Actually, this question came to us as your basic "who will win the Super Bowl" sort of thing, presumably hoping for some insight from our crew's most recent has-been athlete. (See photo).
But we're charged with covering the food scene. And since an incident last week--of which we have no recollection but involved alleged calls made from our editor's phone--left us with plenty of time (being barred from alcoholic excursions until we pay for the goods and, more importantly, "services" delivered to said editor), we decided to replay the entire NFL post season.
Our playoff system, however, pits dish against dish: something representative of each competing city with the winner determined by, well, our own personal tastes. So...
Let's dispense with any artificial suspense and just explain that in a food-driven world, Baltimore and Carolina would play on Sunday. Real-life Super Bowl squads Arizona and Pittsburgh dropped from contention early on.
How did we figure?
Wild Card Round
In the NFC wild card opener, Atlanta (fried chicken and iced tea) crushed the Cardinals (represented by the chimichanga and bottles of Arizona tea). Argue if you wish, but perfect Southern fried chicken has it all: crisp and juicy, some pepper, a little tangy buttermilk, the faint rush of brine...There's something magical about the Southern classics: collard greens, poke salat, fried catfish, hush puppies, cracklings, cornbread laced with cracklings, all things pork and fried chicken. Unfortunately, professional kitchens tend to shortcut the brining/double-dipping process and then compensate with salt, so its a rare find in Dallas. We figured sweet tea matched better than Atlanta's own Coke--besides, it counters the mass produced product bearing Arizona's name. Oh, and if the chimichanga seems like an odd choice, keep in mind the fried burrito was, according to legend, invented in Phoenix.
Meanwhile Philadelphia (scrapple and brown liquor from a flask) topped Minnesota (fried walleye and whatever the hell they drink up there...something warm, we imagine, or aquavit). Scrapple is a hearty and aptly named dish--made from leftover scraps of pig mixed into a porridge and fried. Let's face it, there are fewer bones in scrapple--and it's pretty useful in the early morning hours.
Over in the AFC, Baltimore (crabcakes and beer) easily handled Miami (Cuban sandwiches and mojitos). Whatever you're about to say in defense of the Cuban sandwich, keep in mind the bold yet delicate beauty that is a Maryland crabcake. And then bid Miami farewell.
Indianapolis (fried pork tenderloin and Bud Light) plowed the prissy San Diego Chargers (California rolls and very expensive, brand name water). Indiana's state dish can be traced back to the wave of German settlers, who moved into land grant states following the War of 1812 and began adapting native recipes to local conditions. The same thing occurred in Texas, by the way. Both the chicken fried steak and the pork tenderloin are based on central Europe's Wienerschnitzel. So based on heritage alone, advantage Indy.
So Atlanta moves on to battle the Giants (New York-style pizza and an overpriced drink). C'mon: fried chicken, maybe a bowl of grits on the side? Atlanta cruises, mainly because the New Yorkers are so busy swabbing grease from their floppy wedges of pizza. Yes, we know this particular style of pie has a great many fans. It's part of the city--appropriately brazen, dripping and bold in flavor, versatile and filling, but no match for chicken fried just the right way. To be honest, though, the Giants started off well--until we imagined swaying along the sidewalks of the big city munching on pizza a la Travolta...with a garbage strike in progress.
Philadelphia falls to the Carolina Panthers (pulled pork barbecue and moonshine). No competition. There's really nothing like the rich, tart, sweet, smoky combination that is Carolina's finest. Even gooey white Wonder Bread seems like a delicacy when slathered in this stuff. And with the harsh claws of 'shine stripping your palate bare between bites, it never grows old.
In the AFC, Baltimore squeaks by Tennessee (fried pies and, of course, moonshine). As much as we enjoy cleansing our esophagus's...esophogi...with barely filtered liquor and eating deep fried snacks (we even like other Tennessee staples, such as hominy) great crabcakes can be haunting. Anyway, pan seared can be just as fulfilling as deep fried.
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Indianapolis and Pittsburgh (pierogies and Iron City beer)...well, we were tempted to call this a draw. The Steel City drew immigrants from Eastern and Central European to work in the mills and they brought along peasant favorites, hefty staples such as pierogies. Hell, we'll even indulge in a Lithuanian favorite known as zeppelins--so called for the shape...and weight of potato dough, a meat filling and sauce of bacon fat and sour cream. Unfortunately, the Steelers faltered late thanks to their choice of brews. Not that we drink Bud Light, except under duress. But IC? Indianapolis wins.
So, pulled pork against fried chicken, crabcakes squaring off against tenderloin...Well, the latter is a relatively easy pick. Sorry, Colts. Shoulda stayed in your old hometown.
But two Southern favorites...geez. We sided with Carolina, largely because iced tea lacks the alcoholic content necessary for a balanced diet.
Which sends Baltimore and Carolina to the Super Bowl. Crabcakes and beer, pulled pork and 'shine--now that's a tough call.