Man cannot survive on concession stand food alone. Nor should he. As college basketball season tips off next week, those planning to follow their teams home and away should put down the soggy hot dogs and stale nachos and instead elect to embark on a gustatory adventure.
It's a big country with a lot of gyms. You'll need a full stomach to fully appreciate them all. Follow my advice, and you'll never cheer hungry.
The Wolfpack usually gets the shaft in lists like this in favor of Research Triangle rivals North Carolina and Duke, but not this year. Mark Gottfried's team has point guard Lorenzo Brown, forward C.J. Leslie and a chance to be the best team in the Triangle this season. NC State shares PNC Arena with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, so the Wolfpack may not have to do much sharing this season. Meanwhile, you won't want to share any of the whole hog chopped barbecue covered in a tangy vinegar-based sauce from The Pit in Raleigh. Save room, though. You'll want the carrot cake with molasses frosting and a scoop of bourbon ice cream.
The Carrier Dome has its own charms -- despite its name, air conditioning isn't one, but hey, Syracuse in winter -- and the noise created by Syracuse fans during a big game is far louder than it should be considering the basketball setup doesn't use the entire building. They love their basketball in Syracuse, but they also love their barbecue. While I haven't had the pleasure of a personal visit, the legions of Syracuse grads in the sports media have unanimously sung the praises of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. No other barbecue joint that far north has earned such lavish praise, but great barbecue doesn't have to come from Memphis or Kansas City or Texas or the Carolinas. It just has to be cooked low and slow.
Phog Allen Fieldhouse isn't the only iconic spot in Lawrence. After spending a game working up a hunger and a thirst screaming Rock Chalk Jayhawk, students -- and those who wish they still were -- can walk to The Wagon Wheel (also known as just The Wheel). Want to see how much the clientele at The Wheel cares about its college hoops? Just check this video after Kansas beat Ohio State to advance to the national title game.
Georgetown plays most home games downtown in the Verizon Center, but do your pregaming on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks from the White House. Walk into Founding Farmers, find a seat at the bar and order some Bacon Lollis to start. Yes. Bacon lollipops. Later, you're having chicken and waffles and drinking something strong. Once fortified, take a short cab ride and watch John Thompson III and the Hoyas take on the Big East.
How Memphis coach Josh Pastner manages to keep his players in such good shape in Barbecue Mecca is beyond me. The tourists are heading to Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous downtown, and if you've never been there, it is a sight to behold. Meanwhile, other lovers of Memphis-style (sauceless, with an extra dusting of dry rub) ribs are dining at Corky's. They take such pride in their sauce at Interstate Barbecue that they even use it in their Bar-B-Q Spaghetti. Meanwhile, I'm still dying to try the smoked Cornish hens at Cozy Corner BBQ.
The Texas basketball team may underachieve annually, but pitmaster Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue never does. The smoker of the best brisket in America draws two- and three-hour lines on a daily basis, and he's usually out of food and closed before the end of what most consider lunchtime. The atmosphere inside the Frank Irwin Center is pretty tame, but the atmosphere in the line at Franklin is anything but. It's a daily party for barbecue pilgrims who come ever earlier to avoid landing behind the last man standing, who likely will also be the last man eating.
If you're going to a Big 5 game, you need to see it the way the good lord intended -- at The Palestra. The venerable old gym on the Penn campus (capacity: 8,722) got its name in 1927 from Greek professor William Bates. Bates spent his life studying the ancient Greeks, who called the rectangular athletic venue attached to the gymnasium a Palestra. If you plan on attending Penn-Villanova on Dec. 8 or Penn-St. Joseph's on Jan. 19, you can also sample the Big 2 of Philly Cheese Steaks. Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks are located 184 feet apart and serve fairly similar products, but people swear by one or the other in a rivalry that has been portrayed as more fierce than the recruiting fights between Big 5 schools. The cheese steak rivalry has been great for business, but it apparently wasn't as heated as it seemed.
A game at Rupp Arena needs no accompaniment. The place packs in 23,000 of the most passionate fans in college basketball, and when the Wildcats go on a run, it sounds as if the roof might pop off. All that yelling can make a person hungry, though. For something unexpected, head to Atomic Café, a Caribbean paradise in the heart of the Bluegrass. Get the jerk chicken and Mama's macaroni and cheese (their mama's, not yours), which uses cheddar and cottage cheese to devastating effect. For a more quintessentially Kentucky meal, try the smoked mutton and a bowl of Burgoo at Billy's Bar-B-Q.
I've never understood how the crowds at the Kohl Center are so lively. When I go to Madison, I usually need a nap after a meal designed to fortify the locals against the cold. When I went to Mickies Dairy Bar earlier this year, students were doing shots of maple syrup while waiting for Scramblers. What's a Scrambler? It's your choice of meat (mine was bacon, of course) mixed with eggs, served atop a bed of hash browns and smothered in gravy. It covers one large plate and could feed one small village. If you're a glutton like me, you'll also order a chocolate shake -- which could be a meal unto itself. Since you'll skip lunch, have a burger and cheese curds for dinner at Dottie Dumpling's Dowry.
