This week we welcome the Knights of Central Florida to Columbus to take on our Buckeyes. This week’s game should be a bit tougher than the opener against Miami, and our tailgate gets a little more complicated as well, particularly when considering there is a 90% chance of rain in Columbus tomorrow. Ugh. Anyway, this week we’ll feature food and drink from the humid subtropics of Florida, which is coincidentally where I live. I can get to UCF’s campus from my house in about 15 minutes, but I rarely do. I have set foot on the UCF campus about four times in the eight years I’ve lived in Orlando, and three of those times were to drop off my daughter at soccer practice. It’s not a bad campus, actually. Their football stadium is relatively new, though it doesn’t really compare to some of the college football cathedrals I’ve visited, and it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Horseshoe. They used a LOT of aluminum. Here, take a look.
The tropical and subtropical climate of Florida makes for a much different agricultural palette than the one we know in the Midwest. Large immigrant populations from Cuba, Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean Sea have brought a variety of interesting cuisines and cultures to Central Florida. That paired with Florida’s abundant native wildlife, fish, and shellfish selection, provides endless possibilities for this week’s game-day fare. I suppose we’ll skip the choices that are difficult to come by in most parts of the world—fried alligator bites or South Florida stone crab. We’ll try to stick to the things that most people could typically find.
Check your grocery store’s chip aisle (or maybe the ethnic foods section) for plantain chips. These tasty treats are better for you than potato chips (usually) and provide an exotic touch to your tailgate. If your supermarket doesn’t carry the chips themselves, check the produce section for whole plantains. It’s pretty easy to slice them up and fry them in canola oil. Slice them as thin as possible if you go this route (use a mandoline slicer if you have one), and be sure to use green plantains (very important, because the ripeness level of plantains significantly alters the density and sweetness). The green ones are starchier and more closely resemble potatoes, therefore they make the best chips.
I’ve got two main course options this week for your tailgating pleasure—grilled shrimp skewers and the classic Cuban sandwich. Both are representative of Central Florida cuisine, though you may have to substitute for Gulf shrimp in your area. The Cuban will set a better foundation for any drinking you might do, but the shrimp are better suited to the grill. In fact, if you’re not at the game, you’d be better off making the sandwich with a frying pan or griddle.
Make a simple marinade for the shrimp using lime juice, tequila, olive oil, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper. I also use jalapenos in mine, because I love spicy food. Feel free to experiment with the amounts until you’re happy with the taste. Everyone is different and this is your tailgate. I like to let the shrimp soak for at least an hour, but preferably at least two. The rest is an easy matter of skewering the shrimp and tossing them on a medium grill for a couple minutes per side. They cook quickly and they’re delicious. As with any “finger food,” buy and make more than you think you’ll need. They go fast. If you don’t like to experiment in the kitchen, here’s a trustworthy recipe.
The Cuban sandwich is very popular throughout the sunshine state. Its U.S. origins allegedly took place in Ybor City, just west of Tampa. It consists of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard on Cuban bread (substitute French if easier in your area…it’s basically the same thing, but don’t tell any French or Cuban people I said that.). Some people include mayonnaise, but this is an abomination. May does not make for a true Cuban, and it is to be avoided at all costs. If I suddenly disappear, it’s because Big Mayo got wind of this article and had me silenced. Word is that in some parts of Tampa they put salami on Cubans, but that’s not a true Cuban either and it should also not be done. Yes, I’m a Cuban sandwich snob. I should be. I have been in search of the perfect Cuban sandwich (or “sammich” as I like to say) since arriving in Florida in 1999. I have found many good ones, but I’m always on the lookout for a better one than I have ever had.
Split the bread and butter it lightly on the crust side. Spread the mustard generously and add the pickles, meat, cheese, and top bun before grilling. Typically this would be done in a sandwich press. Since you probably don’t have one of those, wrap a brick or some other heavy object in foil and place that on top of the sandwich while it cooks. You’ll want a nice, flat press to trap the juices inside the sandwich as it cooks. Turn it over and get the other side as well. If the bread is crispy on the outside and soft inside, you’ve done it correctly. When a Cuban is made right, it is one of the best sandwiches in the universe. And yes, I have checked other planets.
If you’re really adventurous, you can make your own roast pork for the sandwich, but that will require time you don’t have by the time you’re reading this. But if you just happen to have roasted some pork recently, feel free to use that. I use Boar’s Head meats and cheeses when possible because, Boar’s Head.
