My AFC Wild Card Cook-Off: Houston vs Buffalo

In celebration of the NFL playoffs this year, I have decided to pay homage for foods well known in the participating cities. Even if I haven’t been to some of the cities, it’s not hard to find a few culinary gems one can recreate in the comfort of their own kitchen.

After watching the game itself, I can draw a few conclusions:

  1. Buffalo is cursed. Josh Allen does appear to have the tools necessary to win a few games but he’s gotta learn how to use them. At 6’5″, he pitches the ball versus throws it which certainly isn’t helped by the fact, as an announcer put it, his receiving core are “smurfs”. His naivety was clear in the 4th quarter where he literally pulled his team out of field goal range and handed Houston the win.
  2. American announcers have a hard-on for JJ Watt. It became nauseating listening to those clowns suggest that JJ’s sack was the turning point in the game and that anybody who could even dream of returning from pectoral surgery so quickly is nothing short of a god. The man love was truly nauseating and a reminder of why I mute sports events at times, especially given the fact they mic’d him up and we all got to hear his Tony Robbins’ motivational crap all game.
  3. Watching DeShaun Watson it like watching a roulette wheel spin and you have the house on red. Events like his Houdini move in this game remind us he’s far from a sure thing and that JJ Watt probably had something to do with it anyway.

The food showdown involved a menu of items representative of the two cities. This one was a bit easy…ribs vs wings. In order to up the ante a bit I added a few other dishes; Texas Caviar and Western New York’s famed sandwich… the beef on weck. I haven’t been to Houston but it’s culinary scene seems to be improving. I also have a good friend there so it’s on my list for 2020. I have been to Buffalo numerous times (the last time to watch the Bills beat the Flaccoless Broncos) and have had the privilege of indulging in a Charlie the Butcher’s beef on weck. I have also dropped by the original Anchor bar to pig out on a platter of wings.

It started with making some Texas BBQ sauce. Although there are no shortage of online renditions of Lone Star sauces, there are a few commonalities which include a good amount of sugar and lots of apple cider vinegar. In the end, I opted for Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass recipe which in the end was a perky and more biting version of many of the sauces sold on store shelves. The back ribs were slowly cooked (275 degrees)for a few hours and the sauces was added for the last 30 and the temp upped a few degrees which resulted in a slight caramelization but a maintenance of the strong vinegar flavour.

Texas caviar is a side dish open to creative interpretation as well. Usually it consists of some combination of the following ingredients: black-eyed peas and/or black beans, peppers, jalapeno, tomato, onion and avocado. Then it is usually dressed with some kind of vinaigrette ranging from Italian dressing to an olive oil with red or white wine vinegar. I used all the above ingredients to maximize taste and texture and finished it with aforementioned olive oil/red wine vinegar combination. The subtle acid nicely cut the fattiness of the other dishes and provided a bit of refreshment similar to smart Josh Allen play in the second half if you happen to be a Bills’ fan.

Texas Caviar

I cook wings all the time and opted for a straight forward oven-baked version sauced with hot sauce and butter in typical buffalo style. When it comes to wings, there are no fancy sides necessary…celery and carrots with a tub of blue cheese works every time. I often go full out deep fry but I was kind of drunk and lazy by this point.

Wings…Carrots and Celery Missing..I was a little sauced myself.

Since wings are pretty easy I tackled the famed beef on weck as well. I seasoned up an outside round and threw in the oven for a few hours (at the same temperature as the ribs) until it was medium. After a rest, I sliced it up and through on some homemade Weck buns (ensuring to leave the polarizing caraway seeds off half the batch). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recipe which called for almost 25 minutes of bake time at 425 which would have turned them into footballs even Tom Brady couldn’t deflate. They were a little dense for my liking but gives me something to work on for next year..just like Josh. In the end, it was no Charlie the butcher but made for a great pigskin snack.

For dessert I went with a dish from the eventual game winner; Texas bread pudding with a Whisky butter sauce. It was a pretty standard pudding using some old buns and brioche I had kicking around (I wouldn’t recommend the weck buns given the caraway!). I threw in some raisins and pecans for good measure. The whisky sauce called for 1/3 cup of bourbon which retrospectively was a bit much reminding that everything (including the risk of getting drunk off dessert) is in fact bigger in Texas.

