Monday, April 19, 2010

The Sweet (and Sour) 16

By Tony Mangia


Great time for sports fans. Baseball fills the air. The NHL and NBA playoffs are in full swing. Fantasy leagues and playoff picks are pending. Maybe you are planning a road trip on your vacation? Want to check out the Celtics in Boston or see if this guy in Atlanta, Jason Heyward, is all he's cracked up to be. How 'bout da Saints in New Orleans this Fall or maybe you still have a thing for Bill Parcells, the Big Tuna, in Miami. The Big Tuna...ahhh...tuna. This gets me thinking about food...and road trips. Which city is the best for eating out? Not tailgating before a game but chowing down during and after the game? With the NCAAs still only a couple of weeks old, and bracketology still on the brain, here comes The Sweet and Sour 16.

I'm not talking about ballpark food. No Dodger Dogs (over-rated) or cities that couldn't tell the difference between a slice of pizza and a Hot Pocket. I'm talking bout the whole cuisine of a sports town. Food that could even attract fans to losing franchises (ie. Kansas City, Buffalo) and make them forget about their miserable sports existence. Which city or region has the best food to watch sports?

First the bubble teams. You know, the wanna-bes with a single superstar. The Washington Hogs and Hoggettes sound delicious but the only food in our nation's capital is pork--lots of it. Seattle salmon is really health food; not made for a Super Bowl party. Tennessee has great BBQ but so does the whole south and the Milwaukee Brewers sounds refreshing enough, only we're talking about food. So let's see who made the cut.

The number 1 seeds: Carolina, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans. Number 2 seeds: New England, Baltimore, Miami, Arizona. Number 3 seeds: Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay, Dallas. Number 4 seeds: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago.

First round action. Atlanta fields a pulled pig sandwich at Fat Matt's and blows away San Fran's Chinatown. Dim sum is sports food for ping-pong. A few cities lose because they are one dimensional. Philly cheese steak. Pat's vs. Geno's is all we hear about. Ho hum. The pizza at Totonno's or Lombardi's--or any parlor in New York--knocks out the roast beef smothered with Cheese Whiz. And it is called a hero, not a hoagie! Although, for my taste, the best pizza is in Jersey--it's the water. So head over to Newark for a Devil's game. Chicago, another one-trick pony, only known for it's deep dish pizza. Acme Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street scores mightily against the Windy City's one star attack. Myrtle Beach and its 'all-you-can-eat Southern buffets' overtakes Cincy's 'World's Best Chili" reputation. Anyway, the best chili con carne I've ever eaten was in a snowstorm in Silverton, Colorado. So take that Reds and Bengals.

The first round continues with the famed wings of Buffalo--thank the four Super Bowl losses of the Bills for popularizing them--getting gobbled up by the crab cakes of Baltimore. What bar doesn't make great wings anymore? Is it worth a trip to a Bills game to get the real thing? I don't think so. Dallas is famous for its beef and I'm not talking about rump roast Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones. It eeks out a slight upset win over the Tex-Mex of Arizona. A Navaho Indian pudding almost put 'Zona over the top. Too little too late. The 'chowda' of New England beats the strip steaks of K.C. and the delightful Sheboygan bratwursts of Green Bay lose to the awesome stone crab claws in Miami. Did you know the claws grow back and help increase the shellfish's population? The male crabs can't kill each other until their weapons re-form.

Quarterfinal action begin with an epic battle between New York and Baltimore. It's hard to ignore the bay and its scallops but the real powerhouse is Boog's BBQ at Camden Yards--its the Albert Pujols of sandwiches. Former Oriole, Boog Powell's outfield stand vies with the great sandwiches of New York. If Mantle and DiMaggio had sandwiches, they would be named at the Stage Deli. I think the corned beef at the Carnegie or Katz's equal old Boog's but, it is the variety of New York dining that gives the city an edge over the harbor city. New Orleans rolls over Dallas. The oyster po'boys, at Mother's Deli, dwarf any thing that Dallas can throw at them. Carolina hush puppies, biscuits and gravy, or any rib-stickin' breakfast they serve wins hands-down over the lobster rolls of New England. Even the Waffle Houses don't disappoint. Deduct points for the Boston accent too. In another close battle, the Atlanta peach cobbler is upset by Miami. The stone crab stars again.


We've boiled, filleted, stewed and baked through the first two rounds. Its now between the four big grills: New York, New Orleans, Carolina and Cinderella (you need at least one)Miami.

Miami brings out the big guns against the mighty BBQ of Carolina. Tasty Cuban cuisine keeps Miami hanging around then, in the waning moments, it brings out the key lime pie. Upset! Miami makes the finals.

New York's run finally comes to an end. Traditional fares are thrown like Eli's bombs--some connect. Out come the bagels and calzones and the all night restaurants but they can't keep up with the jambalaya and Dixie beer and all-night partying of the Creole Nation. It isn't even close. New Orleans meets Miami in the finals.

Compare this match-up to IXX, the debacle between the Bears and Patriots. It's over from the beginning. Miami has old reliable, the stone crab. New Orleans piles it on early and often. Gumbo, crawfish, turtle soup, baguettes...gator gumbo! The crab doesn't stand a chance. All the fashion models and open-air cafes of Ocean Drive can't beat the down home charm of the French Quarter. Like it's favorite son, the Saints, New Orleans are declared Sportwatching Food Champions. The French might have given us mimes and berets but, all is forgiven, thanks to the bayou's cuisine.

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