On the football field, the Super Bowl pits the power of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the finesse of the Seattle Seahawks. But at the table, the matchups are the overstuffed Primanti Brothers sandwich against the piquant Seafood Chili of the Pike Place Market; Iron City beer against Pyramid India Pale Ale; Klondike ice cream bars vs. Fran's Gold Bars. In short, good eats vs. zesty cuisine.
That is how this Sunday looks to this observer. When I thought of Pittsburgh, the word subtle did not spring to mind. The word substantial - as in put some substantial fries on that - did. Ketchup might be Pittsburgh's favorite vegetable.
In Pittsburgh, I learned, the sandwich rules - and a huge one at the top of the heap is the Primanti Brothers sandwich. First made in 1933 for guys working the late shift in the city's produce district, the sandwich is served at a dozen or so Primanti Brothers restaurants scattered throughout the Pittsburgh area.
It is a towering combination of grilled meat, melted cheese, french fries, coleslaw and a couple of tomato slices. There are 17 versions of the sandwich, depending on the type of meat used, Marc Teklinski, director of Primanti, told me over the phone.
Putting a fried egg in the sandwich is optional, but using thick Italian bread is a must, he said. Dainty, it is not. "It is food made for guys who work with their hands," he said. "You eat it with one hand and you are working with the other." It costs about $5.
The huge sandwich is popular, he said, with former residents who want a taste of their old hometown. "We hear it all the time," Teklinski told me: "`I just got off the plane and came straight here to have a sandwich.'"
There are also at least three sandwiches in town named after Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback. But these are come-lately sandwiches, according to Marlene Parrish, a "born and bred" native, who has raised three grown sons, all Steelers fans. She also writes about food for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Parrish said her relatives came to the Pittsburgh area from Slovenia many years ago to work in the coal mines and the steel mills.
She gave me a quick rundown of classic Pittsburgh fare. It included "chipped ham," which she described as a "Spam-like" creation sliced very thin and "piled a foot high on bread that is more akin to Wonder Bread than anything artisanal." It is served with a sauce made with Heinz pickle relish, Heinz ketchup and Heinz chili sauce.
The H.J. Heinz Co. is based in Pittsburgh. The Steelers play in Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Symphony plays in Heinz Hall, and Heinz ketchup, Parrish said, "is our mother sauce."
Dessert, she went on to explain, means a Klondike ice cream bar or a Clark candy bar, both invented in Pittsburgh.
Mention Seattle, and I think of flying fish. I called the Pike Place Fish Market, where, in a display of showmanship, merchants regularly throw whole fish at one another.
Samuel Samson, their assistant manager, reported that the king salmon, which are in season, were flying out of the place. "They sell even at 20 bucks a pound ... hundred bucks a fish because people here know their seafood," Samson told me.
So Seattle is very much a food town - but not so much a town for traditional football fare, at least compared with Pittsburgh.
When I asked Seattle restaurateur Benjamin Hodgetts for a local equivalent to Pittsburgh's overstuffed sandwich, he quickly replied: "cedar-smoked salmon."
Another Seattle favorite is seafood paella, made with mussels and clams, he said. On the sauce front, locally grown mushrooms dominate. Fran's Gold Bar, a hunk of chocolate laced with macadamia nuts, is a dessert with local roots. (Full disclosure: During one chocolate-tasting session in Seattle I became so enamored of the product that I forgot I was married and proposed to creator Fran Bigelow, who turned me down.)
Whether they were fond of salmon or chocolate, the Seahawk fans I talked to were zealous. They also were convinced that they were getting "no respect" from East Coast sportswriters who are predicting a Steeler romp.
Just as their young, forward-thinking city has surprised traditionalists with its computer wizardry, so too their football team, the Seahawks fans predicted, is going to surprise some folks Sunday.
And they're planning on following the game in their own way as they eat their brand of cuisine.
Hodgetts, 32, is general manager of the Alibi Room, a restaurant and dance club founded by filmmakers. Its walls, he said, are decorated with film scripts, including one for Good Will Hunting.
Normally, there is no television blaring in the establishment, he said. "We are not that kind of place." But on Super Bowl Sunday, Hodgetts said, he plans to carry a small set into the club and discreetly watch the game.
At Joe Bar, a 25-seat cafe known - according to reviews on its Web site - for its killer soy mocha, its goat-cheese crepe and its artfully selected Belgian ales, the game will be broadcast on radio.