Super Bowl (Food) Matchups: Crab vs. Cabernet

Whoever wins the game on Feb 3, gourmands have to like the spread—and I don't mean the point spread. I mean the beer, wine and food spread suggested by the two home cities, Baltimore and San Francisco. Here are some ideas from all-pro Jersey chefs and wine experts.

Beer is the unofficial official beverage of the NFL, and both Baltimore (home of the AFC-champ Ravens) and San Francisco (home of the NFC-champ 49ers*) are solid craft beer towns.

[*As an aisde, the 49ers and the Philadelphia 76ers may be the only pro teams who don’t get to have a capital letter in their name, poor dears.]

Maryland and Baltimore have lots of microbreweries and brewpubs, but the one commonly available in Jersey is Flying Dog, and their beers are nationally known.

California is a beer hall of fame. San Francisco is well known for Anchor Steam Beer, also widely available. But it’s just one of 25 breweries or brewpubs listed for San Francisco at beeradvocate.com.

The crab cakes of Baltimore, not to mention the steamed crabs sticky with Old Bay seasoning, are world class. (Then there’s crab soup and crab fluff.) But Babe Ruth’s hometown, where Johnny Unitas found football fame, is a heavy underdog when it comes to wine.

Sharon Sevrens, owner of Amanti Vino in Montclair, says, "We’ll certainly be drinking lots of California wine" at the annual friends-and-family Super Bowl party she throws with her friend Ariane Duarte, chef/co-owner of CulinAriane in Montclair.

Sevrens says she likes to serve wine in BIG bottles, only partly because, well, everything on Super Bowl Sunday should be big. She likes the way big bottles age–slower than regular size ones. She likes to serve double magnums (3 liters, equal to four normal bottles) and jeroboams (4.5 liters, equal to six bottles).

But when it comes to food, Sevrens and Duarte think small.

“Finger food, one-bite dishes, are best for people who are busy watching the game and socializing,” Sevrens says. “Put food out in stages so people can come in, graze, refill plates and go back.”

At the gathering, the kids have a whole room and TV to themselves, while the adults enjoy beer and wine related to the two teams. Although Sevrens is the wine pro, she’s in charge of the party menu, which includes a guest-driven potluck element. Duarte this year is making venison chili–perhaps she thinks either the Ravens or the 49ers will wind up looking like deer in the headlights.

Executive Chef Bill Zucosky, of the Westminster Hotel in Livingston and its upscale steak restaurant, Strip House, also likes finger-food for Super Bowl parties.

“It’s a game, people, not a sit-down dinner!" he says. "But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and totally blow your guests’ minds [with] foods like mini-Cuban sandwiches, mini-cheeseburgers, mini-cheese steaks, personal pizzas, baby back ribs, Buffalo wings, hot dogs, a taco bar, empanadas, shish kabobs, and lobster corn dogs. The more the better!”

Zucosky notes that there is a third location foodies can always reference, and for Super Bowl XVLII it’s a darn good one.

“This year, the game is being held in New Orleans," he says. "This makes cocktail pairing easy; Sazerac, New Orleans Fizz, and don’t forget the Hurricane,” a mix of rum, amaretto and passion fruit juice. “If you’re serving it in these parts … float a half ounce of 151 Rum on top and call it a "Sandy!" he jokes. (see recipe below.)

With so many choices, chef Chris Siversen and Jette Starniri of Maritime Parc in Jersey City concur that changing the food throughout the party is the way to go. “Don’t put it all out at once or the party will be lame,” says Starniri, VP of operations.

Although “it’s more about the savory, not the sweet,” Starniri recommends a finale of desserts like “mini-cupcakes in team colors with funfetti filling, football brownie bites, team-colored cookies.”

"Beginning of the fourth quarter is a great time to put out sweets and desserts," Starniri says. "A little sugar rush to get both teams through the cheers and tears of the game. It’s a good idea to keep the savory food out during this time as well. People always tend to look for a last minute taste of the day."

The Maritime Parc pair also suggest a fun way to amp up the festivities. (Well, you decide how much fun it would or wouldn’t be.)

When one team scores, fans of the opposing team have to do something—like "take a drink, serve the others, wear something silly until the next score," Starniri says. "One outside-the-box idea is to have face paints." Every time one team scores, fans of the scoring team get to mark the faces of the other fans with the scoring team’s colors. "By the end of the game, the losing fans are tagged with the colors of the winners.”

For employees of the West Orange nightclub 4Sixty6 and its new addition, Sam Mickail’s CUT Steakhouse, Super Bowl Sunday is special for a different reason.

All year they wait on customers. On Super Bowl Sunday, the restaurant closes and the owners put on a party for the employees and their families. In fact, owners Ralph Cestone and Sam Mickail go the extra yard, as they say in football.

"Me and Ralph," says Mickail, "we serve the maintenance guys and busboys ourselves. We bring out the food. We’re happy to do it,"

Their game plan is built around, yup, finger food.

At this 4th annual event, designed to thank the staff for their hard work, a 250-inch HD projection system will be set-up for the game, and Mickail will cook Buffalo wings, chicken fingers, fries, sliders and mac-n-cheese nuggets (made by adding flour, eggs, red pepper and jalapeño to mac and cheese, and dunking scoopfuls into tempura batter before deep-frying).

New Orleans Hurricane Cocktail
From Chef Bill Zucosky, Strip House at the Westminster Hotel, Livingston

1 oz Amaretto
2 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
2 oz passion fruit juice
1/2 oz grenadine
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 tb simple syrup

Combine everything in a shaker with ice and shake well. Pour through a strainer into a hurricane glass filled halfway with ice.

Garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherry.

If you would rather leave cooking and clean-up to professionals, consider the following:

Hell’s Kitchen Lounge – Newark –- cheap snacks and buckets of beer

Miami Mike’s Sports Zone – East Hanover – five screens, stereo sound, prizes and giveaways

NJ Bar & Grill – Mine Hill – menu specials throughout the game

O’Reilly’s Bar & Grill – Maplewood – 20 screens

The Downtown – Red Bank – drink and menu specials

Village Pourhouse – Hoboken – more than 100 beers

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