Tailgate Toe-To-Toe picks a weekly NFL game and analyzes the matchup—on the field and in the parking lot.

A wise man once said, “Crab cakes and football. That’s what Maryland does!” Actually I don’t know if he was a wise man at all—he was an actor that stood in the rather large shadow cast by Vince Vaughn. Nevertheless, according to a DirecTV survey taken in 2007, Baltimore, home of the Ravens, was named “America’s Best Football Tailgating City.” Charm City looks to hold onto that title with the help of the Baltimore Firefighters Local 734, a group that hosts weekly events and BBQs at the firehouse.

The gatherings represent a microcosm of the community that forms around the beloved purple-clad football team. Located a mere block from M&T Bank Stadium, the firehouse hosts festivities where getting drunk and sliding down the fireman’s pole is frowned upon. While most tailgates in the city feast on seafood—think raw bar with oyster shooters—the guys at Local 734 char burgers and turkey legs on their custom-made North Carolina cooker. Once the weather dips in November, you can almost always find a pot of chili big enough to serve the 1,000 plus Ravens fans that stumble in. Sure there’s a time and place for shellfish, but when you have high-powered hoses and trained professionals at your disposal, grill away.

On the other side of the ball is Coach Steve Spagnolo’s St. Louis Rams. I for one have always been a little confused when I’ve sat at a typical honky-tonk joint and mindlessly selected St. Louis baby back ribs. Upon further research, questions were answered and I discovered that the term “St. Louis-style pork ribs” can apparently be attributed to the cut, via the USDA. (As the St. Louis restaurant critic once told us). Pork steaks, too, have their rightful place on the grill—a shoulder cut that becomes tender due to the region’s abovementioned heavy hand with the sauce.

One particular 2nd generation-run St. Louis Rams Tailgate boasts a 127-0 record. That’s right, they’re undefeated in tailgating. Founded by Jack Pleimann and Mick Finn in 1960 (prior to a loss by my New York Giants, mind you), the not-so-serious crew takes their pre-game tradition very seriously. Now Jack’s sons and friends run the “game before the game” at the fenced-in lot at the corner of Collins and Dickson Streets, just a few blocks from the Edward Jones Dome. 

Run almost like a frat house, the group has an assigned Entertainment Director who’s always sitting on the hot seat as eager replacements stand by. Unfortunately, the job is unaffected by the allure of a shrimp boil or the spectacle of deep frying turkeys. Bring a peace offering of some nature and be welcomed in with open arms—maybe something that can wash down their bacon tomato pasta salad.

As for what to expect on the field. I was dead wrong last week when I picked the Eagles to fly past the Falcons. This week, I go ahead with the same brash confidence every self-proclaimed football aficionado does. The Ravens will not lose this game. After having their way with the Steelers in Week 1, they simply dropped the ball against the Titans. Joe Flacco made some critical errors, Ray Rice couldn’t find his groove on the ground, and the once heralded Ravens D allowed Matt Hasselbeck to throw for 358 yards. Fans, bettors and all those in the Baltimore locker room have to have found this unacceptable.

I’m sorry to say, Ray Lewis will have to take his anger out on the banged-up Rams. Question marks remain next to Steven Jackson’s name on the roster as he’s only carried the ball twice this season. Sam Bradford has shown some maturity in his second year…but it was against the Swiss cheese Giants secondary. Cue Ed Reed salivating over the idea of Mike Sims-Walker catching a pass over the middle.

Coach Spags throws some nice blitzes out there and a defense anchored by Legion Of Doom spawn James Laurinaitis doesn’t look half bad against the run. But we all know that half of Rice’s production comes off those little screen passes in the flat and using the open field to make tacklers miss. I foresee a big day for Flacco and his favorite target, Anquan Boldin and a big day for Lewis, Reed and Terrell Suggs’s angered defense. GAME PICK: Ravens  31, Rams 14

All is not lost for St. Louis natives—you still got the other white meat on your side. As delicious as crab cakes are, they belong more at a cocktail hour on trays carried by men in bowties. Once you put on your pads and your helmet, it’s time to rip flesh from a rib cage and act as if the sauce that stains your chin is the blood of your adversary. It’s a blowout. FOOD PICK: St. Louis Ribs 42, Crab Cakes 17


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