By Lauren Levine
For Carolina Panthers fans, the arrival of fall doesn’t just mean a break in the humidity, the return of seasonal beers and the chance to bundle up in cozy flannels again; it also means it’s time again to spend your weekends cheering on your favorite football team. While the plays and the final score are everything, planning the perfect tailgate to enjoy it all is essential. To keep a winning record when it comes to entertaining guests before kickoff, take a page from our ultimate tailgate playbook.
Beyond beautifully executed touchdowns, the way to most fans’ hearts is through delicious food. Football and barbecue are about as American a combination as you can get. Plus, a feast full of pork is fitting since you’ll be watching the pigskin get tossed around for four quarters. Start with a spread from Midwood Smokehouse. Offerings include traditional favorites like chopped pork sandwiches, beef brisket, tender ribs and macaroni and cheese. Plus, mouthwatering appetizers, like bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers and zesty coleslaw, add extra flair to the unbeatable flavor profiles you’ve already created. In the South, no tailgate is complete without fried chicken, so you’ll want to consult Charlotte’s legendary go-to: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits. The packed-to-the-brim Jumbo Tailgate package includes 20 pieces of crispy fried chicken, four picnic-sized sides—ranging from flavorful green beans to the signature dirty race—10 buttermilk biscuits and a gallon of fresh sweet tea. Add an order of the fan-favorite sweet treat, football-shaped Bo-Berry biscuits, to be the tailgate hero. And don’t forget the universal language of football: chicken wings. Whisky River is famous for its signature wings doused in tasty sauces. Special tailgate packages include the Ribs & Wing Fest (eight slabs of baby back ribs, 100 Killer wings and two sides), the Summer Cookout (cheeseburger and grilled chicken sliders, baby corn dogs, potato salad and coleslaw) and the Wing Party (100 Killer wings, a large salad, celery, and ranch and blue cheese dipping sauces). Looking to man the grill yourself? Pick up savory steaks and gourmet meats ready for firing at Meat & Fish Co. Of course, we’d be remiss to skip dessert. Pile a plate high with Amelie’s French Bakery’s adorable Panthers-themed macarons and load a tiered platter with blue and black paw print cupcakes from Publix.
The ultimate tailgate requires an expert rotation of chilled beverages on hand to wash down the smoky and savory goodness of the entrees, appetizers and desserts. For spirit-free and kid-friendly beverages that hit the spot, opt for Bojangles’ sweet tea, which already comes with your Jumbo Tailgate meal, or Midwood Smokehouse’s lemonade. For something a bit different but refreshingly festive, stock up on kombucha (a non-alcoholic fermented beverage packed with vitamins and probiotics) from Lenny Boy Brewing Co. The brewery sells its signature kombucha, which comes in an array of unique flavors, in a growler size, making bulk pick-up a cinch. Bonus: Sunday fill-ups are only $10. For something a little stronger, swing by NoDa Brewing Company and grab a pack of Jam Session to go. NoDa has also partnered with The Roaring Riot Panthers Fan Club to create a new rye pale ale named after the group. You can find it both at Roaring Riot tailgate parties and in the NoDa Brewing Company taproom throughout football season. Stop by Craft Growler Shop and Tasting Room to purchase a 32- or 64-ounce growler of your favorite beer (they offer 36 rotating taps) for another ideal gameday complement. Members of Brewpublik, the Charlotte beer-delivery startup, can even have cold ones personally delivered to their tailgates if arranged at least a day in advance and for a group of 15 or more. On a budget? Don’t forget about Bud Light’s special Panthers cans, which come emblazoned with the famous feline we all know and love.
When it comes to tailgating like a pro, what would Panthers legend Luke Kuechly do? He certainly wouldn’t sip lukewarm beverages. Fortunately, the Carolina Panthers Team Store on Mint Street sells koozies and spacious coolers, so you can show your black and blue pride while keeping everything delightfully icy. Of course, nothing pairs better with a chilly brew than a cozy chair and good company. Pick up a set of Panthers-logoed foldout chairs—handy drink holders included—at BJ’s Wholesale Club. With the sun setting earlier and earlier and temperatures dropping from day to night, be sure to drape a few warm blankets over your chairs to defray the evening chill. For a fancy touch, snag a herringbone woven throw in Panthers blue from B.D. Jeffries or grab a fleece Panthers-logoed coverlet from the Team Store. The one risk you run in creating the ultimate tailgate? You may never want to leave it. If you’re too relaxed and content to move or don’t have a ticket to the game, bring the action right to your crew. High-definition flat screen TVs are a must for catching every moment of the battle for eventual Super Bowl glory, which can be streamed via portable satellite TV antennas available at stores like Walmart and Target. Have a famous recipe for your own burgers and bratwursts? Grill your own grub by renting a smoker or purchasing a more compact, portable option. Mac’s Speed Shop is a great option for renting a mobile smoking unit. They’re equipped to handle smoking whole hogs, and some even include kegerators and high-definition TVs.
