The Vanderbilt Commodores began their 2018 football season against MTSU on the Saturday before Labor Day with an impressive win. Neither the food or fan anticipation disappointed as the temperatures rose in the parking lots and on the grills to officially kick off the Tailgating SEC Style and the college football season. And I love both; college football and especially tailgating.
Like any great recipe, lots of ingredients come together to create the ideal college tailgate. The basics include fun, food, and fans, yet there is much more. The day included ample Tennessee-made beverages such as Czann’s beer and Jack Daniels whiskey to lift the spirits of Vandy fans quickly.
Food Is the Focus
This season we’re taking another approach by highlighting your favorite tailgate foods and phenomenal cooks behind these delicious creations. Like all SEC schools, Vanderbilt’s tailgate scene produced plenty of each. Last season a mutual friend introduced us to an enthusiastic group of Commodore tailgaters who created the tasty and descriptive name for their space, “You Had Me at Bacon.”
Marc Menke, a Vandy fan who resides in Huntsville, AL and makes the drive north for each home game is the group’s designated grill master. However, there are several other accomplished cooks in this group including Chef Michael Fenswick, who operates his own catering company.
The group has tailgated together for many years, and you can’t find a more welcoming cadre of fans on any SEC campus. Marc always arrives early to set up the grill and prepare the area several hours before the game. A 7:30 p.m. kickoff provided ample time for pregame tailgating, and the grill was hot and ready to go by 1:30 p.m.
Having tailgated with these guys last year gave us a sense of what to expect. Marc had prepared and cooked a porchetta, or pork belly at home earlier that morning. All that was needed before the group arrived was a little time on the grill to cook the skin, adding a crispness to the meat. Marc says he wipes the baking soda off of the skin before baking and uses more garlic, rosemary and lemon zest than what’s called for in the recipe. And since the recipe is designed for a whole pork belly, Marc recommends halving everything; except for the spices, which add incredible flavor to the meat.
Regardless of what the prime meat of the day is, Marc always throws a few bratwursts and other types of meat on the grill to satisfy the taste buds of a group whose culinary talents and taste far exceed the average weekend tailgaters. Even though the afternoon temperature on the asphalt reached triple digits, everyone around agreed that bratwurst is a tasty tailgate food any condition!
Tailgate Like the Players Eat
A couple of tents away I was fortunate enough to run into Scott Glidden, who owns Tri-Star BBQ and also assist in food preparation for both the Vanderbilt football and baseball teams. Having watched an ESPN documentary on the food program of another SEC school, I asked Scott if players expend 6,000 to 8,000 calories each day during practice. “Absolutely,” he said.
What I found most intriguing was learning there are a couple of vegetarians on the Vandy football team. Scott said they use a variety of whey and other protein-laden supplements to keep and maintain muscle development. He also said today’s college athletes are nutrient conscious and ask what’s in the food they’re eating. “They care about what they eat,” Scott added. “They’re always asking what’s in certain foods.”
Tailgating & Toddies
I can’t confirm there was any Whey protein at any Vandy tailgate, but ample wheat and grain-based products were accessible in Ken Rebman’s beer. Ken owns Czann’s Brewing Company, a craft brewery in Nashville. Ken, who is also a member of the “Bacon” group, usually brings a small keg of one of his beers, such as a Czann’s Blonde or Pale Ale. He was kind enough to bring a few growlers of his IPA, which he described as being “less hoppy” than typical IPA’s, with a light crystal malt taste.
Czann’s beers are outstanding, so the next time you’re in Nashville, especially for a Vandy game, drop by the tasting room and take a growler or two home. Just tell Ken that OneSouthernMan sent you.
Vanderbilt offers fans the opportunity to rent their trademark black tents for under $1000 per season, so splitting it among a group makes being in the middle of the action a bargain. About 80 groups take advantage of this deal while others faithful fans have plenty of space to set up tents across the way, located just west of the football practice fields and an easy walk to the stadium.
The pinnacle for Vandy fans occurs a couple of hours before kickoff when the Commodore band marches down Natchez Trace Drive playing the school’s fight song, just ahead of the football team who walks past to receive their injection of motivation and encouragement from the loyal crowd lining the walkway.
I was fortunate enough to run into Eric Wormsbaker, a professional musician and Vandy alum who played trombone in the marching band. He and his childhood buddy, David Goldenberg, were hanging out and this was also Eric’s first tailgate in many years since the Vandy band members have to work each football weekend. We always say it’s a small world and the phrase was proven correct once again when I learned Eric was a student teacher under my childhood friend, Mark Garey, who teaches music at Freedom Middle School in Franklin. Don’t worry Mark – the only story I told Eric was the one about you “borrowing” stuff from my parent’s refrigerator when we were in middle school.
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Unlike some SEC campuses, there is ample parking near the stadium, especially for visiting fans to set up their tailgate tents or areas on the grassy areas near or around parking lots. Vanderbilt’s compact tailgate scene is not as large as other SEC schools, in part because the university’s alumni are spread out across the country since they aren’t a state school.
But don’t think for a second that size is an indicator of fan support. It’s always a pleasure to meet tailgaters who have no tie to the university other than living in or near the Nashville area and want to show their support for the program or just come to enjoy the gameday tailgate atmosphere only found at an SEC campus.
I would have enjoyed seeing more Vandy students tailgating alongside the fans, which is something you find at most other SEC tailgates.
How to Tailgate at Any Campus
SEC fans have the opportunity to tailgate five to six times a year on their favorite team’s campus. However, the fun part is joining or setting up your tailgate at other schools. If the idea of dragging your tents and tailgate supplies to an out of town game, then check out TailgateConnect. They are a new company – like of Airbnb or Uber – that connect fans with tailgate groups at various college campuses, allowing them to tailgate with local fans.
Next week (September 8), my new tailgating partner, southern food blogger, and influencer, Shea Goldstein at DixieChikCooks, will be in Tuscaloosa, AL on the campus of the University of Alabama, to tailgate with the Crimson Tide faithful. The menu at our host tent looks yummy, and we’ll be sharing the highlights on our social media platforms.
SEC schools had a combined record of 13-1 on the opening weekend, so SEC football rocks!