It’s Time to Tailgate!

Tailgating in Style! I get fancy with our offering - bison meatballs, crispy polenta and a poached egg.

Forget the presidential election noise, or the start of the school year. A crisp September Saturday in Iowa means only one thing to the entire state: It’s time to tailgate.

The thing about growing up in a state with no professional team – in any sport – is that the population is passionately devoted to the teams we do have. An entire community will not only follow the high school team but will Monday morning quarterback their performance in the local coffee shop. Super Bowl? Who cares, let’s talk about the Iowa recruiting class for next year.

So it goes without saying that the whole state stops for Iowa football on autumn Saturdays: malls are deserted, all bar TVs are tuned in, and if tumbleweed existed in farm country it’d be drifting across the highways. People travel from across the state – driving up to 7 hours! each weekend! – to park their RV, tigerhawk-decaled van or SUV as Iowa City’s population of 70,000 doubles in size ahead of game day.

Many don’t even have tickets to the actual game.

A tiny fraction of the tailgating scene

And naturally, when you have this many people flooding in several hours before the game, you’re going to see a fair bit of Americana (or at least Iowa-cana) on the black and gold paper plates and in the yellow solo cups spanning tens of city blocks.

Melrose Avenue Flooded with Black and Gold

The scale of tailgating operations is nothing short of astounding. For my family of 6 to make the pilgrimmage south we had to have a lengthy planning meeting: locating the Iowa-themed tent, bloody mary supplies, camping stove, coolers. Traffic and parking management strategy. Does the weather forecast mean sunscreen and layers, or two pairs of socks and a lap blanket? As we weighed the logistics, I wondered if someone should be taking minutes (and was grateful this particular meeting involved wine*).

*Enough wine to confirm the next day that, in fact, someone should have been taking minutes.

Saturday morning we roll into Iowa City, decked out in black and gold but bleary-eyed from the early start. I look out across the sea of people as they pitch tents, start grilling bratwurst or heating crock pots of chili. Families that have been doing this every home game for years have their one dish – Jane always makes brats, Connie brings her famous cookies. You even park next to the same people you’ve been parking next to for ages, reuniting for the first time in 9 months.

And it may be 8 am but a generous shot of vodka is poured into the cup to commence bloody mary mixing (when the weather turns that might become a seriously spiked hot cocoa).

Bloody Mary with Horseradish Pickles (In a yellow solo cup, of course)

I decided to get fancy with some prosecco, and, inspired by the bloody mary condiments, splashed a generous amount of vodka into it, hereby christening the “Hawk 75.”

When someone later said that was already a French 76, I patiently explained that a French 76 isn’t served in a yellow solo cup, is it??

But of course there’s also food for sale. The famous Big Ass Turkey Legs have been gracing the fists of many a frat bro for years.

Big Ass Turkey Legs – were you expecting something else?

Pork tenderloins are de rigueur for a culinary tour of Iowa, complete with white starchy bun, mustard and pickles – breaded only, please, grilled is just a waste of time.

So Many Entendres for One PIece of Pork. (What is a Pork Snake, you ask?)

A "pork snake" - naturally.

And a new discovery was something that one entrepreneurial food vendor calls the “Walking Taco” – basically mashed up Doritos in their foil packet with some taco condiments and served with a fork, hilarious for its simplicity but at the same time strangely compelling as a pre-game snack (or post-drinking/game filler).

Not a walking taco...but it does also describe Iowa's performance that day

Tens of thousands of people, coming together, drinking alcohol and eating the state’s copious pork products in varied form. And hopefully dancing the polka to In Heaven There Is No Beer after a Hawk victory. If that doesn’t scream community I don’t know what does.

And imagine my thrill, then, on moving to Seattle, when I discovered that a passionate group of Iowa fans congregate at a Queen Anne pub every Saturday morning, decked in as much black and gold as you’d see at Kinnick Stadium, and complete with a two-person brass band for the fight songs. Even several thousand miles away, I can commune (and occasionally commiserate) with my fellow fans over a bloody mary.

…now I just need to teach the bartender a Hawk 75.

Recipe – Hawk 75





Yellow Solo Cup.

Yes, it has to be yellow. You’re not an Ohio State fan are you??


Pour prosecco to the L. Top with vodka to the O. (Which part of each letter is entirely up to you.)



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