Via LA Weekly

Since there is a pretty small pool of people who talk about football and food on a regular basis, I thought I’d invite a few friends over to discuss Super Bowl snack planning, stadium eating, parties and regional San Francisco/Baltimore/New Orleans cuisine.

Our guests are Albert Burneko of Deadspin, host of the popular Foodspin column and Spilly, food humorist at SB Nation. Honored to have them both over for a chat.

SS: Here we are, Ravens and 49ers. Baltimore and San Francisco. Two cities known culinary for seafood and seafood. Old Bay and Rice-a-Roni. Cakes under ten pounds of fondant and dim sum. (Although I am sure some jerk from San Francisco will take the time to mention Mission-style burritos, to which I say, no one cares about your burritos, SAN FRAN.)

What do you guys think of when you think about food from either city?

Spilly: Unfortunately, the entirety of my San Francisco knowledge revolves around early-90s Rice-A-Roni ads, so I assume that everyone eats that and communicates via streetcar bells. Having done extensive Wikipedia skimming though, I found that Shasta soda was once headquartered in Baltimore, but then moved to the San Francisco area later. There’s your real game storyline once people get tired of the Harbowl stuff. BATTLE OF THE SHASTA.

Maryland is obvious – Old Bay, crabcakes and cans of Natty Boh. I myself never really liked seafood, though crabcakes aren’t terrible. Our nation has a terrific urge to pattify any possible meat, and I’m okay with that. I’m glad this game doesn’t include two cities where the only notable food was barbecue, because every single city, town, hamlet and outhouse in America claims barbecue as their own. We could have used the word Harbaughcue though. Ah, opportunities missed.

AB: Because I am an actual, literal walrus, when I think of the iconic foods of these two cities, I think of crabs. Specifically, I think of how comparatively boring and flavorless the Pacific Northwest’s Dungeness crab is, and how this has never stopped native San Franciscans, when transplanted to the mid-Atlantic, from haughtily dismissing the exponentially more delicious Chesapeake blue crab for being too small.  Every ironically-tattooed, liberal-arts-educated man jack of them. Yes, the Dungeness crab is larger than the Chesapeake blue and requires less work per bite. If this is the standard that makes the less-flavorful of the two nevertheless the better to eat, as San Franciscans would have you believe, then I can only assume that the most in-demand seafood item in San Francisco’s fish markets is a ten-gallon bucket of sand and a spoon. Mmm-mmm! That’s good eating!

Of course, on the whole, it must be said that San Francisco is probably the superior food town of the two, insofar as it is one of the best food towns on the planet, while the second-most-popular thing to eat in Baltimore, after crabs, is lead.

SS: Like Spilly, I’m not a big seafood fan but can get by on crab cakes because they tend to be small and not really have much crab in them. They’re more of a “food I can eat to be polite at a party” than a “oooh, fancy crab” treat for me. Add in the fact the Super Bowl is being held in seafood-loving New Orleans, I might be in for a bit of tough go of it if I end up at a party where the host decides to go native.

Albert does bring up a good point though, this is very much a working-class eating city versus the cultural elite. Does this play into how you look at each team? San Francisco already gets a bad rap for being a team that has sushi and wine at tailgates, but is Baltimore too low-brow that it doesn’t have any culinary appeal? (I should disclose, I’ve looked up lots and lots of recipes for game meat raven over the years.)

Spilly: The Forty Niners already have the whole 80′s dynasty about them. Combine that with a larger national fanbase and a city that has already won a championship this year, and it’s not helping the wine and cheese elitist stereotype. Were it not for the sordid history of one particular middle linebacker for Baltimore, I think we’d have an easily cheerable working-man Baltimore team. I compare it with the ’97 Broncos / Packers game, where a star that had a vocal subset of people hate him (in Baltimore, no less), went up against a ‘classic’ dynastic team who had been away from the spotlight. Sure there’s differences. I still think it’s a good comparison though.

AB: I dunno, there’s something kind of appealing about food that you eat out of a styrofoam bowl, with a plastic fork, in a seedy, divey, grim place full of blue-collar salt-of-the-earth types, isn’t there?  Unpretentious food that is nonetheless hot, flavorful, and nourishing?  Food that makes up in hardbitten ingenuity and generations of homey tradition what it lacks in novelty and luxury? Food that, hey, maybe it’s not the tastiest thing you’ve ever eaten, or the freshest or the most attractively presented or the least frightening, but at least it fills up your stomach and gives you energy for another day of hard, physical labor?

And hey, if all of that is true, isn’t that something Baltimore could aspire to have someday, after it has been razed and rebuilt?

SS: I will say, there is something very fancy sounding about this Blue Crab Salsa. Personally, if I was the type to do a city-themed Super Bowl party, I’d keep it New Orleans-based and make a giant batch of Cajun-style gumbo with chicken and sausage and a muffaletta.

Location aside, what do you think makes for a good Super Bowl spread? A lot of different small items, grilling and barbecuing, dips, sandwiches?

