Grab your foam finger and polyester team jersey. If you're in the New York/New Jersey area for the big game, enjoy a hearty, delicious meal or snack before — and after — at these restaurants ready to serve fans from all sides. In town without a ticket to the Meadowlands? Pick up some of this winning grub for your game-day gathering.
Sticky's Finger Joint
Sticky's entry into the chicken finger arena starts with a simple mission: nothing you can't pronounce. The chicken is free of hormones and antibiotics. And the best part? No freezer burn. Once just a go-to children's meal and game-day favorite, chicken tenders at Sticky's have returned with a finger-licking vengeance. At Sticky's, chicken tenders are breaded in some not-so-typical ingredients, including wasabi panko breadcrumbs, crushed tortilla chips and pretzels. The Buffalo Balsamic Maple comes covered in a Buffalo sauce made of aged balsamic and maple syrup, and the ever-popular General Sticky Tso uses both spicy chili peppers and a sweet honey glaze. Or try each dish with your choice of dipping sauce — with 15 to choose from, you can stand to try more than one. Go outside the box with the chocolate chipotle barbecue sauce, or keep it simple with a classic buttermilk ranch. Either way, get ready to order, dip and lick your sticky fingers clean.
Hill Country Chicken
Using family recipes passed down from her grandmas, Elsia and Betty, Hill Country Chicken's founder and chef, Elizabeth Karmel, has built a solid fan base for her Texas-style chicken, served in a New York cafeteria-style restaurant. Chopped judge Scott Conant named Hill Country's chicken one of his favorites on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. And although Chef Elizabeth wouldn't readily admit the secrets to her cooking methods on TV, the recipe is simple: buttermilk brine with cayenne pepper followed by successive dips in seasoned flour and hot peanut oil. You can order more than the typical chicken bucket, as they offer party packages complete with chicken, buttermilk biscuits, sides and desserts. And if you're looking for something sweet, Hill Country has managed to perfect that too. The Pie Shake blends half of a mini pie into the shake with three generous scoops of ice cream.
The Meatball Shop
As the name suggests, The Meatball Shop excels in the meatball department. Locals line up for the mix-and-match meatball menu where they can select a classic beef meatball simmered in a spicy meat sauce or a vegetable ball smothered in mushroom gravy. As Ina Garten suggests on Barefoot Contessa, try the special goat meatballs when they're on the menu. These sumptuous Billy Balls go great with The Meatball Shop's house pesto sauce. And as a finishing touch, each meatball is stuffed with goat cheese, making them extra flavorful and fun to slice into. If you're looking to celebrate the winning team, you're in luck. The Meatball Shop's locations are open until 2am Sunday through Thursday and until 4am Friday and Saturday. If you really want to go all out, they offer a large-order option that includes 36- and 80-meatball platters.
The Smoke Joint
Even with its New York upbringing, The Smoke Joint still proves it can make standout barbecue worthy of a Southerner's fork. Owners and native Brooklynites Ben Grossman and Craig Samuel make what they call "real New York" barbecue. As they say, the flavors all come from "distilling the essence of regional styles of barbecue" while adding their own twists and techniques. The smoked brisket is smoked for 14 hours but is dry-rubbed and smoked without any sauce. The flavorful melting pot continues with the Brooklyn Chicken Wings. Perfect as a meal and better for a football party, these wings come drenched in either a sweet or spicy sauce with a side of creamy blue cheese for cooling off your taste buds.
Super Wings NY
The wings at Super Wings NY represent all the islands of the Caribbean. The Jamaican Pineapple Jerk wings use fresh pineapple juice. The Bajan Merry Mango represents Barbados and its love of mangos. But owner Colette Burnett, a native Trinidadian, considers her favorite to the be the Trini-Tamarind Wings made with tamarind, a pod-like fruit often used in Trinidadian cooking for its sour-sweet flavor. Still, they wouldn't be hot wings without spice, and Super Wings' Lava Sauce, made with honey and a handful of cayenne peppers, doesn't disappoint. The Lava Sauce gives any wing it touches an added "punch," Colette says, making these wings ideal for your game-day feast. Want more proof? Colette's first foray into wing competitions began at the Best Wings in Brooklyn cook-off, where she bested 16 other wing masters. Five months later, she bested Bobby Flay himself on Throwdown With Bobby Flay. So ask yourself this: Are you ready for some wings?
Defonte's Sandwich Shop, Brooklyn
Open since 1922, Defonte's serves a signature Steak Pizzaiola sandwich that took even Guy Fieri completely by surprise. After the steak pizzaiola ("meat in pizza style") simmers in the tomato gravy, it's placed inside a sesame-studded roll and finished with handmade mozzarella slices melted on top. But the Nicky Special has to be the mother of all sandwiches. Owner Nicky Defonte made this sandwich for die-hard New Yorkers. Unlock your jaw because this packs ham, capicollo, salami, fried eggplant, provolone, marinated mushrooms, lettuce and tomato with oil and vinegar into crunchy hero bread. But be patient. With food this good, there's bound to be a line before, during and after the big game.
