With the NBA season looking more and more unlikely (gentlemen, please compromise!), we want to make it easier for you to embrace a new sport — or remember why you love it. Whether you’re a die-hard hockey fan or looking to get back into it, we’re about to prove to you that the culinary options around the league are world class. Over the past two days, we’ve broken down the Top 10 Food and Drink Teams in the NHL — from tailgating in North Carolina to tossing octopus in Detroit. See teams 10-6 here. On to the top 5:
5. Boston Bruins
The Team: The Bruins snapped a nearly 30-year-drought when they brought home the Stanley Cup last season, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games in a nailbiting championship series. Now, the only problem? Getting tickets is now nearly impossible (and pricey).
The Food: There are 47 concession stands to choose from. We award Boston points for the Seaside Shack, where you can score overstuffed lobster rolls and bay fries. For your sweet tooth, there’s gelato made on premise at the Sweet Spot (flavors include cookies & cream and brownie). Try the steak and cheese rolls at the Fry Depot. For higher class dining inside the arena, The Hub offers a full-service bar and views of the city, no membership required. The Insight Club lounge requires special membership (from expensive suite purchases), but includes a sushi bar and cocktails.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Team: One of the original 6 NHL teams, the Maple Leafs recently moved to the Air Canada Centre and have the second-most titles (13) in league history. Getting tickets has never been easy — games are normally sold out, even in years when the team isn’t doing great. But with a young team this year, excitement is particularly ramped up in Toronto, with Phil Kessel leading the league in scoring as of Monday.
The Food: While it may have one of the more happening cities surrounding an NHL stadium, the Maple Leafs have made a conscious effort to bring more food-forward options into their new stadium. There are two new concession stands, including one that sells poutine. Yes! Burkie’s Dog House, named for team GM Brian Burke, goes above and beyond general concessions with Poutine Dogs (layered with French fries, gravy and cheese curds), bacon-wrapped hot dogs and even a maple hot dog (beef in maple syrup with beans on top). Outside the arena, there are some decent restaurants like Piazza Manna and Harbour Sixty Steakhouse, where locals say you can spot Leafs players on their off-time. Nothing seems to get higher ratings than Kokoro, a sushi spot near the stadium.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
The Team: In 1997, the NHL moved the Hartford Whalers down south to Raleigh, North Carolina, renaming the franchise the Hurricanes. In addition to gaining a whole new region of hockey fans, it allowed for some new kinds of pre-gaming tradition.
The Food: League officials and fans head to Hurricanes territory for tailgating, preparing everything from buffalo wings to burgers to pulled pork before the puck drops. Parking lots near the stadium open 3 hours before game time. Before the 2011 All-Star game, pitmaster Ed Mitchell of Raleigh’s The Pit wheeled out a pig for a pre-game pig roast. The team also sponsors a bar day at a different local bar before each game.
2. New York Rangers
The Team: The Rangers play in the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden (also home to the Knicks). Fans can take solace in the fact that they won the first-ever Stanley Cup. Sadly, they haven’t brought one back to the Big Apple since the 1993-94 season. They’ve made the playoffs for five of the past six years, losing in the first round to the Washington Capitals last season. Tickets are pretty easy to come by, but are the most expensive of any of the three New York-area teams.
The Food: While New York is a fantastic food city, the area surrounding the stadium is a plethora of gross chains and fast food. We recommend hitting the street vendors for a quick bite or any of the pizza places, or going 10 blocks in any direction. Koreatown is nearby, and an excellent choice. But the arena itself is about to undergo a huge transition featuring several big names in NYC’s food scene.
In December, restaurateur Drew Nieporent will serve specialty hamburger and cheeseburgers at the Daily Burger. Andrew Carmellini and Luke Ostrom (of The Dutch) will team up for new Italian link sausage and cheese bratwurst sandwiches at the Sausage Boss. Right before the holidays, Jean-Georges Vongerichten gets in the game with organic chicken, chicken dogs and chicken salad at his namesake Simply Chicken stand. Around the stadium will also be select items from New Yorkers’ favorite restaurants, like barbecue joint Hill Country and Carnegie Deli. For a sweet dessert, Magnolia Bakery hawks its famous cupcakes.
1. Nashville Predators
The Team: The team’s marketing officials embrace tailgating at Bridgestone Arena as a full-fledged pre-game event, and despite being a fairly new squad (they became an official team in 1998), the Predators have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. The arena, unlike many sports arenas, is in a prime neighborhood, right near Nashville’s Music City waterfront.
The Food: Dubbed by the Predators’ own staff as Nashville’s biggest tailgate, there’s barbecue and music for some pre-game fun, even if you don’t make it to the game. Team reps also recommend Jack’s Bar-B-Que, which is next to the arena, and the ribs at Rippy’s Bar and Grill. Looking to get rowdy? A variety of honky-tonks surround the stadium, including Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World and The Stage Legend’s—but those stops are more for the booze then the food.
Once inside the stadium, the options are limited to hot dogs, nachos, burgers and a deli spot. For higher class dining, there’s the Patron Lounge, where you need reservations made before the game to get in (and a credit card to secure it.) There’s also a “Fan Zone” where ticket-holders can get unlimited beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks and a buffet complete with a carving station.
But it’s the tailgating that earns Nashville the No. 1 spot on this list.