stiles says, “but the game’s more important.”

When the executive chefs get in the game, the food goes major league.

“Anything that can be shared is good,” says Don Pintabona of New York City’s Tribeca Grill. “A bluepoint oyster chowder with potatoes and corn is traditional, and it’s easy to make the day ahead. It sounds boring, but it’s best with oyster crackers. Spicy Buffalo pork ‘wings,’ made with pork ribs that are baked, then grilled, then brushed with barbecue sauce and a blue-cheese glaze, are great to eat with your fingers.” He serves Rolling Rock beer.

Chef Kent Rathbun of Abacus restaurant in Dallas says chili is real football food.

“I did a Super Bowl chili cookoff at my house, everybody stepping up their presentations, serving the chili different ways with different garnishes,” he says. Rathbun’s sirloin chili, using top sirloin butt (grilled fajita-style), was deglazed, then reduced over time, with almost a six-pack of beer. “I served it with flour and corn tortillas, sweet corn and jalapeño relish, queso crema [Mexican sour cream] and plenty more ice-cold Shiner Bock beer.”

Baltimore chef Nancy Longo of Pierpoint restaurant goes for a winter dip, “like a hot crab dip, made with a mix of Maryland and Dungeness crab, a little sherry, horseradish, Wisconsin white Cheddar and cream cheese, served with garlic croutons,” she says. And for the fun of it, says Longo, “Have your fishmonger bone out a fish, then you stuff it with raw oysters and cornbread cubes. Tie it up like a football before you roast it.”

Roasted baby lamb chops would be right up there, says chef Kevin Rathbun (Kent’s brother) of Atlanta’s Nava restaurant. “Or beef tenderloin, served in Ping-Pong–size brioche rolls or in pretzel bread,” he says. “Smoked salmon with chopped eggs, parsley and black bread looks good on the table, as does a platter of deviled eggs made with shaved black truffles. Apple martinis would be good. But you can’t go wrong with beer: Christmas ales, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams.”
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