Game On -- Down Home With the Neelys: "First and Ten" and "Game Night"

Gina and Pat Neely
Gina and Pat Neely
Food Network

It almost risks redundancy for the 1,000-kilowatt cooking couple of Gina and Pat Neely to do any kind of Super Bowl-related show. Since, by all outward appearances, each of their cooking shows seems choreographed to climax with a whoopin' and hollerin' game-style party involving friends and family members too numerous to keep straight.

But for the Neelys, the upcoming big game gives them all the excuse they need to trot out a slew of Memphis-flavored (read, barbecue) mains and sides -- many of them based on recipes from their Memphis-based restaurant.

In this week's two, big-game-themed shows ("First and Ten," and "Game Night") the Neelys managed to squeeze in a staggering total of 10 dishes, from homemade pita chips, to a five-hour smoked and slow-cooked, pork-butt -- the star of their super-sized nacho plate. And they did it all while maintaining their reputation as Food Network's most laugh-happy, and lovin' cooking couple.

Since the Neelys were cooking for an expected crowd of game watchers, they brought their own A-game of kitchen choreography. That boils down to wherever the gregarious Gina goes -- from the fridge to the stove to the cooking island -- so goes her lovingly doting husband, Pat.

Incredibly, though the couple spends an inordinate amount of time slathering each other with "y'alls," among countless other Southern-fried endearments (I particularly like, "fire it up, Mama") -- not to mention the childlike moment when Pat hikes an onion to Gina -- their cooking pace never once flags.

With the Neely's natural Southern accent so thick it makes Paula Deen sound like she could work for the BBC, this irresistibly fun-loving couple uses "game day" cooking as an excuse to inject even more of the South into their menu. No surprise, then, when that football-watching dreary regular of artichoke dip is combined with collard greens, along with Parmesan and cheddar cheeses, the result is a much earthier, more complex pass-around appetizer.

The Neelys are disarmingly dexterous, and highly cooperative, home cooks, with their restaurant-honed ability to dispatch a few red onions and garlic cloves with remarkable speed -- all the while blathering on in that sugary way of a still-infatuated couple. They enjoy huddling over the same pot, sharing whisking duties, or dividing the tedium of rolling patties into their Memphis burgers -- each carrying the surprising accent of a basil leaf.

Even more remarkable is this cooking couple's ability to inter-cut little bits of useful advice during their constant stream of Neelyisms. Gina interrupts herself long enough to offer a great demonstration of suffusing olive oil with garlic cloves, while Pat stops joshing in time to show off his use of miniature hickory wood shavings in order to smoke meats on any kitchen stove.

Ultimately, the Neely's big game-based shows never stray too far from Down Home's domestic flow-chart where Gina Neely is the nucleus around which Pat orbits. At the end of the "First and Ten" broadcast, Gina is the one directing her boys on how much vodka, beer, club soda and crushed limes to put in her special vat of Super Bowl Punch. Gina may be leading a cheer of "team work, team work" but one thing is clear: As a force of feminist nature, in the Down Home With the Neelys kitchen anyway, Gina's the one with all kinds of game.

(Down Home With the Neelys: "First and Ten" rebroadcast on February 8 at 10 a.m.; "Game Night" rebroadcast on February 9, 10 a.m. on the Food Network).

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