John's of 12th Street
Few restaurants can claim more than a century of business, but John's of 12th Street beats that mark by five years. The 105-year-old restaurant has, not surprisingly, changed little of its classic Italian fare. The veal meatballs are still made in house with fresh herbs and spices, as are the pizzas and garlic bread. The pasta remains handmade, and the rich ragout sauce melts in your mouth. It may be old school with a "shut the front door" attitude, Guy says, but the addition of vegan menu items has brought this Italian institution a whole new flood of fans. Omnivores and vegans alike can enjoy a Margherita Pizza made with non-dairy cheese. And for dessert? John's homemade ice cream is both sweet and dairy-free!
One slice of Artichoke Basille's signature artichoke pizza is plenty hefty, as the secret sauce contains more than 20 different ingredients (artichoke not being one of them). On $24 in 24, Jeff Mauro tried his hand at tossing Artichoke's pizza dough, which, once baked, achieves just the right crunch. Owners and Pizza Cuz hosts Sal Basille and Francis Garcia both ought to know. They first opened Artichoke Basille in 2008, but their experience with pizza began early on by working at their family's pizzeria on Staten Island. The Whole Crab Pie and pan-baked Sicilian pie are just as tasty for anyone looking to grab pizza for the game. Even for Jeff, a Chicagoan, one bite of this pizza was enough for him to give credit where credit is due. "A good slice of pizza," he says, "is a good slice of pizza."
As one of New York's iconic pizzerias — and purportedly America's first pizzeria — Lombardi's just about invented the New York-style pie. The coal oven inside is original to the restaurant, and this oven was grandfathered in even with city ordinances barring coal ovens. Thank goodness. Locals and tourists form long lines to grab a slice of this old-school pizza that keeps it simple atop a perfectly charred thin crust. When it's time to feed a hungry crowd of football fans, try classics like the Original Pizza, made with fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, and a sprinkling of Romano and fresh basil. Bobby, on the other hand, opts for the White Pizza, featuring three white cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta and Romano. No sauce here, just a little basil, black pepper and garlic-infused oil to finish it off.
The pizza at Motorino comes in "one big round slice" says Rachael on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. But for fans like Rachael, that's OK. The only way to eat this delicious pie (which looks like a personal pan-size pizza) is by finishing the entire thing yourself. Rachael's favorite, the Colatura di Alici, may seem unassuming with mozzarella, red onions, grape tomatoes and olives, but the white anchovies provide just the right amount of salty zing. Rachael says: "The first bite is a mindblower. It's like an R-rated pizza, but it's so, so good." For those who prefer to skip the anchovies, fear not! Motorino features several other options, including the Prosciutto di Parma pizza and a spicy Soppressata Piccante pizza.
Clinton Station Diner
The front of the Clinton Station Diner menu reads: "Lots of Good Food." They feature big plates of diner favorites, but they're mostly known for their whopping burgers. For your football party, you can order The Achilles 1-pound burger, or move up to The Zeus, a massive 7-pounder. But if you want to feed an entire bleacher of fans, order the mother of all burgers, The 8th Wonder, which tops out at a whopping 105 pounds. The bun alone contains 30 pounds of flour (the equivalent of 250 regular house buns). For this burger, make sure to order ahead. This patty needs more than a griddle to cook the meat all the way through. It takes more than three hours in the oven to reach its peak temperature, and then pans full of American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions are added to create one of the largest burgers offered in America. Ready? Set. Eat!
Carmen's Deli may have opened in 1966 with phenomenal cold cut sandwiches, but they became cheese steak pros faster than you could double-down on one of them. Food Network Star Aaron McCargo, Jr. loved them so much, Carmen's decided to name a sandwich after him. Appropriately dubbed The Big Daddy, this hefty cheese steak comes topped with American cheese, fried onions and hot cherry peppers. But before there was The Big Daddy, there was The Sicilian that could feed an entire football team with tasty meats and veggies overflowing from its hoagie roll. The provolone, capicolla, prosciutto, soppressata, roast peppers, tomato, onion, oregano, sharp provolone and oil all work together to make a sandwich that's perfect for all fans.
Called a "local legend" by Guy, The Jefferson Diner continues to dish out quintessential New Jersey diner fare with a variety of Mom's prized Greek recipes. You can order diner staples like pancakes, eggs and corned beef, but if you're feeling adventurous, they've amped up the menu with everything from pizzas baked on a pita bread crust to coconut shrimp. The list goes on, as Jefferson Diner, once a small luncheonette, has transformed itself into a New Jersey institution. Brothers Nick and Jimmy Seretis have also added catering to the mix. Platters can feed a football team and vary from the quintessential cold cut platter to a Yankee pot roast with glazed carrots. No matter what you order, you won't leave hungry.
The Pop Shop
The owners of The Pop Shop pride themselves on offering nearly three dozen varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches. To them, each sandwich must have that "goo" factor, i.e. perfectly melted cheese inside. They've been spreading the goo love with their affordable grilled cheeses, having won Best of Philadelphia (even though they're not technically in Philadelphia!). There's The Beetlewood made with grilled chicken on a crusty ciabatta roll, the Virginia made with goat cheese and sauteed spinach, and then there's the Throwdown special, The Calvert, an applewood smoked bacon sandwich. The Pop Shop takes a grilled slab of focaccia and piles on roasted turkey, applewood smoked bacon, creamy avocado and plenty of goo (Monterey Jack cheese).
Marie's Italian Specialties
Some say Marie Riccio of Marie's Italian Specialties is the secret behind their mouthwatering Italian food. Guy says she and her husband, Carl Ruiz, have both succeeded in making "a culinary Disneyland." During the daytime, Marie's offers sub sandwiches overflowing with tasty deli meats. The signature Sacred Swine sandwich uses Italian pulled pork that's been slow-roasted for 12 hours. Marie's then spreads creamy polenta on the inside of crusty Italian bread and layers broccoli rabe and vodka sauce on top. But the Brick Chicken, once a special item, has a new, permanent place on the menu. Broccoli rabe and polenta make another appearance with this dish, as Marie serves both alongside a tender roasted chicken that's been baked and then fried to keep the bird super juicy.
Mustache Bill's Diner
Since opening Mustache Bill's more than 35 years ago, "Mustache" Bill Smith maintains his unique sense of humor while dishing out homestyle breakfast favorites worthy of his James Beard award (and breakfast on game day). Years later, he insists on making everything from scratch. Locals come in droves for staples like pancakes and eggs, but thanks to Bill, both have been reimagined into the signature Cyclops. After pouring a hefty amount of pancake batter on the flattop, Bill cracks an egg right in the middle. And if you're so inclined, he might create a work of pancake art. Using pancake batter, he delights kids and adults alike with pancake shapes of princesses, octopuses and even Guy, as Guy discovered on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives visit. Still, with all the fantastical creatures, Mustache Bill's is known around New Jersey for basic American diner food done right.
Since 1960, Kathy Antonellos' family has been running Hightstown Diner and serving locals a winning combination of classic diner fare and traditional Greek favorites. The secret to the crowd-favorite corned beef hash is keeping the ingredients fresh and simple. Corned beef is mixed in with fresh green peppers, onions and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. The extra-crunchy texture is courtesy of an extra-long time on the flattop — 20 minutes, to be exact. Each bite delivers crunch and flavor that doesn't need anything else, Guy says on Triple D. If you're looking to fuel up before game time, the Greek omelet provides both sustenance and substance. With no less than six eggs, this "monster" omelet comes packed with sausage, onions, peppers, tomatoes and feta cheese for a tangy first, third and tenth bite.
Brownstone Diner & Pancake Factory
How do these pancakes stack up? With a name that includes "pancake factory" and nearly 31 different types of pancakes to choose from, this diner really knows its stuff. Guy swung by on Triple D and witnessed only a handful of the selection, from the Nut ‘n' Honey Pancake filled with almonds, pecans and walnuts, then topped with maple syrup and powdered sugar to the Strawberry Pancake that has warm strawberry compote ladled on top. The Country Breakfast Wrap will satisfy the biggest of game-day cravings, as it features an oversize pancake filled with potatoes, sausage, American cheese and scrambled eggs.
Skylark Diner may call itself a diner, but its modern architecture and unique menu places it in a genre of its own. As Guy says on Triple D, "It's diner with bling." For the late-night crowd, make sure to sample the Orange Martini, rimmed with a space-age favorite: Tang. They've got burger lovers covered with a variety ranging from classic (with lettuce and tomato) to the beloved Short Rib Burger, packed with braised short ribs and porcini mushrooms. Still, if you're looking for some bold flavors on the day of the game, the Sky Blue Burger comes with a spicy chipotle mayo sauce, crumbled blue cheese and crispy onions for extra crunch.
The mozzarella at Vito's Deli has a fan base that extends far past its roots in Hoboken, N.J. Owner Vito Buzzerio has perfected the hoagie roll, but also the "mutz," known to outsiders as mozzarella cheese. He has orders coming in from Mississippi to Seattle — and even from Italy. The secret to this mutz is the smoker behind the deli and the fact that Vito forms each braid of mozzarella by hand. Chopped judge Ted Allen loves the Mutz Sandwich, calling it one of his all-time favorite smoked eats. As Ted explains, although Vito's delivers a menu of savory cold cuts and dry-cured meat sandwiches (try the eggplant parm, salami and provolone or turkey and Swiss sandwiches), for him, "It's about the cheese." With some garlicky pesto, roasted tomatoes and outstanding mutz, you've got a sandwich that's great for a pregame boost — or any day of the week.
For more FN-approved destinations, check out Food Network On the Road.