The Game Plan
Expert Tailgaters Share Their Recipes for a Successful Party
Robert Troilo slices seared tuna and heirloom tomatoes for his annual tailgate spread at Giants Stadium.
Forget your preconceptions. Tailgating is more than guys, beer and sport. These festive gatherings should celebrate friends, family and food as much as The Game. Stamford sports fans have plenty of opportunities to join the gang to enjoy simple sandwiches at local high schools, grilled brats at college games, gourmet feasts at the Meadowlands or elegant picnics behind antique cars at a polo match. From PBR beer to a special 1978 Riesling, there’s someone pairing just the right drink to the food and atmosphere.
For a gourmet food and wine extravaganza, look no further than Stamford’s Nicholas Troilo, a longtime Giants fan and season ticket holder. He founded Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine in Darien, and the crowd that convened last fall around Lot 16F in the old Meadowlands included what he describes as “major” wine importers and restaurateurs. His son Robert, the chef-owner of Nicholas Roberts Gourmet Bistro and one of Fairfield County’s most innovative chefs, puts out an enormous spread. “The wine importers match the wine to the food and everyone tries to outdo one another bringing a great wine,” says Nicholas.
These guys take it seriously—and will do it again this season at the new stadium. They arrive at 8 a.m. to prepare for a 1 p.m. kickoff. “To execute a complex meal and sauces on the spot with limited equipment, while keeping up the standards, requires a detailed organizational plan,” says Nicholas. And when you look at Robert’s menu, you see why.
Robert starts with mimosas (Mionetto Prosecco and fresh-squeezed orange juice) and Bloody Marys with coffee cake or muffins. For breakfast he serves lobster, truffle and egg burritos cooked in a cast-iron pan over a charcoal grill. Moving toward lunch, he prepares snacks of tomato, basil and mozzarella, pâté and charcuterie; chips and dips; and grilled Cajun shrimp. “All of it paired with rich Chablis and muscular Sauvignon,” says Robert. Lunch includes grilled New York strip sliced thin on a baguette with fresh horseradish sauce, watercress and grilled onion paired with fingerling potato salad with bacon, capers and a green bean and almond toss. “Big new world reds and some older Bordeaux are my family’s choice with this lunch,” he says. For dessert, strong coffee and brownies.
The Troilo family tailgate kit includes the basics, like a six-foot folding table and tablecloth; a Weber grill, charcoal, grill brush, chimney starter, matches and newspaper; and a washing station with a gallon of water, sponge, dish soap and paper towels. And then there’s the cooking equipment: a cutting board, mixing bowl, twelve-inch cast-iron skillet and four-quart stainless steel pot. Robert’s toolbox contains a butcher knife, slicing knife, paring knife, balloon whisk, long-handled spoon, long-handled slotted spoon, a metal spatula, high-heat rubber spatula, wooden spoon, two pairs of tongs and four kitchen towels.
Prefer to keep it simple? Robert Goldsmith, a longtime Stamford resident and twenty-year holder of Giants season tickets, believes that the food shouldn’t be fussy. “Tailgating is functional,” he says. “You’re at the mercy of the weather.” Most people eat standing up, he adds, so think finger food—ribs and appetizers. Forget about dessert. “People aren’t hungry and they’re in a rush, clearing up and moving on.” There’s always time, however, for a cigar.
Despite the simplicity of his menu, Goldsmith believes that technology is critical. He grills on a Fire and Ice Thermos Grill made by Charbroil. The portable gas-fired grill and griddle pops up from a ten-gallon cooler base. He packs his SUV with a collapsible bag tent with flaps to keep rain out. He dresses in layers, and as the season grows frosty, brings hand-warmers.
The scene in the parking lot behind Boyle Stadium at Stamford High is much more informal. Whereas there’s a sense of pride about the food and grilling at the Meadowlands, in Stamford, “We’re there to support our kids,” says Goldsmith, whose son plays for the Black Knights. Friends and neighbors, wearing orange and black, bring take-out mostly. “There are a lot of six-foot sandwiches,” Goldsmith says.
Julia Deane would like more home-cooked food at the home game. Deane, who teaches cooking at the Kitchens by Deane showrooms in Stamford and New Canaan, says it can be easy. Her barbecued pulled turkey, served on a kaiser roll, is cooked the day before. “It’s a lot less work than grilling hamburgers and hot dogs,” she says.
For appetizers she serves Asian-style grilled pork riblets. “Have your butcher cut a rack of baby back ribs in half, so they’re petite” she says, “People are more likely to eat them if they’re easy to eat.”
Beer is right for this food, says Greg Zannella, an avid college football tailgater. Pale or amber ale pairs well, adds the Stamford resident, who works for a beer distributor and “is a fan of quality-tasting suds.” Whether he’s tailgating at Chestnut Hill or traveling out of town, Zannella brings three different styles of beer: Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Heineken Light or Amstel Light. “They have to be in a can,” he says.
Beer is not the drink of choice at polo games. Every year Charles Roy, a Stamford resident and a member of the Rolls Royce Club, drives his Bentley Continental to the club’s event at the Greenwich Polo Club. He and his wife bring “wonderful cheeses and special wines” to this most elegant tailgate of twenty-five classic cars and couples dressed in garden chic. The award for most proper picnic went to the owner of a 1934 Rolls retrofit with a picnic table that unfolded from the boot. A silver champagne bucket, silverware and real china graced the blue floral print tablecloth.
That may be a long way from the blue tarps, tents and trash-bag raincoats at the Meadowlands, but no matter the venue, tailgating creates a convivial community, says Nicholas Troilo. “It’s a great way to bring family and friends together.”
Try these tailgating recipes: