Though Thanksgiving is famously regarded as a time to enjoy family, food, and football, that winning trinity isn’t just reserved for one Thursday every November. Here in Wisconsin, friends, relatives, and strangers routinely come together every week of the Packers season to enjoy their favorite teams…and their favorite foods. The tradition also exists around the country—and world, for that matter—as people pair the football (and futbol) fan experience with regional culinary standards, family specialties, and cold weather comfort foods.
As you recover from another Thanksgiving feast and you prepare for Sunday night’s Packers-Vikings match-up, we decided to ask some Milwaukee chefs about their game day traditions, who they root for, and why food and football seem to together so well.
Goodkind chef and Milwaukee area native Paul Zerkel recalls an impressive spread his parents had on hand every Packers Sunday.
“My mom always put out a huge plate of sliced summer sausage, sliced cheddar, brick, and jack cheeses, a cracker assortment, and my dad loved smoked oysters from a can,” Zerkel says. “Big games came with Chex Mix and beer cheese dip in a bread bowl.”
Zerkel says his mom will still put out the same spread when he visits, but he now prefers to watch games in a public place, where he can “go through the ups and downs [of a game] together.” If he’s not working on game day, he says prefers to have someone else make food for him. For the past four seasons, The Vanguard has been his go-to Packers bar.
Vanguard chef Patrick “Paddy” Joyce was born in Illinois and he lived there until he was 10, at which point he moved to southeast Wisconsin. Through the move, he’s remained a devoted Bears fan, and his game day dining rituals still nod to his Chicago-area roots.
“Growing up, we habitually got together for Bears games and most of the time, had your traditional football party fare—sloppy joes, chili, pizza. Those were and still are staples,” Joyce says. “Being near Chicago, we also liked to up the game with stuff like Crock Pots full of Italian beef or Italian sausages in marinara, or a giant platter of baked mostaccioli. I still do those to this day at my own parties or will bring these to my parents for some nostalgia. They love it. I love it.”
While he still sticks to chili, sausages, and other standards from his football-viewing youth, Joyce says applies his culinary background to more ambitious offerings in recent year, such as pozole, sausage stews, and by helping one of his Chicago friends roast whole lambs and pigs (and a wild boar once). He says he’ll occasionally prepare foods based around that week’s Bears opponent, too.
Iron Grate BBQ owner/chef Aaron Patin grew up in Houston and Atlanta, cheering for the Oilers and Falcons in the ’80s and ’90s. He moved to Chicago in 1997 and became a Bears fan. While there, Patin says he didn’t really have any football food rituals, but he did use game day as an excuse to attempt “elaborate creations.” Now in Milwaukee and busy owning and operating his own restaurant, food truck, and spot in the Fiserv Forum, Patin says he works most Sundays, so he’s “lost touch as a fan in a lot of ways.” However, he still claims to be a Bears fan at heart, and he understands the ritualistic role food plays in sports.
Though Triciclo Peru owners Mario Hererra and Amy Narr had very different upbringings, both grew up watching sports and eating family specialties as they cheered on their teams. For Narr, growing up in West Bend meant watching college football and the Packers and warming up with chili.
Meanwhile, Herarra watched soccer in Lima, Peru and feasted on ceviche. Narr says the couple now watches games with the edible accompaniment of things like nachos, dip, chili, and “beer, of course.”
No matter who your favorite team is, regardless of what state (or country) you’re from, and no matter what viewing experience you prefer, food almost certainly plays an important part in the how you enjoy it.
“I have memories of watching games with my papa and uncles and I love it,” Joyce says. “When everyone is together, food is essential and makes people happy so, naturally, that combined with the excitement of rooting for your favorite team together—even if you’ve been a Bears fan for the last few decades—makes for a great combo and a great time.”