Thu Sep 22 04:24pm EDT
Forget winning hearts and minds; the CFL is out to win stomachs. A league known for its food and drink promotions—including ice cream, donuts, chips, Baconators and cereals—is getting a new one, as the B.C. Lions have teamed up with local chef Ann Kirsebom to launch the "B.C. Lions Barbecue Sauce", with tequila and citrus flavours. This seems brilliant, as there are few things more closely associated than grilling and football, so the Lions will certainly have a market for it. It's just the latest in a long line of CFL food ventures, though. Here are five of the best:
—Vera's Burger Shack: Co-owned by former CIS and CFL star Noah Cantor, Vera's has gone from a mere couple of locations to a wildly successful gourmet burger chain with locations throughout the Vancouver area (and one in Ottawa). Cantor had a terrific Canadian football career as a defensive tackle, spending five years with the Saint Mary's Huskies from 1990 to 1994 under coach Larry Uteck (the CIS and CFL legend who the Uteck Bowl is named after), earning three All-Canadian nods and two J.P. Metras (outstanding lineman) nominations. The Huskies appeared in the Vanier Cup twice during his career, too, in 1990 and 1992. Cantor went on to play in the CFL from 1995 to 2006 with the Lions and Toronto Argonauts, earning a league all-star nod in 2004 and winning Grey Cups in 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2004. He retired in 2007 to focus on running Vera's, and has done a great job; the chain's become popular throughout the Vancouver area, and I can speak for the quality of their burgers (like the one seen at right) from personal experience. It's a great place to grab a meal.
—The Lone Star Texas Grill: The popular chain's restricted to 15 Ontario locations these days, but they used to have some elsewhere too; there was one in Burnaby, B.C. I used to eat at. The Lone Star has a terrific CFL connection, as it was founded by Val Belcher (who knew his Texas food: he was born in Houston and played offensive line for the University of Houston and the Dallas Cowboys before heading north of the border for six seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, earning three league all-star nods and a Grey Cup championship along the way) and his Ottawa teammate Larry Brune. The food's also quite good; they've got everything from steaks to fajitas (seen at right) to ribs and chicken, and the Kingston branch was an excellent hangout for many of us Queen's University types.
—Fantuz's Flakes: I never got the chance to try these, as they were only sold through Saskatchewan Co-op stores (and went very quickly), but they remain one of the CFL's most famous food promotions. They're also the only one to spawn a shampoo parody from another team, so they deserve inclusion here for that alone. The oatmeal-and-almond cereal (seen at right) was reportedly good, too, and it raised $10,000 for the Saskatchewan Children's Hospital Foundation.
—Russell Brewing's B.C. Lions' Lager: This is the only CFL beer I've personally sampled, and it was a very good one. In 2007, the Lions signed a three-year deal to have Russell, a terrific microbrewery based in Surrey, B.C., sell beer at their games, and the two partnered to come up with a unique "B.C. Lions' Lager" brand in 2008. .The lager was sold in liquor stores throughout the provinces as well as at games, and it was quite impressive. It came in unique silver-and-orange cans with the Lions' logo, too (seen at right); I still have one at home. Unfortunately, the Lions have since gone away from microbreweries and switched to Budweiser. The B.C. Lions' Lager remains a fond memory, though.
—Geno's Gridiron Goodies: This wasn't even the only Saskatchewan Roughriders-related ice cream product this year, as the team also came out with its own line of ice cream. Still, the sundae developed by veteran offensive lineman (and aspiring politician) Gene Makowsky looked amazing. Featuring mint, cake batter, almonds, marshmallows, pecans, chocolate shavings and caramel, the sundae (seen at right) was sold at Saskatchewan Cold Stone Creamery locations through Labour Day, and $1 from each purchase was donated to the Chris Knox Foundation (which provides opportunities to attend sports and cultural events for children and young adults under 30 who are battling cancer, in memory of its namesake Riders' fan who died from cancer at 24 shortly after watching the Riders hoist the 2007 Grey Cup). An amazing sundae and a good cause? That has to make this list.
Made from the finest Silver Tequila, organic locally squeezed citrus, fresh garlic, tomatoes and Japanese Soy Beans, this unique BC Lions blend is made with only the finest ingredients and is handcrafted in small batches to ensure quality.
"Anyone who has an opportunity to sample Ann Kirsebom's sauces and marinades knows how amazing her products are and we couldn't be more pleased with what she has developed for us," said Lions president and CEO Dennis Skulsky. "It's a versatile sauce that can be used in so many ways I believe it will be favourite among fans."
In addition to traditional barbeque applications such as steaks, burgers and chicken wings, the sauce is perfect for other West Coast favourites such as fajitas, rice bowls and salmon. It can also be used as a salad dressing and dip.
To definitively rank the sauce, though, we may have to wait for the reviews to come in from the experts. There are plenty of those in the CFL, too, such as TSN CFL analyst Matt Dunigan (who hosts the Food Network's Road Grill) and the famed group of Lions' tailgaters. Regardless of how this particular sauce turns out (you can find a list of places it's available here), the CFL's ties to food aren't going anywhere, though. For those of us CFL fans who do occasionally like thinking with our stomachs, that's a very good thing.