Spilly: I’ll fully admit that I’m not nearly on any sort of foodie level as you guys, and I actually tend to run counter to the idea of the massive, pre-planned Super Bowl food layout. If I’m watching an important game, I’ll shovel down whatever is put in front of me, without really considering what it is. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a thoughtful spread, or that I’m some hulking cro-magnon chucking beef riblets into my gaping maw for 4 hours. I just feel like good food deserves more than the attention I’ll end up giving it during the game. Your blackened turnip ganache is probably fantastic! However, unless it’s 45-10 in the third quarter, It’s going to get as much attention from me as a that pile of stale Dorito bag afterbirth left over from the World Series party. That said, there’s a few items that I think should be addressed. I try to avoid anything that needs both a dish and a fork/spoon because it will end up everywhere. There won’t be enough places to put bowls and plates, and some guy’s ex-roommate will try balancing it on his knee and will spill the chili you spent six days simmering onto the couch. Barbecue is good as long as it’s not overly messy. I think it’s far more important to have a wider beer selection for everyone, from hipster microbrews to cheap pisswater. People will eat whatever charred animal chunks you throw in front of them, but the only thing that rivals a sports argument is a beer snob argument.

SS: I’ll readily agree that during the Super Bowl (lordy I just typed “Souper” about three times just there) you should be concentrating on drink selection because you will of course have people who never watch football around complaining about the beer “too fancy” or “did someone bring this Coors Light as a joke?”

I actually don’t mind letting other people do the heavy lifting cooking-wise for the Super Bowl. By the end of the season, all I want is to make my nine-layer dip and be left alone.

And before we get too far, let’s stick a pin in topic of dealing with guests just there for the food and not there for the game. (i.e. I missed a quarter of the NFC Championship game last year because I got pulled into women’s book/empowerment discussion group that I could not escape from at halftime and I did not want to offend the lady of the house.)

AB: I don’t know if things have actually changed, or if I’m just remembering it wrong, or what, but I feel like the phenomenon of the Super Bowl being a day which called for food preparation more concerted than pulling open a bag of ruffled potato chips and yanking the lid off of a can of onion dip is a relatively recent one. My guess is that’s tied to its consecration as a secular holiday for even non-football fans–call it Commercial Day–which means that there are millions upon millions of people out there who are expected to celebrate the day, but who don’t give a fig about football, and thus need something to hold their interest during the boring interludes between live-Tweeting their reviews of the horrifyingly misogynist beer advertisements. Food’s the natural choice, there, just as it was for our forebears who discovered that, while Thanksgiving is an entire day on the calendar, the act of giving thanks for stuff really only takes about 42 seconds.

In any event, I suppose I’ve never expected much by way of novelty or innovation or fancypantsness from a Super Bowl spread. I’d like something to eat. I’d like something to drink. If the foodstuff is portable, more the better. If the beverage is alcoholic, I’ll probably take my shirt off. But, part of the equation, surely, is whether I particularly care about the outcome of the game. By the time Super Bowl XLII rolled around in February of 2008, I hated the New England Patriots with the kind of burning intensity usually reserved for race-baiting politicians, murderers of children, and Legos that stab through the sole of my foot in the dark, roast in hell you little fuckers die die die. I needed the Patriots to lose like I need air. Point is, I was far too into the game to have any patience for, say, barbecued ribs, which are messy and require enough attention to at least allow you to see where the meat is before you take your next bite. At the same time, though, I was anxious and fidgety and needed something to do with my hands and mouth other than gesticulate wildly and screech profanity at Tom Brady, and I’d have eaten the couch cushions had there not been a handy bag of salty pretzels for me to give myself heart disease with.

So, um… that’s the answer? It depends? Portable food, abundant drink, and, um, a game I care about?  Sure. That’s sounds great.

AB: Not for nothing, but my answers might get shorter from here: my eyeballs melted and ran in rivulets down the front of my face when Spilly called me a foodie.  I’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU SPILLY

Spilly: To be fair, a foodie to me is: “Someone who eats food that does not contain a petroleum product.”

AB: YOU SAYIN’ I DON’T DRINK GASOLINE.

Spilly: YEAH I’M SAYIN THAT. LET’S PROVE IT BY LIGHTING OURSELVES ON FIRE. THE FIRST TO COMPLETELY BURN WINS.

SS: Please. The last thing I should ever be called is a “foodie” person. I picked the “Football Foodie” name for the column six years ago because the f-word was considered bad as a sort of joke and because I’m hacky enough to enjoy alliteration.

Spilly: (You don’t need to include this, but it’s a fun aside story)

I won a contest for tickets to Steelers / Broncos in Denver this year, and it was the BIG FANCY seats with all the Important People, etc. (Franco Harris was in our box) They had executive chefs carving up filets and passing them out. Gorgeous salads, ice sculptures, seafood, and none of it was easily transportable to the actual seats and could be eaten with anything less than a full set of cutlery. I ate exactly none of it because I was watching the game the entire time, and I didn’t feel like going over a wine list when there’s FOOBAW literally right outside.

SS: Did you wear your Broncos hat?

