NFL parking lots contain plenty of Miller Lite but relatively few $65 bottles of French Burgundy. Yet at one recent game, former wine shop owner Bill Brock of Fairfax, 58, paired a 2003 bottling from Santenay with a menu that included shrimp scampi (featuring yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, leeks and home-grown flat-leaf parsley), crab cakes, and lamb and filet mignon kebabs (marinated in a mixture from a 1920s recipe featuring olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine, oregano, garlic, lemon and a generous portion of homegrown mint). The trunk of Brock's Ford Freestyle housed a cheese course, including an aged French Mimolette and a cheddar with cranberries.
Brock's offerings in other seasons have run from shark kebabs to buffalo to kangaroo, although he kept the latter quiet: No need to get folks riled up, he pointed out.
Baltimorean Sharon Kroupa's modest and genteel setup directly in front of the iconic Johnny Unitas statue is distinguished by a spray of purple asters that look more Better Homes and Gardens than Sports Illustrated. The spread -- which changes based on the season -- is suitably refined: On one autumn afternoon, while breakfast was still on the grill, Kroupa reviewed a lunch menu of eggplant parmigiana plus beef, chicken and shrimp kebabs. The 20 or so attendees, some of whom were lounging with the morning paper, also received London broil and goat cheese sandwiches to take inside the stadium.
Breakfast, which typically ends around 10:45, had featured turkey sausage, scrambled or fried eggs (make that "organic cage-free brown eggs") and grilled ham on asiago or spinach Florentine bagels. One favorite dish is shrimp and scallop kebabs skewered on rosemary sprigs. "We don't eat hamburgers and hot dogs," said Kroupa, who also does not like to divulge her age.
Mike Lee's brother bought him a 36- inch-wide heavy-gauge aluminum wok on the streets of Bangkok, so Lee's natural inclination was to bring his new toy to a Redskins game and make enough Paellaya to feed 30 people. The recipe -- an Emeril Lagasse- inspired marriage of paella and jambalaya -- included two whole chickens, five pounds of clams, four pounds of mussels, three pounds of andouille sausage and eight cups of rice.
Lee, 45, who lives in Frederick, is a former Detroit resident who was attending his first Redskins game to watch the visiting Lions. "This is how we do it Detroit-style," he said, thus making the meal a Motor City-flavored, Thai-enhanced, Spanish-Cajun stew.
Roland Neifeld Jr., a.k.a. Captain Tailgate, hosts up to 50 guests and four cooks at his affairs, and like many serious tailgaters he prefers to enter each week with a theme. (For example, during Meat Week he feeds his guests "every kind of meat known to man.")
For the Ravens' lone October home game, Neifeld and friends chose an Oktoberfest theme, with a German-inspired menu of four different kinds of sausage, sour beef and dumplings, sauerkraut, red cabbage and his wife's apple strudel. The sour beef and dumplings recipe came from the great-grandmother of one of the cooks, Jimmy Jester, 38, who had never served the dish at a football game and went easy on the vinegar so his friends wouldn't be taken aback.
Over the years, Captain Tailgate's fare also has included mahi-mahi, stuffed lobster tails, rattlesnake belly in peanut sauce, and hot dogs injected with hot cider and spices. "We always have to have something crazy, something unique," Jester said.
It doesn't take long for Donald Pierce's 15 pounds of smoked pork butt barbecue to disappear from the tailgate spread he puts on for relatives and friends. The 57-year-old Montross, Va., resident starts his 15- hour preparation at 5 p.m. Thursday before a Sunday game. He coldsmokes the pork, then pulls the meat into tender shreds, painstakingly removing all traces of fat. Then it is treated to a special barbecue sauce from Missouri. The pork barbecue is the centerpiece of his feast for a group of 20 or so that also includes his smoked brisket, coleslaw, baked beans, fresh rolls or cornbread, and in mid-October, some very good, chewy brownies. "There was some initial trial and error, but local critics have deemed this to be the best!" Pierce said.
A night of well-lubricated merrymaking persuaded a group of 20-something Baltimore pals to buy and roast a whole pig at an earlyseason Ravens home game. The stunt was so successful that in mid-October the group was back with another pig, this one a 47-pound, $160 fella nicknamed Porky II that had been painted with a mixture of Clipper City Pale Ale and Cattlemen's Barbeque Sauce. "And now, it might as well be a tradition," 25-year-old Brian Muenster said.
