Super Bowl LIV kicks off Sunday, Feb. 2, in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, minus its home team, the Miami Dolphins. No team in the final contest has ever played a Super Bowl game on its home field. The Dolphins have not actually been to the Super Bowl since Jan. 20, 1985, when they were beaten by — oh snap — the San Francisco 49ers, who are playing in the 54th Super Bowl, against AFC champions the Kansas City Chiefs.
Enough of the field stats. What about the food? According to virtually every Google search on the topic, only Thanksgiving beats Super Bowl Sunday when it comes to America’s capacity to consume ginormous quantities in a single day.
In the Super Bowl Food Hall of Fame are sub sandwiches, chili, pizza, pigs in a blanket and a special team of dips — spinach artichoke, seven-layer, queso and guacamole — which collectively require 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips, says trade organization SNAC International.
But when it comes to noshing through drives, sacks, field goals and touchdowns, Americans prefer to wing it. The National Chicken Council says that in 2019, 1.25 billion chicken wings were devoured while watching Super Bowl LIII.
When Chiefs and Niners faithfuls suit up in team gear for the big game and gather together in living rooms from coast to coast, it’s likely that regional specialties will find their way onto plates to help feed team spirit.
Here are the starting culinary lineups of the two Super Bowl LIV teams, plus a shoutout to the two who almost made it.
Kansas City Chiefs
If arguments over politics and religion have grown stale, make a claim for best regional barbecue and let the fisticuffs fly. Texas, Memphis, Western North Carolina and Eastern North Carolina are smoked by Kansas City barbecue — at least according to Kansas City people.
Katie Locke, a Kansas City native now living in Asheville whose father has held Chiefs season tickets since Arrowhead Stadium was finished in time for the 1972 season, understates, “Barbecue is a bit of an obsession in Kansas City.”
The Kansas City Visitors Bureau website has a link dedicated to the specialty, which it traces back to Henry Perry, who in 1920 began barbecuing in a pit next to his streetcar barn in an African American neighborhood, selling slabs of meat wrapped in newspaper. Perry employee Charlie Bryant took over the restaurant when Perry died and was joined by his brother Arthur, who renamed the restaurant Arthur Bryant’s. Arthur died in 1982 of a heart attack in a bed he kept at the restaurant, which still bears his name and a national reputation.
KC barbecue is characterized by its inclusive meat policy (pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, beef ribs, chicken, turkey and the delectable burnt ends) and liberal use of sweet-spicy red sauce. “When I was growing up, it was all beef — brisket, beef ribs and my favorite, burnt ends,” says Locke. “Now there’s more pork, but I still prefer beef.”
The sauce is tomato-based. “Every restaurant makes their own, and they’re all different but almost always spicy-sweet,” she says. The brisket is sliced very thin, and the most popular side is baked beans, which, Locke says, “are a meal on their own, cooked for days with pieces of pork and burnt ends so the beans pick up that smoky flavor.”
Though Locke says no place outside of Kansas City compares, Asheville’s 12 Bones Smokehouse claims it has “a recipe or two that would make folks from Kansas City smile.” But Locke is not convinced. “It’s hard to duplicate something outside of its home base.”
San Francisco 49ers
If the Super Bowl was a game-food culinary contest, San Francisco would barely be able to field a team. A casual online poll of 49ers fans elicited responses that ranged from tepid to uncertain. Garlic fries were frequently named, then qualified by uncertainty as to whether the dish — mandatory ballpark fare at Giant’s games in Oracle Park — is also a thing at Levi’s Stadium, where the 49ers play.
Instead, Niner fans can support favorite local Bay Area businesses such as Curwaffles, Starbird Chicken and Konjoe Burger, which all have stands in the stadium. There are also creations by stadium concessionaire Levy Hospitality, like the bulgogi Korean-style cheesesteak. (As a Philly cheesesteak fan, I ask, why?)
None of those exactly scream San Francisco, nor does the puzzling dish mentioned most often by Niners fans: clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. While the cream-based clam chowder brings to mind blustery New England, the vessel for the soup makes some regional sense when one discovers that the team mascot is — wait for it — Sourdough Sam.
Ashevilleans pulling for the Niners have several local options for round sourdough loaves, including OWL Bakery in West Asheville, The Rhu downtown and Crust Never Sleeps at the Asheville City Market every Saturday morning. As for the chowder filling, Oyster House Brewing Co. and The Lobster Trap are two restaurants known locally for their New England clam chowder.
Green Bay Packers
When it comes to game day food in Packer country, it’s all about the brat, baby. “Green Bay, like the rest of Wisconsin, puts the bratwurst on a beer-soaked pedestal,” says Jim Myers, a food writer and avid sports fan who grew up in Milwaukee and regularly traveled to Green Bay for Packers games.
Rundi Reem, another Wisconsin native who created a Packer fan Facebook page, has polled members, and topping the list of Packer-endorsed foods are brats simmered in beer and onions, then grilled, topped with sauerkraut and, of course, cheese curds.
Wisconsin expatriates in Asheville crying in their Leinenkugel beer over their dismaying loss to the 49ers can find Packer comfort food at Sawhorse Restaurant, where chef/owner Dan Silo regularly serves some type of sausage sandwich with sauerkraut as well as poutine — hand-cut fries with homemade cheddar curds and gravy.
The iconic food of Nashville — the town the Titans call home — is, of course, hot chicken. Nashville is where it originated and where thousands of hotheads celebrate the Fourth of July at the annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival.
Hot chicken traces its origins back to the 1930s, when philandering ladies man Thornton Prince came home late one night, woke up his woman and demanded she fry him some chicken. Seeking revenge, she spiked it with the hottest spice mix she could concoct, hoping to cause him some pain. Instead, he loved it, and hot chicken was born, segueing into Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which in 2013 received a James Beard Heritage Award. There are now many other hot chicken places in Nashville, but Prince’s retains the throne of hot chicken supremacy.
Titans fans in Asheville wanting to feel the burn can head to Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack for Nashville-style hot chicken, though repeated taste tests by this writer (who served a 10-year tenure on the Music City Hot Chicken Festival committee) indicate that Rocky’s “hot” is comparable to Prince’s “mild.”