Tom Johnson, general manager of Badger State Brewing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is explaining a beverage swap to a group of brewery visitors when the term comes up: Wapatoolie.
To some, it’s the potluck term of a past generation that grabbed unopened bottles in the fridge and headed to a neighbor’s or friend’s house for a night of community drinking with whatever was in hand. To others, it’s the hangover-if-not-nausea-inducing, college-era concoction that comes together when all the bottles of booze are cracked open and poured into one container of combined flavor and fizz. Jungle juice is a slang synonym.
Johnson, a former high school teacher and concert promoter, laughs at this concept. He has the requisite beard and tattoos of today’s brewery workers, a man of the people who planned dozens of weddings at Badger State before getting married there himself. He knows what folks like and what brings them into the brewery, besides the lagers and ales.
He is one of many food and beverage providers Style talked to in Green Bay, an ultimate sports town, to plan our ultimate Game Day Menu. This is the town that owns its own football team after all, a franchise that notably celebrated its 100th anniversary in August. Do they know more about pigskin parties than we do? We can’t say that for sure. What we can say is their football fever is real, their aw-shucks amiability is more awesome than annoying, and there is something to this B.Y.O. community spirit that we like.
Wapatoolie! Bring what you’ve got. Let’s get this party started.
One Bloody Mary, please
On the rooftop deck of a place called Anduzzi’s in Green Bay, a group awaits a round of drinks. Below them, not one but two wedding parties arrive at the sports bar, ready to toast their unions.
The drinks arrive, a round of Ultimate Bloody Marys, and heads swivel. Each 16-ounce drink has three stalks of snacks that arise from the glass like food-filled antlers. In all, the meal haul includes four chicken wings, three corn dogs, shrimp, a buffalo chicken slider, a hamburger slider, a pickle, olives, mushrooms, cheese cubes and a beef stick. Basically, the Ultimate Bloody Mary is the equivalent of drinks and snacks for two people, and all for $24.
Each drink takes about seven minutes to assemble, says Anduzzi’s marketing manager Marcus Ruh. And they tend to make a copycat impact on a crowd. “When one comes out, four more get ordered,” he says.
That’s all well and good for Wisconsinites. Here in Charm City, the crew at Mother’s Fed Hill Grille is ready to serve some red sangria. They make their own, and the recipe is so good that co-owner Kelly Rather says it’s one she prepares for company at her own house — in pitcher or Popsicle form.
Mother’s earned nationwide attention in 2010 when the Food Network named its Heart Attack on a Plate the state’s “ultimate hamburger.” The patty is prepared with a cheddar cheese center and then beer battered and deep fried and served with lettuce, tomato, onion and a chipotle mayonnaise.
People travel the country to try the hamburgers in different states, Rather says, and Mother’s Heart Attack is one that is often requested. It’s a bit much for her, she admits. She thinks party hosts “can never go wrong with dip” and also points out that Mother’s has 15 different flavored chicken wings, the top seller being the Ravens wings made with Old Bay seasoning and honey.
“It’s sweet and spicy at the same time,” she says.
Ben Shibler can talk about cheese with the same ardor and knowledge that wine connoisseurs talk about grapes, and he offers this bit of nibble-stopping advice about wine and cheese plates: There are no rules. Yep, Shibler, who hopes to start classes this fall to be a master Wisconsin cheesemaker (there are currently only 60), says it all depends on what the diners like to eat.
“We all have different palates,” says Shibler, who is the operations manager at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in a town called Kewaunee. A party plate can offer cheeses that “compare and contrast” each other or “even out” the other food offerings.
He has assembled a plate of Ponderosa’s string and whip cheese, snow cheddars and, of course, cheese curds for diners at The Cannery Public Market, a former produce canning plant in Green Bay that has been turned into an eatery and market in the way that Canton’s American Can Company has seen new life.
The cheese curds were made that morning and squeak like a “squeegee against teeth” or “sneakers on a gym floor,” Shibler says, expounding on the science and fat globules behind the sound.
This man needs his own PBS show.
He never refrigerates cheese curds, he admits. But if curds are refrigerated, “in an emergency” they can be reheated in the microwave for 15 seconds to get a little squeak back — although he cautions “not all of its glory.”
Cheese curds are also battered and deep fried, served with ranch dressing at places like Kroll’s West, which has yellow, white or Cajun curds, all eaten while Guns ‘N’ Roses plays in the background. It’s a must-try when in the state.
Back here in Ravens Country, Kennith Praay, one of the founders of Baltimore’s Monument City Brewing Company in Highlandtown, enjoys game day with the brewery’s Pagoda Pale Ale, which he likes to savor with a sausage from Snake Hill Tavern when he is looking for “good solid food.”
Praay and the guys at Monument City can rival Shibler’s wonky cheese chats and one has been known to make beef stew with their Brown Ale. Praay says he’d bring the Pagoda to any wapatoolie party if he was packing the brewery’s own. But if he ventured outside the brand, he’d tuck in a bottle of Widow Jane Whiskey to share with guests.
What to serve those football fans who want to stay (and drink) all day? Monument City’s Penchant Pilsner, of course, he says, because it has a lower ABV, so “you can have a few throughout the game.”
Folklore wisdom says a greasy plate of eggs is the best hangover cure, but might the kringle, the official state pastry of Wisconsin, be offered as another remedy?
This pastry has layers upon layers of butter and takes three days to make. The kringle with the honor of being both the best in North America and the “Coolest Thing in Wisconsin,” among other awards, is made at Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe, a place to go because there are samples, ready for the snacking, at the counters.
“If you can taste it and like it, you’ll buy it,” says owner Mike Van de Walle.
The sea salt caramel pecan is actually the award winner, but the cherry — made with Wisconsin cherries — is also soul satisfying. If fried cheese curds are next-level mozzarella sticks, kringles are the pastries of our dreams.
Maryland doesn’t have kringles, but there is always Hoehn’s in Highlandtown that can serve up a doughnut or slice of peach cake …
A VERY MID-ATLANTIC MENU
The obvious appetizer choice for any football party in Maryland would be crab balls with a spicy cocktail sauce, agree Amy von Lange and Jerry Pellegrino, co-owners of Schola cooking school in Baltimore.
“Everybody is going to crush those,” Pellegrino says.
Next out of the kitchen and onto the plates of guests would be their “three favorite fried things” — chicken wings, French fries and onion rings, all tossed in Old Bay.
“That’s about as Maryland as it comes,” he says.
The main attraction: pork shoulder cooked overnight in the oven and served with North Carolina-style vinegar sauce in Martin’s Potato Rolls (for a nod, but no game points to our friends in Pennsylvania) and topped with Eastern Shore-style coleslaw.
The beginning of football season marks the end of garden season and cooks may still have ready access to green tomatoes that can be fried and served with, what else, an Old Bay aioli. Corn can be cut into thirds, grilled and then rolled in Old Bay and butter.
The play-by-play: Crabby, spicy, fresh.
“I think that’s a hell of a game-day party,” Pellegrino says.