The carving, just before game time, was a somewhat haphazard affair. There were no professional cutlery sets, just a dullish knife that the friends took turns brandishing. The pig required a 5 a.m. wake-up call, more than $300 worth of ingredients and supplies, five bags of hardwood charcoal and about five hours of cooking, on the well-trafficked corner of the Staples parking lot across the street from M&T Bank Stadium. All but one of the group are Canadian, and took turns basting the pig with a brush attached to a hockey stick -- "honestly, because it was in the back of the truck," Toza Crnilovic said.
Ted Abela's tailgate off one of the main thoroughfares leading into FedEx Field requires $400 a week for supplies and about eight hours of shopping for deals on the Saturdays before game days. Abela uses several classic tailgating gimmicks, such as a weekly food theme based on the opponent (i.e., tuna steaks against the Miami Dolphins, deep-fried turkeys against the Philadelphia Eagles) and a functioning cooler mounted on a functioning scooter.
But the biggest oohs and ahhs are often reserved for dessert: county fair-style funnel cakes, deep-fried for five minutes in 325-degree canola oil and then liberally dusted with confectioners' sugar. Abela, 28, of Woodbridge, said he honed his technique from "years of just messing around" and has been making the fried desserts for four years; he often hops on the cooler scooter to deliver funnel cakes to friends in far-flung corners of the FedEx parking lots. He'll make several dozen cakes each week, using a batter mix he orders from a carnival-supply company.
"Unbelievable," said Kerry Pennington of Roanoke when he happened upon Abela's operation at a recent game. "I've never seen funnel cakes at a tailgate."
The Poe Brothers -- real-life 46- and 50-year-old brothers Marc and Gary Scher -- run perhaps Baltimore's most famous tailgate, with food to serve 100 and a diverse menu that often includes deep trays of catfish, pulled pork, meatballs, creamed corn, chipped beef and biscuits, homemade corned beef, scrapple, their famous crab dip (the recipe is posted on the Sports Illustrated Web site) and marinated Tailgate Tenderloin.
One standard at a Poe Brothers tailgate, regardless of the weather, is a crock of homemade soup at the front of the buffet line -- 20 quarts' worth in colder temperatures. Their best-known offering is a Maryland crab soup; at a recent game, people lined up for a well-spiced seafood chowder loaded with scallops, clams, shrimp and jumbo-lump crabmeat. "This is absolutely the best soup ever," said Poe Brothers tailgate regular Sofie Fudge, 69, as she began to slurp her second helping. "I've never tasted anything so good, so rich, in my life."
The Extreme Skins/Redskin-Roadtrips.com tailgate, sponsored by the team's official message board, offers mounds of food, including 60 pounds of chicken wings made by Chris and Christie Lopez, 31 and 32, of Ashburn; beer-bath brats; crab dip; and orange cheesecake-layered flourless chocolate tortes made by Chris's father, Jerry, a pastry chef.
Many of the attendees, though, seem equally interested in the bar, set up in the back of a Chevy Tahoe, which at a recent game included mimosas; pitchers of Hand Grenades, Jungle Juice, Purple Hooters and Sex on the Beach; a gallon of rum punch; and cherry mojitos, made by Chris's mother, Laura, with cherry-flavored rum. Some regular attendees have also been known to bring home-brewed beer.
Friends Chad Newberger, 33, of Abingdon, Md.; Neil Graff, 46, of Mount Airy; and Rick Henry, 33, of Catonsville, Md., are in the liquor business, so it figures that their tailgate would be heavy on libations. Their two-year-old home-game event is more outdoor cafe than tailgate, with a white picket fence, a bouncer, up to 200 guests, six wicker chairs and two loveseats, a 50- inch high-definition TV with satellite hookup, and a homemade, oak-stained plywood bar that folds up handily. They said they have spent tens of thousands of dollars on the past season and a half of home-game stands.
For a 1 p.m. game, a bartender supplied by Baltimore's Rub Authentic Texas Barbeque restaurant starts pouring at about 10:30 a.m. On hand recently were Knob Creek and Maker's Mark bourbons, 10 varieties of Absolut vodka and a clear tube that holds 168 ounces of Ravin' Lunatic, a cocktail made from Grape Pucker schnapps, Absolut and Sprite. (There's restaurant food, too; a varying menu may include 60 pounds of smoked brisket, 14 smoked chickens and many sides.)
PHOTOS: Mark Finkenstaedt for The Washington Post; WEB EDITOR: Erin Hartigan - washingtonpost.com