The Ultimate Foodie's Guide To College Hoops: Preseason Edition
It's time to break free from concession stand cuisine and try something different
The Carrier Dome has its own charms, but Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is a must visit
Be sure to check out the Tigers, but also stop to savor stellar barbecue in Memphis
Man cannot survive on concession stand food alone. Nor should he. As college basketball season tips off next week, those planning to follow their teams home and away should put down the soggy hot dogs and stale nachos and instead elect to embark on a gustatory adventure.
It's a big country with a lot of gyms. You'll need a full stomach to fully appreciate them all. Follow my advice, and you'll never cheer hungry.
The Wolfpack usually gets the shaft in lists like this in favor of Research Triangle rivals North Carolina and Duke, but not this year. Mark Gottfried's team has point guard Lorenzo Brown, forward C.J. Leslie and a chance to be the best team in the Triangle this season. NC State shares PNC Arena with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, so the Wolfpack may not have to do much sharing this season. Meanwhile, you won't want to share any of the whole hog chopped barbecue covered in a tangy vinegar-based sauce from The Pit in Raleigh. Save room, though. You'll want the carrot cake with molasses frosting and a scoop of bourbon ice cream.
The Carrier Dome has its own charms -- despite its name, air conditioning isn't one, but hey, Syracuse in winter -- and the noise created by Syracuse fans during a big game is far louder than it should be considering the basketball setup doesn't use the entire building. They love their basketball in Syracuse, but they also love their barbecue. While I haven't had the pleasure of a personal visit, the legions of Syracuse grads in the sports media have unanimously sung the praises of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. No other barbecue joint that far north has earned such lavish praise, but great barbecue doesn't have to come from Memphis or Kansas City or Texas or the Carolinas. It just has to be cooked low and slow.
Phog Allen Fieldhouse isn't the only iconic spot in Lawrence. After spending a game working up a hunger and a thirst screaming Rock Chalk Jayhawk, students -- and those who wish they still were -- can walk to The Wagon Wheel (also known as just The Wheel). Want to see how much the clientele at The Wheel cares about its college hoops? Just check this video after Kansas beat Ohio State to advance to the national title game.
Georgetown plays most home games downtown in the Verizon Center, but do your pregaming on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House. Walk into Founding Farmers, find a seat at the bar and order some Bacon Lollis to start. Yes. Bacon lollipops. Later, you're having chicken and waffles and drinking something strong. Once fortified, take a short cab ride and watch John Thompson III and the Hoyas take on the Big East.
How Memphis coach Josh Pastner manages to keep his players in such good shape in Barbecue Mecca is beyond me. The tourists are heading to Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous downtown, and if you've never been there, it is a sight to behold. Meanwhile, other lovers of Memphis-style (sauceless, with an extra dusting of dry rub) ribs are dining at Corky's. They take such pride in their sauce at Interstate Barbecue that they even use it in their Bar-B-Q Spaghetti. Meanwhile, I'm still dying to try the smoked Cornish hens at Cozy Corner BBQ.
The Texas basketball team may underachieve annually, but pitmaster Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue never does. The smoker of the best brisket in America draws two- and three-hour lines on a daily basis, and he's usually out of food and closed before the end of what most consider lunchtime. The atmosphere inside the Frank Irwin Center is pretty tame, but the atmosphere in the line at Franklin is anything but. It's a daily party for barbecue pilgrims who come ever earlier to avoid landing behind the last man standing, who likely will also be the last man eating.
If you're going to a Big 5 game, you need to see it the way the good lord intended -- at The Palestra. The venerable old gym on the Penn campus (capacity: 8,722) got its name in 1927 from Greek professor William Bates. Bates spent his life studying the ancient Greeks, who called the rectangular athletic venue attached to the gymnasium a Palestra. If you plan on attending Penn-Villanova on Dec. 8 or Penn-St. Joseph's on Jan. 19, you can also sample the Big 2 of Philly Cheese Steaks. Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks are located 184 feet apart and serve fairly similar products, but people swear by one or the other in a rivalry that has been portrayed as more fierce than the recruiting fights between Big 5 schools. The cheese steak rivalry has been great for business, but it apparently wasn't as heated as it seemed.
A game at Rupp Arena needs no accompaniment. The place packs in 23,000 of the most passionate fans in college basketball, and when the Wildcats go on a run, it sounds as if the roof might pop off. All that yelling can make a person hungry, though. For something unexpected, head to Atomic Café, a Caribbean paradise in the heart of the Bluegrass. Get the jerk chicken and Mama's macaroni and cheese (their mama's, not yours), which uses cheddar and cottage cheese to devastating effect. For a more quintessentially Kentucky meal, try the smoked mutton and a bowl of Burgoo at Billy's Bar-B-Q.
I've never understood how the crowds at the Kohl Center are so lively. When I go to Madison, I usually need a nap after a meal designed to fortify the locals against the cold. When I went to Mickies Dairy Bar earlier this year, students were doing shots of maple syrup while waiting for Scramblers. What's a Scrambler? It's your choice of meat (mine was bacon, of course) mixed with eggs, served atop a bed of hash browns and smothered in gravy. It covers one large plate and could feed one small village. If you're a glutton like me, you'll also order a chocolate shake -- which could be a meal unto itself. Since you'll skip lunch, have a burger and cheese curds for dinner at Dottie Dumpling's Dowry.
Point guard Trey Burke is back for his sophomore season, and expectations are high in Ann Arbor. But while visiting the Wolverines, you have a chance to decide what kind of sandwich defines you. Is it the exquisitely sourced, beautifully presented, overpriced-for-its-size delight at Zingerman's, or is it the holy-cow-I-can't-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing monstrosity at Maize and Blue Deli? If you're bringing a date, go to Zingerman's. The dining experience is undeniably better. The place is a culinary pleasure garden featuring delicious sides (get the jalapeno peaches), ice cream and plenty of goodies to stock up on for the trip home. But if you're simply hungry for a great sandwich, go to Maize and Blue and power down a 16-inch sub the way Michael Phelps did when he trained in Ann Arbor.
For a 12,000-seat arena at a football school, the O'Connell Center gets quite loud. The Gators wisely kept the student section along one side of the court instead of shifting the kids to the baseline, and that decision pays off with a semi-intimidating atmosphere -- during SEC play. Come while Florida's football team is still trying to reach the SEC championship game, and the energy flags. The energy is always up at Satchel's Pizza, the counterculture-friendly joint on the northeast side of town that usually has a two-hour wait on Friday and Saturday nights. Get to Satchel's for lunch or for an early dinner, because you want the deep dish. This isn't like anything you've had in Chicago. It looks like a New York-style pizza was hit with Gamma radiation, got angry and then spent 45 minutes in an oven. Get it with pepperoni, bacon and black olives, and bring cash. Satchel pays his waitresses a living wage, but he doesn't take plastic.
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