As chlorophyll bleeds from leaves and blustery autumn winds begin to blow, gridiron greats are once again sharpening their cleats and getting ready to storm the field to display their pigskin prowess. It's a long haul to bowl season, though, and the weekend warriors among us will need a heaping bowl of sustenance to carry us through. So pull out the portable Weber, load up the canopies and coolers, hit the road, and host a world-class tailgate with supplies from these local champions of eats and drinks.
Dive in with submarines from Bari Foods
Bari's deli case, filled with ruddy salamis, glistening prosciuttos and ivory logs of provolone, is the perfect spot for building your own meat tray. If you want finished products only, the submarines—as large as Popeye's forearm and served on fat, yeasty loaves from D'Amato's Bakery next door—will do. These hand-held beauties make for easy parking lot noshing; favorites include the Italian, a combination of pepper-flecked mortadella, translucent provolone, Genoa salami, paprika-streaked capacola ham and prosciutto and mozzarella filled with sweet-anise-tinged basil.
Raise your parking lot spirits with drinks from Lush Wine and Spirits
Mitch Einhorn (owner of Twisted Spoke) brings his edgy personality to the stuffy confines of the wine world by supplying pre-game partiers with a trove of craft brewed beers, a bevy of low-priced, high-quality wines and incredible whiskey (hip flask, anyone?). Sure, you could go to Sam's or Binny's, but Lush's entire beer assortment, including hoppy numbers from local brewers like Three Floyds or Goose Island, is already refrigerated and cooler-ready. If you're not a hop head, Lush sells plenty of crisp, fruity wines, from riesling to rose to champagne. And, unlike most stores, you can try before you buy; sample any of the wines for free at the in-house tasting counter.
Keep the party flying high with Harold's Chicken Shack #36
It ain't a tailgate without fried food. But who wants to lug around a deep fryer or risk third degree burns before kickoff? Load up on a couple of 24-piece buckets, catfish nuggets, fried okra and onion rings from Harold's instead. Keep in mind, though, not all Harold's are created equal. Among the dozen or so franchises in the local chain, the quality of the namesake chicken ranges from soggy and greasy to perfectly crisp and hot. Try this location in Wicker Park, which churns out some of the crispier birds.
Stoke the grill with meat from Gepperth's Meat Market
Keep your fiery barbecue stocked with meat from Chicago's 101-year-old meat market. From the house-cured, deeply smoked bacon to the spicy Italian sausage, the quality here never disappoints. It's also an encased-meat geek's dream, with a selection of Sheboygan brats, smoked Polish sausage and even English-style bangers. For the kind of fans who can afford box seats, let longtime owner Otto Demke guide you to the perfect Black Angus New York Strip (which the Food Network's David Rosengarten once named the best steak in Chicago after a blind test), whole racks of lamb loin or skin-on chicken breast.
Keep your tailgate strictly Ivy League at Fox & Obel
If your crew rolls more Ivy League than Big Ten, this is the ultimate one-stop shop for swanky DIYers. Don't miss the deli counter, filled with D'Artagnan Sauccison Sec (great spicy salami), mini portions of caviar and crab cakes as big as your fist. The gourmet market also has one of the best cheese counters in Chicago: Grab one blue (Kings Island's Roaring Forties), one soft (Humboldt Frog) and one harder or firmer cheese (Costwald Cheddar) for the perfect platter. Freshly baked baguettes will serve as crusty islands for your fromage, and don't forget to grab some Cajun-spiced Zapp's potato chips for your snack course.
More spots to score eats:
For a sweet ending try the super-moist tres leches cake or the lemon meringue tarts with their funky caramelized tendrils of meringue.
Goddess and Grocer (Bucktown) or in the Gold Coast
As every tailgater knows, success is in the sides. Get yours here, including a creamy Yukon Gold potato salad balanced with zingy mustard, sweet relish and chunky bits of hardboiled egg.
Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe
Kill the chill from Soldier Field's lakefront blow with a bowl of Chuck's red chili, made with Mexican spices and infused with chocolate.