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Tailgate Gourmet

Deep-Fried Turkey, Anyone?
Photo: Dan Forero
For 31 years, the NY Giants have called Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., their home turf.

In all that time, season ticket holder Bill Chapman, 73, has missed only four games.

It's a good thing because Chapman and his sons, Russ and Steve, are the men behind a tailgate party in section 1A of the stadium parking lot that has become as big a draw as the game itself.

A few hours before kickoff at the Giants' home opener against the Indianapolis Colts, the Chapmans' tailgate was in full swing.

Bill and Russ stood behind a long table, serving sliced filet mignon sandwiches with homemade mushroom gravy to nearly 70 friends and relatives.

All around them other fans warmed up for the game, from couples sitting on the tailgates of pickups and SUVs to more elaborate setups involving RVs and televised games projected on huge outdoor screens.

Tailgating turns a parking lot into one big party, and creates an atmosphere so inviting that it's referred to as the "last great American neighborhood." For many fans, like the Chapmans, tailgating has been a game-day ritual for years, and now it seems everyone wants to get in on the fun.

There is a thriving market for items like fold-up grills, and trusted gastronomic sources like the Food Network and Epicurious.com offer tailgating recipes and tips. Even celebrity chefs like Mario Batali are writing entire cookbooks devoted to tailgate cuisine.

A Family Affair

Chapman travels 120 miles to the stadium from his home in south Jersey. On opening day he was set up in the stadium lot by 4 p.m.; the game started at 8, and when it was over, Bill was back at his table, serving cold cuts and beverages. He left the stadium at 1 a.m.

"This is a labor of love," Chapman explains.

In this corner of the parking lot, tradition draws tailgating veterans and newcomers alike.

Years ago, the core of this group included Chapman and some of his buddies from the American Legion Post in Park Ridge, N.J.; today, he is the last remaining member of that group, but he's joined by the children and grandchildren of his old friends.

"Some come and go, but the nucleus is still here," he says. Even his equipment has historical significance. "Some of the utensils I cut with I've had for 31 years. A lot of the stuff is original. The table was donated by the Montvale Fire Department, and the tablecloth we use is 50 years old. It was a wedding gift."

Russ Chapman, 48, recalls attending his first tailgate at age seven, at Yankee Stadium. "Back then it was pretty much beverages, chips and sandwiches," he says. The Chapman menu today is much more elaborate, and even timed to the seasons.

"Starting in November we serve chili, usually made with beef, but on occasion I make it with venison, elk, moose or bison," Chapman continues. "The game closest to Thanksgiving we deep fry turkeys."

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