Around here, we take our pre-game celebrations as seriously as we do our sports. From signature cocktails to monogrammed tablecloths, some people stop at nothing to make every match-up memorable. But even if you’re simply ordering takeout and filling a cooler, the goal is the same: serving up a fantastic time for friends and family no matter what the final score may be.
So, we asked local food and entertaining experts for their favorite game-day entertaining hacks: couple-of-ingredient recipes, on-the-way items you can grab and go or festive drinks that make everyone forget that you burned the hamburgers. Their go-to moves will ensure a winning season, if not for your team, for your favorite fans.
BRING BARBECUE AND A BLENDER
Tailgating is a special occasion for Steve Clements because he’s rarely able to leave his restaurant, Finn’s Southern Kitchen, for his own partying on game days.
“Sports and food just go together. And Southern food and our area teams are perfect matches,” he says. Tailgaters stop by Finn’s on their way to the game to stock up on a feast of pulled pork, baby back ribs, potato salad, baked beans and pineapple jalapeño coleslaw, all new items on Finn’s Southern Kitchen menu.
“I think a fun drink is also called for,” he says. “Bring a blender and concoct a bourbon slushy – bourbon, Italian vermouth, simple syrup, bitters and passion fruit syrup.”
BRING BOURBON BALLS
When Samie Buehner, kitchen manager at Sweet Surrender Café and Bakery, tailgates at U of L football games, she’s often asked to bring dessert. “I like to take bourbon balls because they’re bite size and are convenient for transporting. Brownies are always a fine choice too. Having desserts with you is a way to make friends very quickly,” she says.
If you need a sweet treat for your tailgating, Sweet Surrender’s sugar cookies decorated like football jerseys are sure to get everyone in the spirit.
WARM UP WITH ADULT HOT CHOCOLATE
It’s the perfect way to warm up a chilly tailgater. Paul Tuell, founder of Ballotin Whiskey, mixes up a fun, game-day drink called the Benchwarmer using one part Ballotin Chocolate Mint with three parts coffee or hot chocolate. The Bourbon Ball Tailgater Tea combines one part each Ballotin Bourbon Ball, sweet tea and lemonade. Either one will take the chill and the edge off.
“I’m not much of a sports guy, which my wife Lindsay thinks is great, but I have done my share of tailgating and have made plenty of food for Volare customers to take to football games,” says Chef Josh Moore.
His Italian sausage and peppers, meatballs and braised Italian beef with peppers, served on yeast rolls, are popular pick-up and head out to the game dishes. Blood orange/balsamic glazed chicken wings, which were on Volare’s bar menu for a while, is another sure-to-please option.
A bourbon aficionado, he suggests a Makers Mark bourbon and roasted apple pear martini, a delicious seasonal sipper.
SMOKE SOME CORN
“The last four or five times I tailgated, I took a smoker to fix elote,” says Adam Burress, chef at Migo, Hammerheads and Game. “I roll fresh corn in mayo (and sometimes some truffle oil) and hit it with lemon juice and Latin seasoning like adobo. Then cotija or Parmesan cheese on top and a sprinkle of cayenne, paprika and finely chopped cilantro. I line the smoker with the corn in the husks. Peel back the husks and you have an instant handle.”
He’s usually a beer drinker but has hollowed out a watermelon and filled it with strong sangria. “With a couple different red wines, wine, tequila and maybe a little rum, it’s kind of like hooch.”
SPICE IT UP
While a student at UK, Jared Matthews, now the chef/owner of Lou Lou Food + Drink, was an every-game tailgater. “My contributions were jambalaya and gumbo,” he says. The spread also included chicken wings, hot dogs and a one-time crawfish boil.
He and his crew can add a Cajun spin to your tailgating with Lou Lou Food + Drink’s jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, gumbo and shrimp and grits.
Leaving the food up to them will let you concentrate on fixing the perfect Bloody Mary, Matthews’ tailgating kick starter. For beer, he says you can’t go wrong with Abita, a Louisiana beer that goes well with the Cajun food.
DRESS UP YOUR TAKE-OUT.
Couscous salad with mangoes, apples, jalapeños, sun-dried cherries and mango vinaigrette is a tailgating best seller at The Cheddar Box, as are pasta salad and chicken salad. And customers are often sent on their way to the game with platters of turkey and ham to put together sandwiches on the spot.
Many people bring their own serving dishes for us to fill with whatever they order. “They do that so it looks like they made it themselves,” says owner Nancy Tarrant “And I’ll never tell. Am I crazy?”
What Cake Flour’s Claudia Delatorre takes to tailgating depends on the time of day. “If starting early, I like cinnamon rolls or a breakfast sandwich of bacon, egg and a biscuit that’s pretty wonderful, or our Champion sandwich that’s a soufflé with ham, avocado and Cheddar. It’s a mega meal that will keep you going,” she says. For something lighter, she starts with the bakery and café’s Powerhouse, an egg white spinach soufflé with tomato and Havarti cheese.
Afternoon tailgaters make a quick run by Cake Flour for an assortment of cookies, bourbon blondie bars, brownies and the vegan strawberry bar. She says, “I wouldn’t take a delicate dessert but I have had customers request a cake or cupcakes to celebrate a birthday while tailgating.”
“I’m a huge Louisville Cardinals fan and love to tailgate. I sometimes think I get invited to tailgate parties because I end up manning the grill or bring something to eat. So, yes, my friends take advantage of me, but I don’t care,” laughs James Moran, executive chef at Juleps Catering at Sullivan University.
If you want to have the fun of hosting a tailgating party but don’t want the hassles of cooking for it, put Juleps on your speed dial and let Moran have at it with nachos, sliders or maybe a taco bar. Or jazz up your menu by adding Juleps’ smoked pork butt with barbecue sauce, green tomato cucumber leek chow chow, crispy pork skins and heirloom tomato salad topped with Cajun charred shrimp cocktail and spicy remoulade.
PUT PIZZA ON THE GRILL.. AND ICE CREAM ON YOUR COOKIES.
Lindsay Hankins, chef at Kevin’s PICNIC, sets off for a day of U of L tailgating with her mom, dad, sister, husband, sister-in-law and children, J.P. and Jadyn. It’s a family affair of food and good times. She cooks brats in beer before she finishes them on the grill with sautéed onions and peppers. I don’t mind the time it takes to make the brats because they’re so worth it,” she says. Her go-to fare also includes potato salad and grilled flatbread pizza that’s made with buffalo wings, blue cheese and celery.
“I spent 18 years perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I always take them. They’re delicious on their own but putting Comfy Cow bourbon ball ice cream between two cookies makes an amazing ice cream sandwich,” says Hankins.
She and her PICNIC staff are ready to tackle any tailgating event with salads, sandwiches and desserts. The Bear’s Basket has a little of a lot – sandwiches, sides and sweets.
DON’T FORGET THE VEGETARIANS.
“I always enjoy bringing out my favorite cozy blankets, portable chairs and this year will add a YETI to keep the cold drinks cold,” says Anoosh Shariat, chef-owner of Noosh Nosh. “My motto is ‘Eat Well, Love Life!’” His go-to tailgating dish? His sweet and spicy chicken wings (a favorite take-out item on the menu) with honey Sriracha sauce. A vegetarian himself, he always brings a charred eggplant dip with pita bread or a margherita pizza which even meat-lovers devour.
And he never forgets the cocktails. His game day go-to is a Kentucky Bucks with bourton, strawberry and ginger beer. A vegetarian himself, he always brings a charred eggplant dip with pita bread or a margherita pizza which even meat-lovers devour.