Because watching uber-talented players dominate the field always inspires the athlete in us all, you’ll want to have your lawn games ready for action. Plus, once you’re done chowing down on everything fried and sauce-smothered, it’s probably not a bad call to get up and move a little. What better way to burn off some calories than challenging your fellow fans to a game of cornhole? For the avid fan, a true gameday game session should include Panthers-themed boards and bean bags to keep your team spirit firing on all cylinders. The NFL Shop online also carries a Panthers Ping-Pong table, which is perfect for a pregame match before kickoff—or for converting to a beer pong table should you find yourself with an excess of brews. The NFL Shop also stocks a plethora of Panthers-logoed footballs, so even if you don’t have the arm or the time to make a 40-yard dash to the end zone at Bank of America Stadium, you can channel your inner SuperCam for a few brief moments. For more ways to get your group up and moving and keep the adrenaline pumping, pick up a ladderball toss game set or a washer toss kit at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Target and let the fun—quite literally—fly.
The Fan Fashion
Displaying your team spirit is an equally important part of a successful tailgate. Fear not, ladies; you’re not bound to a baggy T-shirt and jersey or jeans. The city’s incredible boutique circuit carries chic looks that either feature team colors or spirited messages, so you can stay loyal to your team while on trend. Check out Pink Social Girl Tribe online, KK Bloom in Myers Park and The Impeccable Pig in South Park, among the countless others who fill their social media messages with stylish gameday looks. Just in time for football season, haute handbag purveyor Dooney & Bourke has released a line of Panthers-themed accessories, which can be found at Belk and Macy’s and online at dooney.com/nfl. Whether you want a crossbody bag, a tote or a wallet, there’s a black and blue DB design for you. Just remember that Bank of America Stadium is strict about the size of bags it permits inside, so check panthers.com/stadium for specific regulation details. For extra-festive edge, cloak yourself in Panthers-inspired jewelry. At Beads, Inc. you can create your own custom necklaces, bracelets or earrings or select something that the talented team of bead masters has already handcrafted. Feeling the Panthers spirit from head to toe? Slide on a pair of socks featuring the smiling faces of your favorite players. They can be found online at freakerusa.com and occasionally at Blis in Founders Hall and Paper Skyscraper in Dilworth. Friendly tip: These sell out quickly!
Getting your friends and family together for a pre-kickoff gathering is part of what makes football season fun, but there’s a lot of unforeseen stress that goes into organizing a tailgate. If you’re looking to enjoy the party without feeling crazed beforehand, companies dedicated to the cause, like Tailgate Group, offer a major source of relief. The crew brings all of the necessary equipment to your preferred location, sets it up, and provides takedown and cleanup when the festivities are over. You can plan a party by visiting tailgategroup.com.
"Tailgating has become increasingly popular throughout the country and especially so in the Southeast during football season,” says Colton Benford, founder of Tailgate Group. “We offer a wide variety of tailgating packages for groups of all sizes, and we service the Southeast from Louisiana to the Carolinas."
Certain rental companies around the city, like Tailgate Group, Party Reflections and Classic Party Rentals, will even send on-site staff to manage the service so that you’re not worried about whether you need to step away from your cornhole game to restock the napkins.
To make sure you get the perfect spot, city parking websites, like preferredparking.com, e-zparking.net and parkcharlotte.com, allow you to reserve parking or tailgating spots.
If you’re not up to planning your own tailgate but are a dedicated member of the Keep Pounding movement, join one of the best gameday gatherings in town. For a small fee—but priceless team comradery and fun—membership in the Roaring Riot gets you a T-shirt, sticker, a designated tailgate area and discounts on away trips as well as at partner vendors’ businesses.
No Ticket to the game and no tailgate to attend? No problem. Check out these stadium-neighboring Queen City spots perfect for cheering, dabbing and toasting.
This article ran in the October 2016 issue of Charlotte Happenings.