Point guard Trey Burke is back for his sophomore season, and expectations are high in Ann Arbor. But while visiting the Wolverines, you have a chance to decide what kind of sandwich defines you. Is it the exquisitely sourced, beautifully presented, overpriced-for-its-size delight at Zingerman's, or is it the holy-cow-I-can't-believe-I-ate-the-whole-thing monstrosity at Maize and Blue Deli? If you're bringing a date, go to Zingerman's. The dining experience is undeniably better. The place is a culinary pleasure garden featuring delicious sides (get the jalapeno peaches), ice cream and plenty of goodies to stock up on for the trip home. But if you're simply hungry for a great sandwich, go to Maize and Blue and power down a 16-inch sub the way Michael Phelps did when he trained in Ann Arbor.
For a 12,000-seat arena at a football school, the O'Connell Center gets quite loud. The Gators wisely kept the student section along one side of the court instead of shifting the kids to the baseline, and that decision pays off with a semi-intimidating atmosphere -- during SEC play. Come while Florida's football team is still trying to reach the SEC championship game, and the energy flags. The energy is always up at Satchel's Pizza, the counterculture-friendly joint on the northeast side of town that usually has a two-hour wait on Friday and Saturday nights. Get to Satchel's for lunch or for an early dinner, because you want the deep dish. This isn't like anything you've had in Chicago. It looks like a New York-style pizza was hit with Gamma radiation, got angry and then spent 45 minutes in an oven. Get it with pepperoni, bacon and black olives, and bring cash. Satchel pays his waitresses a living wage, but he doesn't take plastic.
The Cardinals play in the opulent splendor of the somewhat appetizingly named KFC Yum! Center. But a few miles away, in the basement of someone's house, is a dining experience that will steady the nerves of those fans either coming down from the dizzying highs or up from the horrifying lows of watching Peyton Siva play the point. Hammerheads serves lamb ribs, elk burgers and duck-fat fries covered in barbecue seasoning from the Grippo potato chip company. Best of all, you can end the night with a bacon brownie.
Considering it houses one of the nation's premier basketball programs, the Dean Smith Center isn't the greatest venue. It's huge and relatively antiseptic. But when that many people are willing to pay boatloads of money to watch basketball games, you build an arena to accommodate them. Fortunately, those looking for ambience can find it at Sutton's Drug Store, a hamburger joint on Franklin Street where the walls are covered with vintage photos of all the great Tar Heels. Owner John Woodard began taking customers' photos and slapping them on the wall in 1983. Since then, anyone who was anyone in Chapel Hill has wound up hanging above a booth at Sutton's.
A game at Assembly Hall when the Hoosiers are good -- and they're very, very good this year -- is reason enough to visit Bloomington, but I would get in big trouble with former Big Ten Network sparring partner Gerry Dinardo if I didn't recommend DeAngelo's, the Italian restaurant he and wife Terri operate in Bloomington. Dinardo, who was the head football coach at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana, got some pointers during his time in Cajun Country. That's how Shrimp and Crawfish Diavolo wound up on the menu. If you're feeling a little more adventurous, drive 36 miles to Mooresville, Ind., where you can eat deep-fried biscuits at Squealers Barbecue. They taste even better than they sound. On the night I ate them in 2011, I returned to my hotel and wrote the following paragraph: "You read that correctly. Fried. Biscuits. Imagine a Cracker Barrel biscuit met a Krispy Kreme doughnut, dropped a few of his best lines and took her back to his Old Country Store to make doughy carbohydrate love on a Travel Checker Rug. The offspring of that union is what a fried biscuit tastes like."
Value City Arena is a relatively charmless building, though Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes play a very charming brand of basketball. Fortunately, Columbus has plenty of local flavor elsewhere. I made a pledge in 2005 -- after eating a three-pound hamburger to win a free T-shirt and free dessert (which I also ate) -- that I wouldn't eat more giant burgers, but I plan to break that pledge at The Thurman Café on my next trip to Columbus. There, I will order The Thurmanator. What's that? According to the menu, it's bun, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, banana peppers, 12-ounce burger, bacon, cheddar, another 12-ounce burger, sautéed mushrooms& onions, ham, mozzarella and American cheese, top bun. Hold the mayo and tomato on mine, but I'm more than happy to load up on more mushrooms. Or, if you don't feel like a burger, go to City BBQ (multiple locations in town) and have a slab of ribs. That's what I ate at the Gahanna location on Dec. 21, 2007 to celebrate a job offer from Sports Illustrated.
