Bowl fans take sides even in the kitchen

January 28, 2004|By ROB KASPER

ON THE FOOTBALL field in Houston, it will be the New England Patriots versus the Carolina Panthers. But in the kitchens of America, it will be lobster versus pig, "stuffies" versus Brunswick stew, Indian pudding versus banana pudding.

That is how the battle of the buffet, the war of regional foods, the bragging rights over whose Super Bowl spread tastes better, shapes up for this Sunday.

To whet my appetite for the Super Bowl, which, as all serious eaters know, is among the biggest chow-down days of the year, I telephoned a few cooks and chefs in Charlotte, N.C., and Boston. These were fellows with deep roots in their communities and strong passions about their victuals.

In addition to colorful language - Charlottean Bill Spoon's soliloquy on how the flesh of a properly barbecued pig should never touch a tomato and Bostonian Jasper White's description of a lobster as a creature that emerged, not from the briny deep, but from the kitchens of heavens - these conversations also produced a list of dishes that home cooks could fix to represent the Super Bowl team they are rooting for.

Taking a clue from reality TV shows, I also couldn't resist asking these guys to come up with some loser fare - items such as boiled okra or lobster livers that losers would have a hard time getting down if they happened to be on the wrong end of a friendly wager.

To hear Spoon tell it, the only main dish that a real Carolinian would want to eat on a Sunday, especially this one, would be barbecued pork. And, he said, the only way to barbecue a pig is to cook the whole hog over a low and slow fire, basted with a mixture of apple-cider vinegar, salt, and red and black pepper. Anything else, he said, would be heresy, at least to the true believers in the eastern Carolina style of barbecue who frequent his family-run, lunch-only restaurant, Bill Spoon's Barbecue, on South Bond Street in Charlotte.

Spoon has been barbecuing whole pigs dressed in little more than vinegar and spices for the past 40 years. He did allow that a few years back he switched his firebox from a pit fueled with hickory logs to an electric cooker used in conjunction with a hickory smoker.

The proper side dishes to serve with east Carolina barbecue, Spoon said, are coleslaw (his is yellow, made with mustard and mayonnaise), baked beans sweetened with brown sugar, hush puppies made on the premises and cooked in hot peanut oil, and banana pudding for dessert.

Brunswick stew is another dish that Carolinians are proud to claim and happy to eat, said Todd Townsend, who runs a catering operation, Townsend's Gourmet Cuisine Ltd. in Charlotte.

The stew is a mixture of vegetables and meats; precisely which meats is a matter of some discussion. The dish, which hails from rural North Carolina, lost some of its backwoods ingredients as it moved into urban areas, according to food historians. For instance, Townsend said, the version of Brunswick stew he will serve at Super Bowl parties around Charlotte this weekend will be "squirrel-free."

Breaking a bit with tradition, the coleslaw Townsend serves will be "mayonnaise--free." He uses ketchup instead, explaining that this red slaw fits in with the guidelines of the low-carb diets that many of his customers are trying to follow.

Meanwhile, up in Boston, White said he was confident that New England's lobster roll would show well against North Carolina's pulled pork in a "sandwich-versus-sandwich" Sunday-buffet matchup. An authentic lobster roll, made with cooked lobster, diced cucumber, scallions and mayonnaise, must be served on a New England-style hot-dog bun that has its ends sliced off, he said.

White, who runs Summer Shack restaurants in Cambridge, Mass., and in Mohegan, Conn., said shellfish are popular in New England, especially "stuffies." These, he said, are quahog clams that have been steamed, chopped, mixed with bread and minced vegetables, then stuffed back in their shells and baked.

A stuffie eater also would enjoy a side of New England-style baked beans, made with large yellow-eye beans, flavored with molasses, maple syrup and salt pork, and baked for six to eight hours at 250 degrees. Indian pudding would make the perfect dessert.

Boston's favorite breakfast dish is turkey hash, said Arthur Mangourides, whose family has run Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe on Columbus Avenue in downtown Boston since 1927. The hash is made with a mixture of turkey, carrots, onions, peas and boiled potatoes, then pan-fried and served with two "dropped" or poached eggs, he said. The turkey hash and New England clam chowder are among the mainstays of the restaurant, he said.

While both the North Carolina and New England contingents predicted victory for their football teams, they also engaged in good-natured attempts to pick a dish that the guys on the other side would have a hard time swallowing if their team lost.

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