Tailgating classics can easily be adapted to a variety of restaurant menus.

First Down Flavors: Adapting The Tailgate To Your Menu

Fall means a number of changes from summer. As the weather cools, leaves shift color, and football season kicks off, seasonal menus at restaurants go through changes as well. Colorado culinary school students should consider how they can adapt classic tailgating and party foods for their autumn menus.

How can tailgate food fit into your menu?

There are plenty of options to pursue in this realm of cuisine, whether that means faithfully recreating classic pregame foods and popular at-home viewing snacks or revamping them into something better suited for a restaurant’s reputation, budget and customer base.

Both approaches have their advantages, although new takes on recipes or a slight touch of added sophistication can go a long way toward impressing diners and standing out from the crowd. With those goals as a priority, let’s review strategies to enhance a few time-tested recipes:

Man grilling meats at football tailgate.There are plenty of grilling options to draw from for a tailgating-inspired menu.

The steak sandwich

Grilled meats are one of tailgating’s true pleasures. Many parking-lot and home cooks turn to the flavors of well-prepared, freshly cooked beef throughout the season. To make grilled steak easier to eat without tableware, it’s often served as a sandwich. The addition of bread doesn’t just make this meal portable, it also offers a way for chefs preparing their own versions to mix in a variety of other ingredients in a compact package.

Serious Eats’ take on the tailgating steak sandwich includes flank steak prepared in a nine-ingredient marinade and served on ciabatta bread with garlic-herb butter, grilled sweet onions, arugula and provolone. Consider using some of these elements as a springboard for your own take on this sandwich. Possible changes include using chateaubriand sauce or Maitre d’Hotel butter in place of the garlic-herb butter and including mushrooms or potatoes, alongside many others.

Another variation of this classic recipe comes from Food & Wine, which uses a bulgogi-style marinade, ribeye steak, ginger, pickles, scallions and bell peppers as the major flavor components. It’s clear that there are plenty of effective strategies for going beyond the basic steak sandwich and introducing more layers of flavor for a polished final product.

Potato salad

Potato salad is a common presence at tailgates in part because it stores easily and its constituent tastes meld together during the time between preparation and serving. While some basic recipes may seem uninspired, there are plenty of versions that take potato salad to its fullest potential for nearly any type of restaurant.

For a somewhat spicy approach, there’s mustard-based potato salad. This recipe from Bon Appetit uses Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, apple cider vinegar, dill and pickle brine to provide a zesty mixture of tastes. Consider adding in a few additional ingredients or changing the types of mustard to put your own spin on the dish.

Martha Stewart offered a recipe for mayonnaise-based potato salad that pairs the most classic form of the dish with a modern presentation. The traditional flavors of vinegar, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, celery and scallions come through. This dish can change with yogurt or sour cream replacing the mayonnaise as well as the addition of more herbs and vegetables.

Plenty of other options

Steak sandwiches and potato salad are a strong base for enhancing tailgating food, but they’re far from the only options. Think about the classic game-day hot dog, for example. The bun and frank base could be right at home in an upmarket restaurant as long as more refined choices are made for the bread and sausage. The same goes for barbecue, hamburgers and many other longtime tailgate favorites. Use familiar tailgating dishes as a base and embrace experimentation.

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