The cruelest thing you can do to me is taunt me with famous barbecue I have yet to taste. So if you're in town to watch the Billikens play, you can torture me by sending me photos of the ribs from Pappy's Smokehouse. Last year, some sportswriter buddies were passing through St. Louis on the way to a football game. For an entire afternoon, I received texts containing pictures of glorious ribs. The motto of Pappy's owner Mike "Smokey" Emerson is "We've got nothing to hide so the sauce is on the side!" Smokey sounds like my kind of guy.
When the Tigers got upset by a No. 15 seed in last year's NCAA tournament, I wondered if they had lost just to get back to Columbia to eat more of the perfect little hamburgers at Booches Billiard Hall. That probably wasn't the case, but I was only a few weeks out from my first visit to Booches, a hole in the wall that serves diminutive burgers so delicious that, left unchecked, I could probably eat about 20. The cravings still hadn't subsided at that point. So if that had been the reason for the loss, I would have understood completely.
The Fighting Irish will begin their second season at Purcell Pavilion, but they aren't the only ones in the metro South Bend area enjoying new digs. Giannetto's, home of overstuffed deep dish pizzas and breadsticks with the consistency of raised doughnuts, has moved from its basement location in Mishawaka to an easier-to-find location in Granger. The old location felt like a secret shared only by the initiated, but it really wasn't fair to the greater world that such amazing pizza was so difficult to find.
Did Bluejays forward Doug McDermott hang 25 and 12 on your team? Don't despair. You're not alone. The good news is you can sop up your sorrows with the juice from the Whiskey Filet at The Drover. I haven't eaten one in 11 years, but if I close my eyes and think of Omaha, I can still taste that perfectly cooked steak with a sweet whiskey finish.
The Bruins will unveil the renovated Pauley Pavilion -- which recently received a $136 million facelift -- this season, and they should celebrate their updated digs with a lot of wins if the NCAA eventually clears star recruits Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad to play. Bruins fans looking to center themselves while waiting for the NCAA to finish investigating should head north to Tarzana for breakfast at Vip's Café. That was John Wooden's spot. Be quick, but don't hurry to order the No. 1 or the No. 2.
After watching a game at intentionally old-fashioned Cameron Indoor Stadium and having Cameron Crazies correct the game story while looking over writers' shoulders, the scribes on the college basketball beat like to indulge in the finer things. Jeff Goodman, one of the excellent college basketball writers at CBSSports.com, recommends Revolution, a slice of fine dining in downtown Durham. A perusal of the menu turns up several tantalizing items. Duck Two Ways with a side of cheese grits might do the trick, but I'll probably have to start with the Cider Braised Pork Belly.
In honor of The Show -- which might be the wildest student section in college hoops -- indulge in a truly wild burger. I realize the Slater's 50/50 started in Orange County, but they've opened in San Diego, and if you have a chance to eat a half-ground beef, half-ground bacon burger, you do it no matter where the chain has its roots. Let's take that one step further. When you have a chance to eat a half-ground beef, half-ground bacon burger slathered in peanut butter and jelly, you do it no matter where the chain has its roots.
The Red Storm plays its Big East home games in Madison Square Garden, but a bevy of quality teams will pass through for tourneys during November. Only a few minutes' walk from the World's Most Famous Arena is some of the world's best fried chicken. Hill Country Chicken is at the corner of 25th and Broadway, but the staff cooks like it should be slinging chicken and sides on the side of a country road in Mississippi. Order your chicken Mama Els style, and make sure to get the mashed potatoes, which are covered in cheese and fresh-cut French fries. Also, sample one of the mini, single-serve pies. Whiskey buttermilk and Maker's Mark bourbon pecan are my favorites. But don't limit your pie consumption to a circular, solid state. If you ask, they'll cut you a slice of cheddar-crust apple pie, chuck it in the blender with some milk and vanilla ice cream, hit frappe and then serve you heaven in a cup.
Sure, point guard Mark Lyons might have graduated from Xavier and transferred to play his final season in Tucson because he loves Wildcats coach Sean Miller, who coached Lyons back in Cincinnati. But isn't it also possible that Lyons saw the "Man vs. Food" segment on the bacon-wrapped Sonoran Dogs at El Guero Canelo and decided he should play hoops and attend grad school in the desert? Ok, maybe he just transferred because of Miller -- but a bacon-wrapped hot dog smothered in jalapeno sauce seems like a sound enough reason for a cross-country move.
Tom Izzo's teams don't do anything fancy over at the Breslin Center. They just outwork, outhustle and out-bang their opponents into submission. The Peanut Barrel, an eatery/drinker near the edge of the Michigan State campus, doesn't do anything fancy, either. It has simply served great hamburgers for not too much money since 1973. In fact, a few Peanut Barrel burgers would satiate any Spartan who worked up an appetite during one of Izzo's famously physical practices.