Texas Bread Pudding with Whisky Butter Sauce

My Take

Although not a game for the Super Bowl, “wide right” may be tempered somewhat by “don’t get sacked when you’re in field goal range in overtime” or “I don’t give a shit if he’s Houdini…tackle him”. As for the food, both regions represent great party foods. The BBQ sauce was tangier than I’m used to buying and would almost pass as a good wing sauce as well. The Texas caviar would shut the pie holes of any vegan viewers (or you could just slap down some carrots and celery and keep the extra blue cheese for your wings). For dessert, I suspect many Bills fans would have ignored the pudding and lapped up the Whisky sauce as a new way to drown this decade’s new football sorrow.

Diners, Drives-Ins and Dives: The List

As mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  The closest I have come to meeting Guy Fieri  was through a window during a recent filming in Toronto.  I also managed to meet his signature red Camaro in a parking lot across the street.

Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto
Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto

Standing beside Guy's Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.
Standing beside Guy’s Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.

In my quest for great food, I have managed  to hit a number of DDDs in a number of different cities over the past couple of years.  My favorites are listed in order below.  Each will be reviewed under its respective city in the not too distant future.  In general, I have thoroughly enjoyed each experience and encourage everybody to support the locally owned establishments which exist along the path in your journey for love and passion on a plate.

The List

  1. Arnold’s Country Kitchen- Nashville
  2. Lucky’s Cafe- Cleveland
  3. Honey’s Sit and Eat- Philadelphia
  4. Dottie’s- San Francisco
  5. Silk City Diner- Philadelphia
  6. Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen – Detroit
  7. Union Workshop- Detroit
  8. Chap’s Pit Beef- Baltimore
  9. Pastabilties- Syracuse
  10. The Tamale Place- Indianapolis
  11. Tomahawk Restaurant- Vancouver
  12. Bluewater Seafood- San Diego
  13. Sip and Bite- Baltimore
  14. Blue Ash Chili- Cincinatti
  15. Voula’s Offshore Cafe- Seattle
  16. Polish Village Cafe- Detroit
  17. Mulberry Cafe- Buffalo
  18. Red Wagon Cafe- Vancouver
  19. Meat and Bread- Vancouver
  20. El Indio- San Diego
  21. BopnGrill- Chicago
  22. Blue Moon Cafe- Baltimore
  23. Wallace Station- Lexington
  24. Milktooth-Indianapolis
  25. Peaceful Restaurant- Vancouver
  26. Flytrap- Detroit
  27. Lakeview- Toronto
  28. Georgia’s Greek- Seattle
  29. White Palace Grill- Chicago
  30. Hopleaf- Chicago
  31. Marlow’s Rib and Restaurant-Memphis
  32. Terry’s Turf Club- Cincinatti
  33. Jethro’s Fine Grub- Vancouver
  34. Momocho Mod Mex- Cleveland
  35. Kitty Hoyes- Syracuse
  36. Kuma’s Corner- Chicago
  37. Fresh, Local, Wild- Vancouver
  38. Senate- Cincinnati
  39. Falconetti’s- Vancouver
  40. Zest!-Indianapolis
  41. Studio Diner- San Diego
  42. Melt- Cleveland
  43. Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub- Buffalo
  44. The Barking Dog- Indianapolis
  45.  Nana’s- Chicago
  46. Showdogs- San Francisco
  47. Empire Brewing Company- Syracuse
  48. Bakersfield- Cincinnati
  49. Big and Little’s- Chicago
  50. Sophia’s- Buffalo
  51. Panozzo’s Italian Market- Chicago
  52. Steer-In-Indianapolis
  53. South of Beale- Memphis
  54. Yankee Lobster Company- Boston
  55. Tommy’s Joint- San Francisco
  56. Bizarro Italian Cafe- Seattle
  57. Miller’s East Coast Diner- San Francisco
  58. Tioli’s Crazee Burger- San Diego
  59. Good Dog- Philadelphia
  60. Parkette Drive-In- Lexington
  61. Funk n Waffles- Syracuse
  62. Hob Nob Hill- Philadelphia
  63. Lake Effect Diner- Buffalo
  64. Save on Meats- Vancouver
  65. Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder-Toronto
  66. Athens Family Restaurant- Nashville
  67. Alcenia’s- Memphis
  68. Bro’s Cajun Cuisine- Nashville
  69. Saus- Boston
  70. 3 Sisters Café- Indianapolis
  71. Parkview Nite Club- Cleveland
  72. Taste of Belgium- Cincinnati
  73. Joe Squared Pizza- Baltimore
  74. Byblos- Syracuse
  75. Pizzeria Luigi- San Diego
  76. Mike’s Chili Parlor- Seattle
  77. Traffic Jam and Snug- Detroit
  78. Sterle’s Country House- Cleveland
  79. The Ace- Toronto
  80. Memphis Taproom- Philadelphia