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Forget the game. Let's tailgate!

Posted 6:26pm on Thursday, Feb. 03, 2011

You didn’t need to have thousands bucks or to be best friends with Jamie Foxx to attend what turned out to be one of the most entertaining parties of Super Bowl Week. On Thursday afternoon, the inaugural “National Tailgating Championship,” sponsored by the Bing search engine, took center stage in downtown Fort Worth. Provided you could bear the freezing temperatures, you got to enjoy a raucous midday party, complete with free food and beer.

Taking over the Gateway parking lot in Sundance Square, group of tailgaters from six NFL cities -- Houston, Denver, New York, Arizona, New Orleans and Seattle -- set up elaborate cooking stations and served up their wares to hundreds of passers-bys.

The dishes included everything from shrimp etouffee and gumbo (New Orleans) to Korean barbecue and honey-glazed salmon (Seattle) to old-fashioned hot dogs and hamburgers (Houston). And while we don’t know how one secures a permit to hand out free alcohol, most of the groups were pouring specialty cocktails and regionally-brewed beer. (We were afraid to even ask how Denver’s Broncos’ Bus team achieved that electric blue color with their specialty shot.)

Among the quirkier sights: A guy dressed up as a giant firedog (New Orleans was represented by Drago’s Char Broil Engine Company, accompanied by a number of New Orleans firefighters); a half-dozen or so folks tossing Mardi Gras beads from the top of Drago’s fire truck; and an extremely enthusiastic representative from Houston’s Houston’s Bull’s Eye Tailgaters, who insisted we take a shot of tequila. (Sure, it was only one in the afternoon, but who were we to argue?)

For those downtown workers who stumbled onto the event, the real treat was the free lunch: Tailgaters happily handed out plates of food to anyone who lined up. Weather being as chilly as it was, the lines weren’t terribly long, either. We managed to taste food from four of the six stations (the folks from Denver were tapped out; the folks from New York -- perhaps fittingly -- were taking too long and yelling at one another, so we moved on). Our favorites were Seattle’s Hawk One, which served an usually fresh-tasting salmon, and Arizona’s House of Cards, which conjured up a flawlessly grilled pork tenderloin.

As for the winner, which took home both a $15,000 purse and a “Golden Grill” trophy, those honors went to Houston’s Bull’s Eye Tailgaters. Can’t say we completely agree with that choice, but considering that the pickings were slim by the time we go to the front of the line, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

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