Swallow Your Pride

If you can't cheer the teams on Super Bowl Sunday, at least you can take comfort in the food

January 31, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Like a lot of Baltimore Ravens fans, part of me would just as soon forget about this Sunday's Super Bowl. It will be hard to watch the televised game without feeling our team "coulda, shoulda" been there.

Yet we have to accept that the Ravens got beat, 15-6, by the Indianapolis Colts, the team that is favored over the Chicago Bears to win this year's Super Bowl title.

Maybe this weekend will be easier to swallow if we give ourselves a pity party this Sunday, fixing comfort foods that will help us through this difficult time. I bounced this idea off a couple of sorrowful souls after the Ravens had gone down to defeat.

Two of the first were Vince Fava and Mike Popoli. During the football season, Vince would give me a gloomy assessment of the Ravens' chances almost every time I bought olive oil at Trinacria, the Italian grocery on North Paca Street in downtown Baltimore that he presides over. In contrast Mike, his behind-the-counter colleague, glowed with optimism about the team's fortunes as he sliced the prosciutto. I sided with Mike.

After the Ravens had gone down to defeat in the playoffs, Mike was downcast, saying that about the only food that could pull him out of his funk would be a mound of fresh steamed shrimp.

Vince was feeling vindicated. "I told you so," he said, repeatedly. Still I thought I detected a tinge of regret in his voice over what might have been. When I asked Vince for a gastronomic remedy for our gloom, he had a ready answer. "Lasagna and wine," he said. "You eat the lasagna, you drink the wine, you fall asleep, then you are in heaven."

Another downcast Baltimore fan, Randy Kuning, told me he would be relying on food and fellowship - large doses of both - to get him through the Super Bowl. During the season, Kuning and a few fellow engineers at Northrop Grumman gathered for pre-game feeds near M&T Bank Stadium.

They whipped up dishes that were linked to the cities of the opponents of the Ravens. When Buffalo was in town, his crew made Buffalo chicken wings. When the Bengals were here, they cooked Cincinnati-style chili. When the Colts were here, they pounded slices of pork tenderloin, fried them and served them as sandwiches. The tenderloin venture, like the outcome of the Colts game, was disappointing, Kuning said.

As for this weekend, Kuning reported via e-mail that he and his buddies will "try to forget the sad spectacle of traded field goals" by gathering in the club basement of the Baltimore County home of their fellow tailgater Joe Hoffman. Ensconced in knotty-pine bliss and stretched out in front of a high-definition television, Kuning and his crew plan to "eat ourselves silly."

I tried to get into the spirit of this Super Bowl by tracking down dishes that represented Chicago and Indianapolis.

Chicago is known for its Italian beef sandwich, a savory mixture of thinly sliced beef with a topping of marinated vegetables served, with lots of juice, on a soft roll. When I lived in Chicago some years ago, these sandwiches and the town's deep-dish pizzas kept me going during the city's frigid, seemingly unending winters.

While visiting relatives there this past summer, I quickly headed to Johnnie's Beef on West North Avenue in the western Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park. There, I stood in a long line of beef eaters waiting their turn to get their hands on the sloppy sandwich said to be the best in Chicagoland.

I struck up a conversation with the fellow in line in front of me. He, it turned out, was a painting contractor picking up lunch for his crew. He told me he had painted the homes of several Bears players and coaches. I surmised that not only was this sandwich a local favorite, it also was linked to the Monsters of the Midway, or at least to their painters.

Back in Baltimore, I dug up a recipe for the sandwich in Steak Lover's Cookbook, a 1997 paperback written by William Rice when he was food and wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune. I am fond of this book, and I like this recipe. But I have to admit that when I make an Italian beef sandwich, mine does not taste as good as Johnnie's.

As for Indianapolis, I figured that because it was the town where Wonder Bread was born, I would make a bread pudding. The Taggart Baking Co. of Indianapolis gave the nation Wonder Bread in the 1920s. The name of the bread, along with the red, yellow and blue balloons on its package, were the inspiration of company vice president Elmer Cline.

While visiting an international balloon race held at the Indianapolis Speedway, Cline saw a sky filled with colorful balloons, was struck with wonder and applied the name and balloon logo to the bread.

The Wonder Bread Web site, which provided this history, also had several recipes. I looked them over, but preferred my bread pudding recipe. It comes from chef Paul Prudhomme, who is a Cajun, not a Hoosier. But this dish, like Indianapolis, stands up for America's breadbasket.

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