The Big East boasts 8 football playing members: Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, Temple and UConn. For the past 16 years I worked in the athletic department at the University of South Florida. In all those years I only missed 8 road games, in fact I think the only two people to go to more games than me are the radio broadcast crew who have both been to every Bulls football game ever played. When I plan my Fall football travels my mind will quickly wander from the game to where I will eat in each city. I don’t claim to always know the best places in each town, but here are my favorites.
1. Temple Owls, Philadelphia, PA – Temple is a new Big East member in 2012, but my many trips to Philly make my food choices easy. Philly locals will tell me how cliche my first stop is, but I always find my way to Pat’s and Geno’s to get those famous Philly cheese steaks. In a perfect world I am traveling with someone who I make a deal with. We buy 1 steak at Pat’s and 1 at Geno’s and cut them both in half. Everyone will pick a side, and my favorite is Geno’s … but not by so much that I won’t get one from Pat’s too. I also throw in a stop at Tony Luke’s who is also famous for their steaks, but even better than the steak at Tony Luke’s is the pork sandwich with broccoli rob. A trip to Philly also always seems to include at least one side trip over to Atlantic City where I make sure to have lunch at the White House Sub Shop. If you go, don’t fight tradition and get the White House Special.
2. South Florida Bulls, Tampa, FL – I will admit my hometown bias. I love Tampa, and we have some great food. First thing I think of is Latin food. Go to the Columbia if you want world class upscale Latin food. The paella is to die for. For the best deal on great Latin food, you can’t beat La Teresita which is close to Raymond James Stadium where the Bulls play. Not far away is Tarpon Springs, which is a Greek community which features the best and most authentic Greek food, this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
3. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, New Brunswick, NJ – This one is so tough to judge. Some years I never head into Manhattan and my top food choices are the RU Hungry food truck (maker of the famous sandwich “The Fat Darrell”). If my wife is with me, then we head over to Hoboken and get in a long line for Carlo’s Bakery (from the TV show, “The Cake Boss”). Most years a game at Rutgers means a trip to Katz’s Deli on South Houston Street. This is where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal dined when the lady at the next table famously ordered, “I’ll have what she is having!” Got to grab a slice of NYC pizza while I am in the city too.
4. Cincinnati Bearcats, Cincinnati, OH – When I think of Cincinnati, the first thing I think of is Skyline Chili. If you have never had Cincinnati’s version of chili you are in for a treat. Cincinnati chili come poured on spaghetti or on a hot dog, with mounds of shredded cheddar cheese on top. For upscale BBQ, stop at the Boathouse at the Montgomery Inn. Lots of good German food in Cincinnati too, but I haven’t picked a favorite yet.
5. Louisville Cardinals, Louisville, KY – Every trip to Louisville includes 3 food stops. First is Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, where quirky is cool. All the food is good, but I tend to get the Hot Brown, which is their signature dish. Mark’s Feed Store is my BBQ of choice in Louisville, they have a few locations around town, be sure to get a side of their stew with your BBQ meat of choice. Finally, if you cross the Ohio River into Indiana, stop by the Horseshoe Casino, and you can eat unhealthy at Paula Deen’s Buffet. Did someone say butter?
6. Pittsburgh Panthers, Pittsburgh, PA – There are two stops on all my trips to Pittsburgh. First is Primanti Brothers, where sandwiches come with fries and slaw, but not on the side, they are between the bread. It is a landmark that lives up to the hype. I always head to the strip district, where the original is located. For reasons I can’t explain, every trip also includes a trip to Marge’s in McKees Rocks. Marge’s is just a greasy spoon with huge portions. Mostly all locals are there, but they will welcome anyone not wearing Baltimore Ravens gear.
7. Syracuse Orange, Syracuse, NY – Everyone has been in a restaurant where they offer an eating challenge that offers a prize, often nothing more than a t-shirt and your photo on the wall. In my life only once did I try the challenge. That was at Mother’s Cupboard and their 6 lbs. breakfast fritata. I have to tell you, it wasn’t just an insane quantity, it was also really good. By the way, I didn’t make it, I estimate I ate about 4 lbs. of it before realizing I didn’t want to die in upstate New York. Everyone raves about Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. It’s pretty good, but not in the same league as the BBQ I love in Memphis, Kansas City or Austin. I also wanted to mention that the buffett at the Turning Stone Casino features awesome steamed clams.
8. UConn Huskies, Hartford, CT – I hate to say this, but if Hartford has great food, I haven’t found it yet. I enjoy Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, it is good and the drinks are cold. It is close to Rentscher Field, home of the Huskies. Stop in if you happen to be in town. If any UConn fans want to suggest some places for me to try next time I’m in town, I’m open for new ideas.
Special Bonus Entry
In 2013 the Big East will see some changes. Syracuse and Pittsburgh depart for the ACC and a bunch of new school’s are welcomed into the mix. Those new schools are: Boise State Broncos, Houston Cougars, Southern Methodists Mustangs, San Diego State Aztecs and UCF Knights. Oh wait, I forgot the Memphis Tigers, and next year they will immediately knock of Temple from the top of this list. Memphis is all about BBQ, and every trip to Memphis includes 3 stops for me: Interstate BBQ, for their BBQ spaghetti; Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous for their dry rubbed ribs (and the BBQ shrimp if I have 4 or more people with me, but you have to order the shrimp at least 48 hours in advance) and Corky’s for their dripping wet rack of ribs.