Black beans and rice is a very popular side dish throughout Florida, and sometimes a main dish. It will work well with either the Cuban or the shrimp skewers. Here’s an easy recipe. Make it up before you head to the stadium and keep it warm. That’s obviously less of a problem if you’re tailgating from home.
Everyone needs a backup plan. For those of you on a tight budget or pressed for time, there’s an easy way to get a little Florida flavor in your morning tailgate. You can make a low budget version of arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), a popular Latin American dish, quickly and easily. Minute Rice makes a variety of quick, microwave-able rice dishes you can use as a base. The yellow or Spanish rice are the best options for this, or go with brown for a healthier option. You just rip the top off and microwave on high for one minute. That’s it. For the chicken, you can pop through the drive through for some McNuggets or use any frozen chicken nuggets/tenders. Mix the rice and chicken together and you’re good. I like to add shredded cheddar and Tabasco to mine. It’s a pretty ghetto version, but it’s still tasty and will set a nice base for the alcohol to come.
This is a bit of a tease since it’s not widely available (yet), but Orange Blossom Pilsner is a great product and they’re working on opening their brewery by 2013. If you’re a Buckeye in exile in Central Florida, you can probably find it at Publix. You could try to find Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing. Cigar City also makes a Cubano-style Espresso Brown Ale, which would be more appropriate for an early afternoon game, if you can find it. If neither are available, drink like a Floridian (if the Floridian is me) and grab some Yuengling. And if THAT isn’t available in your area, try to find an autumn craft beer, because the temperatures in Columbus are starting to dip (allegedly).
If you’re a wine person, you might try looking for the Southern White from Lakeridge Winery, which is just outside of Orlando. Lake County, Florida produces a serviceable craft whiskey, called Palm Ridge Reserve. It may be hard to find though, as only 500 cases are produced per year. If none of that tickles your fancy, or if you can’t find the items above, you can always embrace the tropical climate of this week’s opponents. Mix your Buckeye Vodka with real Florida orange juice for some refreshing Screwdrivers, or indulge in some frozen daiquiris or margaritas, made with your favorite rum or tequila, respectively. Ramzy’s weekly #situationalbourbon selection is bourbon and Coke. Yum.
Orlando has been responsible for some terrible music and I refuse to subject your tailgate party to N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys. Clearly this town is an eyesore on the musical landscape. Let us instead embrace the region’s warm, tropical climate. Florida is surrounded by the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. These bodies of water have inspired a very popular recording artist that some of you will hate me for suggesting. Well, I’m going to do it anyway, and please remember that this artist wrote Urban Meyer’s all-time favorite song. Yes, I’m talking about Jimmy Buffett, equally adored and hated throughout the land. It’s a Parrot-head tailgate, y’all! Urban’s favorite song is “One Particular Harbor,” which was originally the title track to a 1983 album. The song, which is pretty great, incidentally, reached No. 59 on the Billboard 200 album chart and No. 35 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. The song itself reached No. 22 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The album also contained a really good cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” which climbed to No. 13 on the Adult Contemporary chart. You can choose this album for your tailgate if you wish, but I’m suggesting Buffett’s 1990 live release, Feeding Frenzy.
Feeding Frenzy was compiled from several live recordings at Atlanta’s Lakewood Amphitheatre and Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center. It has most of the Buffett classics, including the aforementioned Urban Meyer favorite. I know many of you abhor this style of music, but I find it works great as a backdrop for a party, and honestly, I enjoy the humorous, liquor-infused lyrics that Mr. Buffett brings to the table. These live performances by Jimmy and his ubiquitous Coral Reefer Band are top-notch versions of many Buffett classics and suitable to set the mood for a game day against a Florida opponent.
If JB is a little too country for you, your backup selection is a little more rock and roll—albeit “Southern rock,” because our foe is from there. Although based in Macon, Georgia, the Allman Brothers Band formed in Jacksonville, just 90 minutes up the road from Orlando, back in 1969 (not exactly “Central” Florida, but we can take a few liberties with our tailgating. I suggest the 1971 double live album, At Fillmore East. Side four of this album consists solely of an epic, 23-minute version of “Whipping Post.” And hey, if you don’t like your two choices this week, just stick with your favorite album of TBDBITL music or your preferred Black Keys album, and you’ll still be game day appropriate.
That’s it for this week, folks. Tailgate safely and enjoy the game. Be sure to make extra noise this week to prove George O’Leary wrong.
I’ll leave you with a live version of Urban’s jam: