A look at the nation's top cuisine, college football style
On multiple occasions, I've told my boss that I'm only killing time at SI.com until Alan Richman retires and GQ starts looking for a new food critic. After all, I only became a sportswriter for the chance to eat my way through college towns across the country. That's why my colleagues and I have put together SI.com's Gridiron Cuisine Top 20, a list of the top meals -- liquid and solid -- for college football fans.
1. Alabama (Archibald's and Dreamland Barbecue): Fans of Archibald's and Dreamland are about as passionate about their ribs as supporters of the Alabama and Auburn football teams. But there's no need to fight like Elephants and Tigers; just play the Iron Stomach Bowl and eat one for lunch and the other for dinner. Or, as the Rammer-Jammer-Yellowhammer side of my family calls those meals, dinner and supper. Archibald's, about three miles from campus across the Black Warrior River in Northport, Ala., looks as if someone turned a modest house into a monster barbecue pit with a counter and five stools -- which is pretty much what happened. The pork spare ribs come out thick and juicy with just enough crust, and the ultra-thin, vinegar-based sauce is perfect for sopping up with the only side dish Archibald's serves, white bread. Dreamland, meanwhile, has multiple locations, a fancy Web site and a booming mail-order business, but the true aficionados will tell you that the ribs just taste better at the original location off Jug Factory Road, about five miles from Bryant-Denny Stadium. You get the same ribs-and-white-bread treatment there, and the highly addictive sauce -- not-too-sweet, not-too-tangy -- will cure more ailments than Robitussin. Also, you can pay with a credit card and wash it down with banana pudding.
2. Wisconsin (Wando's): Every Tuesday night, this joint on University Avenue in Madison sells Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bud Light drafts for buck and gives away free, all-you-can-eat bacon. Yes, you read that correctly. FREE BACON. This might be the most delicious reason why the terrorists hate us.
3. Notre Dame (C.J.'s Pub): Even getting crushed by the building next door couldn't stop the nation's finest purveyor of cheeseburgers. In January 2005, a demolition project gone wrong caused a six-story building to collapse on C.J.'s. After the accident, the poor students of South Bend went eight months without those thick, juicy, flawlessly seasoned hunks of beef. Undaunted, C.J.s reopened just in time for Notre Dame's first home game of the 2005 season. The mural on the library isn't of Jesus signaling a touchdown. He's actually approximating the size of C.J.'s massive Golden Domer burger.
4. Texas (Cisco's Bakery): SI reporter Elizabeth McGarr, a UT alum, recommends getting to Cisco's on Sixth Street early for to-die-for biscuits, because they will run out if your hangover keeps you in bed. Order the migas, a Mexican dish consisting of eggs, tortillas, tomatoes, onions and cheese. The sausage on the side is best stuffed into a biscuit. Longhorns coach Darrell Royal used to bring his staff to Cisco's for Sunday breakfasts. Legend has it that Willie Nelson also used to fight the munchies there.
5. Santa Rosa Junior College (The French Laundry): The Bear Cubs wouldn't stand a chance against the other teams on this list, but their campus is 19 miles from a Yountville, Calif., restaurant that is one of the world's best. The French Laundry is one of only a handful of American restaurants to receive three Michelin stars. Coincidentally, during my last trip to Archibald's, I think I saw three abandoned Michelin tires near the parking lot. Several influential critics have argued that The French Laundry's fare might be the best in the U.S. Those critics probably haven't eaten free bacon at Wando's, but if you're hungry and have $500 burning a hole in your pocket, a nine-course tasting menu featuring organic produce and locally raised lamb would hit the spot.
6. LSU (Area Surrounding Tiger Stadium): Call it Cajun ingenuity, but the tailgaters at LSU can make any manner of delicious treats using a Hibachi, a can of Sterno and a stock pot. Wander around the Baton Rouge, La., campus before a game, and the hospitable -- as long as you're not wearing an Alabama jersey -- natives will offer you fresh gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee or fried gator tail. What makes them so generous? Some of them started drinking on Tuesday.
7. Michigan (Zingerman's Delicatessen): Hungry Wolverines order the fresser size (Yiddish for "big eater") instead of the nosher at a deli renowned for its fresh meats and cheeses and perfect sandwiches. Order a sandwich that features the free-range Amish chicken, or pick the corned beef -- the No. 13 Sherman's Sure Choice and the No. 81 Oswald's Mile High have it front and center -- which was named best in show at a New York taste test judged by celebrity chef Mario Batali and critic Jeffrey Steingarten.
8. Memphis (The Arcade, Corky's, Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous): The Liberty Bowl is a dump, so instead of watching the Tigers play, just eat all day. Eat the King's favorite breakfast of sweet potato pancakes at the Arcade. Now that you look like the fat Elvis, go to Corky's on Poplar Avenue for a lunch of dry-rubbed ribs. For dinner, head back downtown, duck in an alley across the street from the Peabody Hotel and see how the dry-rubbed goodness at theRendezvous compares to what you just ate at Corky's. You'll hurt afterward, but at least you didn't spend four hours watching Memphis-UAB.
9. Boston College (Eagles Deli): SI.com's Kevin Armstrong, a BC grad, recommends the home of the Reilly Burger. For $25, you can chow down on an offensive lineman-sized meal of a three-pound burger with 12 slices of cheese, 12 slices of bacon and five pounds of fries. Those who prefer a more generous portion can order the Eagle's Challenge Burger, a five-pound beast with 20 slices of cheese, 20 slices of bacon, five pounds of fries and half a sour dill pickle. The cost? Fifty bucks. Angioplasty not included.
10. Florida (Satchel's Pizza): Gainesville purists will scoff and suggest longtime stalwart Burrito Brothers, but BB lost some of its charm when it moved a few blocks to a location that didn't smell like a mix of refried beans and old sweatsocks. Satchel's only opened in 2003, but you know a place is special when folks will drive to the middle of nowhere, peruse the attached junk shop while waiting two hours for a table on a Friday night, and then, if they're really lucky, wait another 45 minutes for one of the few deep dish pizzas Satch makes each day. The New York-style is delicious, but the deep dish is transcendent. When one of the buttery-crusted behemoths leaves the kitchen, every head turns. The menu recommends at least four toppings, but trust me, all you need is bacon, meatball and that glorious spicy tomato sauce.