Spilly: I did. I was also on the Jumbotron for winning the contest. Spillygirl is a Steelers fan so. uh. Yeah hey the Broncos won!

SS: Box seats are weird because there are all these food options, most of them good, but then you have to sit at those weird tables in the back. We’re all agreed though the best stadium food is just the plain nachos but you ask the nacho person to put the melted cheese and salsa in the same side container.

Albert, you’re a parent. Do kids change how you plan for a Super Bowl gathering at home or going to one?

AB: True story: For several years after my wife and I got together, but before we became parents, we didn’t have TV at all (poor!), so our standard Super Bowl move was to visit people who did. We got TV right around the same time we had our first kid, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint whether the fact that we’re housebound on Super Bowl Sunday is more because our kids immobilize us or because we have the option of a less nomadic experience. I’m sure it’s some combination of the two: however much we might like to go watch the game somewhere else where other people are responsible for cleaning up my upchucked beer and hot wings, the damn thing doesn’t even start until bath-time, so bringing the kids with us isn’t really a plausible course of action. When they get older they’ll be more able to come along to a festivity that lasts late into the night, which means I’ll have to come up with another excuse for being a hermit.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I will be watching at home. Which, because it means I will also be responsible for cleaning up any messes made by any drunken debauchery of the preparation of any bountiful spread of exotic Super Bowl foodstuffs, also means that we will be dining on salted cashews out of a can and drinking tap water from our cupped hands.

SS: It’s funny, the game starting at 3:30 PT makes so much more sense now that you’ve mentioned bath time. I’d be fine if it moved to closer to 1 or 2 PT so the East Coast could have a more manageable start time since it is a Sunday. (This however does not mean I have softened my belief that Monday Night Football should return to its 9:15 ET/6:15 PT kickoff.) Your Super Bowl with young kids sounds very much like a New Year’s Eve with kids.

AB: I’m happy to have the game start late enough that I can make a token effort at getting my kids to eat a fresh, nutritious dinner before giving up and just letting them gorge themselves on Super Bowl junk food until they fall asleep with their upper bodies burrowed deep inside Doritos bags.

Spilly: Given my reputation for punching delicious ingredients in the face with Sriracha and Tang, I don’t think there’s any food out there that people would be abhorred to find out I enjoy. Perhaps a tasteful and sensible vegetable platter.

If I had to pick one that people bag on a lot, it’d probably be Taco Bell. No one wants to actually admit they eat Taco Bell at any time before 11:30pm. There are reasons for this: The meat isn’t actually meat, the toppings are laughably pitiful, and the after-effects are the stuff of legend. Sometimes, though, all you have three dollars in a change cup and all self-respect and culinary dignity is out the window.

SS: Would you bring a box of Taco Bell tacos to a party though?

Spilly: It works in the ads right? Look how happy they are!

No. To be fair, my friends would at first be relieved because what I was bringing was, in fact, edible and not homemade. My friends have exceedingly low standards for me.

SS: Have you ever brought Spilly Food (TM) to a party?

Spilly: Nope – Spillyfood is like the nuclear deterrent. Everyone is nice to me at parties or else they get Worcestershire Cupcakes next time.

SS: So we got a legit question on Twitter from @ecalof: What’s the best way to prepare chicken wings for optimal footballish consumption.

Personally, I think wings are a lot of work at home for little reward, which is why I make Buffalo Chicken Dip instead of wings, or a dozen other Buffalo chicken-related items. Pasta salad, wraps, wontons, pierogies. If you are going to make wings at home, don’t mess around and bake them no matter how high the heat, you’re going to get gummy wings. Fry them.

AB: Yeah, I agree with all of that.  Really, I kinda don’t recommend people ever make wings, for exactly the reason you said, and because I just generally think deep frying is a huge annoying pain in the ass. I do enjoy eating wings, but there’s a simple pseudo-math involved in the decision to cook them yourself: the difference in tastiness between the kind you make at home and the kind you get with a friggin’ delivery pizza is this big: [  ]; the difference in labor between the two is this big: [                                   ]. Do it if you want the sense of accomplishment that comes from having learned how to do it, and if you’re gonna, do ‘em right: deep fry ‘em, make your own sauce, whip up your own dressing. Odds are, it’ll be a long time before you ever feel that urge again.

Spilly: I have, of course, never made wings because the labor involved is astronomical. I don’t even like real wings that much – eating them is so much work for such little payoff. If I want hot sauce I’ll drink a bottle of hot sauce with a straw. Why not just skip the middleman?

SS: Any last football food thoughts before we send everyone into the wild for this weekend? Last chance to use sports as an eating event until fall.

AB: That’s what YOU think. Wait until my NBA Finals piece about how to feed yourself through a seven-game series with nothing more than a spoon and a single tub of sour cream!

Spilly: Cherish this weekend, because by April you’ll think it’s a good idea to host an NFL Draft party. By the 5th round the only thing left in the house to eat will be a pack of Dunkaroos eligible for a learner’s permit and half a case of grape Little Hugs. Only then will you realize there’s still 4 months until football.