While the Texans were facing off against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at NRG Stadium, another titanic battle was taking place a few miles away at Third Coast.
At the plush newly-renovated Texas Medical Center restaurant, Café Annie chef Robert Del Grande and Michael McKinney, the chef at Restaurant Orsay in Jacksonville, participated in a good-natured "Brunch-Off," along with Third Coast chef Jon Buchanan, to tout one of Super Bowl LI's top events — the Taste of the NFL extravaganza on February 4.
Del Grande whipped up Mexican-style scrambled eggs with BBQ brisket and tomatillo salsa for the hungry crowd. It's a great brunch dish because it can be prepared ahead of time and heated when guests come over, he explained. "And now with all the salsas on the market, you just pick one up in the grocery store and you're two minutes away from a good breakfast."
True to his Southern roots, Jacksonville chef Michael McKinney created a mouthwatering dish of poached eggs with pork belly, greens, and grits while Buchanan stayed true to Texas traditions with smoked turkey enchiladas with Evil Twin Stout mole, black beans, crema fresca, pico de gallo and avocado.
Guests, who paid $35 for the brunch and unlimited mimosas, ate heartily as the friendly waitstaff delivered large portions of all three brunch dishes tableside.
The Taste of NFL’s founder Wayne Kostroski, who had flown in from Minnesota for the kickoff preview brunch, told CultureMap that it was a great way to offer a hint of what's to come at the Taste of the NFL, which will be held at the University of Houston the night before the Super Bowl. Chefs representing all 32 teams, plus eight other chefs, including Buchanan, who will represent the Texas Medical Center restaurant, will prepare their finest dishes for a crowd expected to number several thousand.
"It has has everything," Kostroski. "If you love food and you're a foodie, you've just gone to foodie heaven with all these chefs. If you're a sports enthusiast, the room is filled with current athletes and Hall of Famers. We have celebrities. Alyssa Milano will be back; she calls this her favorite event of the year. Then we close with a national act that we will announce the first of the year. So you get to work off all those calories while hooting and hollerin' with the band."
All proceeds to go food banks in each NFL city, with the Houston Food Bank receiving a larger share since Houston is the host city for the Super Bowl. "You're going to spend money on Super Bowl weekend (with) all sorts of parties; this one you know it goes to a good cause," Kostroski said.
Also on hand was Houston Oilers great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea and his wife Pat. Bethea said he supported the cause because "anyone can be one paycheck away" from going hungry. "This is very important for the city and the people that it serves, so I'm looking forward to being a part of it," he said.
Del Grande, who participated in the first Taste of the NFL party in Minneapolis in 1992 on behalf of the-then Houston Oilers, recalled "it was a just small band of pirates (including Stephen Pyles and Bobby Flay) up there cooking. We did the first one in the lobby of an office building. It was minus 20 degrees outside, but it was fun.
"We did sea scallops with a tomatillo sauce, which was really brand new. It's been an interesting time when (the event) went from passing hors d'oeuvres to these food stations. It keeps evolving and gets bigger and bigger."
When Del Grande returned as Houston's representative in San Francisco last February before Super Bowl L to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Taste of the NFL, he served nearly 3,000 people.
For the gathering at U of H, he plans to serve Texas flatiron steak on a salad with Texas smoked cheddar and beef cracklings. "I was going to do Gulf Coast seafood but a lot of people are doing seafood that are flying in. Since it's in my hometown, I'm the last one to decide, because I want to give everyone else flying in, shipping stuff in, to do what they want to do first. Beef is normally the hard one to ship and cook and prep, but we have the home court advantage," he said.
"And every event I've done, whenever you serve beef, the line is long. People want to know, where's the beef? And we've got the beef. It will be a lot of cutting and slicing, but it will be good."
Kostroski said ticket sales are brisk and he expects the event to sell out by the time the NFL playoffs roll around in mid-January. Tickets are $700 and can be purchased on the Taste of the NFL website.