celebrating a sense of place

trackside tailgating spots are handed down from generation to generation. Tailgate spreads at “The Hunt,” as the race is also known, range from potluck style family gatherings to elaborate catered affairs under hilltop tents that can accommodate up to 250 guests. The tailgating at the Essex Fox Hounds Master’s Chase, held during their annual “Weekend in Gladstone” event, is more intimate, but still requires plenty of preparation.

“In its humble beginning, a simple cooler was packed with some sandwiches and beers to ‘pre-game’ or ‘tailgate’ before an event, game, or concert,” said Linda Galdieri, Director of Catering at Monterey Fine Foods, a premiere caterer in Bernardsville. “Tailgating is now an art form that even Martha Stewart has designed menus and decor for. Needless to say, it’s come a long way from an igloo cooler with a bologna sandwich.”

“The time of year is critical to planning a great menu and event,” she said.  “Like many others, my favorite time of season is the fall. It allows for much more diversity in the menu, because the weather can change so dramatically between morning, noon and night. Those early autumn mornings start off cold and dewy, but by noon you can be in the upper 70’s!”

“Location, Location, Location! Is your next consideration,” she told us. “Will you be in a parking lot with a loaded RV, flat-screen and monster grill under a tent or in the middle of a field that may or may not be filled with mud? Where you’ll be spending the day is crucial to how you set up your area and what you’re able to serve your guests.”

Galdieri advises that the best foods for a stress-free tailgate party are make-ahead recipes.

“Want to go a step further?” she asked. “Make delicious food that doesn’t require forks, knives or even plates! Unless your group has a grill, keep it super simple with room temperature finger foods.”

Storage and transportation are also key considerations that can be simplified by repurposing and recycling certain items.

“Coolers are fabulous and not only can they keep food cold, but if you pack it with hot food, it then becomes what we affectionately call a “Hot Box,” said Galdieri. “Or after you empty the food out of the coolers, your bagged ice can be kept in them so it doesn’t melt as fast. Aluminum pans with lids, and ziplocks make for the easier clean up and storage of any leftovers. (No-one really wants to fuss with plastic-ware after a good tailgate… it’s bulky and no one can ever find the right lid when they’re looking for it). Cardboard boxes are great make shift garbage cans with liners and can be broken down at the end of the day.”

As for tableware and settings, Galdieri, again stresses simplicity and being mindful of your carbon footprint.

“I use recycled wood platters in all shapes & sizes when plating food. They stack neatly and I like the lines of squares and rectangles on a table display more so then everything being round. I use a great line of wood and bamboo disposables. Bamboo Paddle picks are a great way for guests to pick up food yet not need a fork. If silverware is needed for a great a fall style tailgate that has ribs or pulled pork they make a great line of eco disposables that come wrapped in a recycled napkin… and I’m talking a great quality napkin too! Roll-ups save time and display nicely on your table, not to mention on a windy day I have seen stacks of napkins fly away.”

Dietary restrictions are also another consideration of the contemporary tailgate party.

“You should be considerate of all of your guests and do your best to accommodate special needs/restrictions,” she said. “Plattering, for instance, a separate tray of gluten free wraps makes it easy to identify what’s “safe” for a gluten free guest to eat. You can also purchase food signs that can be labeled. They’re a few dollars from amazon and are on a pick. It’s an easy way to label what you’re serving and what’s gluten-free or vegetarian on your spread.”

“A simple way to serve a large group is to provide protein platters for a kind of B.Y.O sandwich. Something such a sliced tenderloin can be plattered by itself and served with rosemary focaccia on the side and a tangy horseradish cream sauce. Fresh platters of fruits & berries are always crowd favorites along with a vibrant platter of local grilled vegetables. As long as there’s a meat-free option and a gluten-free option the majority of your bases are covered when serving large groups.”

Bringing your space together with a basic theme adds the finishing touches, but like the rest of Galdieri’s tips, it doesn’t have to be elaborate or take time away from what you are really there for - no, not the event - feasting with friends at your tailgate party.

“Pick a theme and go for it 100%. Fall Tailgates look great anywhere you can put a bale of hay or plaid linens. Even the color of the cocktail napkins can contribute to a well-designed theme,” said Galdieri.

Linda Galdieri’s “Hunt on the Hill” Menu from Monterey Fine Foods.

Buffalo Deviled Eggs - A spin on the classic with Franks Red Hot & crumbled blue cheese

Chips and Grilled Salsa - Yes, “grilled” Salsa adds a whole new depth of flavor. Take sweet Jersey corn, jalapeños, sweet onions and tomatoes and grill them. Add garlic, cilantro, lime juice and salt to pump up a basic salsa to this elevated deliciousness. (Instead of tortilla chips try Pork Rinds!)

Italiano Skewers - Another “no plate needed” feature! Skewer salami, mozzarella, Spanish olive, cherry tomato, and artichoke hearts, and drizzle with an herbed olive oil and a little balsamic. 

Mini Cubano's - French bread, Dijon mustard, ham, pork, Swiss cheese and a garlic pickle slice. 

Tailgate Fries - Crinkle-cut fries served with fixings like chili and cheese or served diner-style with gravy and mozzarella. Served in foil packets fresh off the grill. 

Turkey and Cheddar Kabobs drizzled with honey mustard

 Grilled Filet Mignon and Rosemary Focaccia Sandwiches - Focaccia is great because you can slice it into thin rectangles. Add some baby arugula and horseradish cream sauce and you’re good to go! 

Jumbo Grilled Gulf Shrimp - Marinated in herbs de Provence, served with Meyer lemon remoulade and wasabi cream sauce. Served warm or chilled - always a crowd favorite!

Whiskey Whoopie Pies - Chocolate cookie cake with a cream cheese and marshmallow filling. Candied Pecans around the filling and of course bourbon because… well just because!

Monterey Fine Foods provides a delicious assortment of specialty sandwiches, homemade salads, desserts, dinner entrees and fine catering. Stop by for breakfast or lunch soon at 167 Morristown Road, in Bernardsville, NJ 07924. For more information, please call 908.766.2000 or visit montereyfinefoods.com.

Stress-Free Tailgating
Plan to Keep it Simple with

Linda Galdieri of Monterey Fine Foods

By Lee C. Wolfe / Photos Courtesy of Linda Galdieri

Arriving with the harvest season, the tradition of tailgating may have been born in New Jersey, at the first collegiate football game, held between Rutgers and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) on November 6, 1869 (although Yale University and Green Bay Packer fans may dispute the claim). A century-and-a-half later, the simple picnic lunch that was once eaten from the back of a truck tailgate before the game, has evolved into a fall food festival of its own during this traditional season of feasting.

In New Jersey, tailgaters can be found outside football stadiums, polo grounds, and the fairgrounds surrounding an equestrian event, like the annual Far Hills Race Meet, where coveted, 

Abigail Villa helps on the family farm.