No matter which team you are rooting for, football season and tailgates are sacred here in Virginia.
Craig and Laura Reeves, owners of The Catering Company of Williamsburg, joke that the primary need for football is to facilitate and provide a backdrop for tailgating. As football season amps up, this Williamsburg catering duo is ready.
“With our formative tailgating roots in the Grove of Ole Miss, our motto of ‘go big or stay home’ actually understates the matter,” Craig says.
These days, the couple is hosting tailgates farther north, at the College of William & Mary. On game day, the Reeves host well over 100 friends and fellow sports fans, to enjoy food and libations, and cheer on the Tribe. “With our merry band of ‘gaters, we have managed to create one of the largest private tailgates under a custom tent,” Craig says. “We fill up three and a half spots in the Tribe Club area on Harrison Avenue at the foot of our Bed and Breakfast.”
There they gather for every home game, rain or shine.
“Each game is themed, menu wise, with culinary centerpieces such as roasted hog, chopped and served Carolina style. We will often include a whole lamb or goat, and roasted chickens.”
The menu typically incorporates roasted oysters, Brunswick stew (kettle-cooked over wood fire), even a fish fry. “All dishes are usually presented with a buffet of Southern sides and always something simple and sweet.”
They start with the premise that food doesn’t have to be high in fat to be high in flavor. Collards with smoked turkey wings, for instance, easily replace ham hock. Salads tend toward more vinaigrette-based, less mayonnaise-based. Fish and chicken are fried in canola oils.
“Side dishes have become lighter and healthier, with more beans, greens, and veggies. Our couscous with grilled veggies is delicious, and we do a wonderful Napa cabbage coleslaw with a vinaigrette.”
For your next tailgate, Craig shares a crock pot dish idea:
“Take your favorite Sloppy Joe recipe, only replace the ground beef with a couple of pounds of rough chopped cremini mushrooms and carrots. I take a couple pounds of mushrooms and a handful of carrot nibbles and pulse them in a food processor until they are pea size, to replicate the size and texture of the replaced ground beef. Then, the vegetables are sautéed in olive oil, seasoned well, and thickened with flour for body, and served on a grilled skinny bun with or without a slice of sharp cheddar.”
Though vegetarians and vegans are frequent guests at the Reeves’ tailgates, you won’t find veggie dogs or black bean burgers on Craig’s grills. “In my mind the similarities between a good Angus burger and a black bean burger are only notable one hundred yards away. So maybe leave the manly chargrilled meat center piece alone. After all, some things should remain sacred.”
That being said, Craig suggests that chefs unsubscribe to the Southern tradition that every item on the menu has to be covered in bacon.