Is there anything more pivotal to the Friday night football experience than a well-run concession stand? These culinary capitals pull out all the stops for hungry fans, supplying everything from steaming cups of hot cocoa and mouth-watering fried delicacies to classic burgers and dogs. What’s more, the stands raise thousands of dollars every season in support of their teams – in truth, the men and women behind these operations are the real MVPs. CityScope® magazine recently went to experts Joe “Cowboy Joe” Varner and Scott “Quake” McMahen from SportTalk Radio — along with The Red Zone crew members Jeff Cate and Justin Sims — to get the 411 on our community’s concession stands.
CS: On average, how many concession stand meals do you eat per football season? Would you consider yourself a concession stand connoisseur?
JV: Not enough. Hosting the Coca-Cola Red Zone takes me away from that concession stand life for most of the year. I believe 7-9 meals would be a good number for a connoisseur. Ten or more makes you a BOSS.
SM: I always try and hit the concession stand at our game of the week. It’s usually halftime, and I’m usually met with a long line, but I’ll sneak a hotdog or BBQ sandwich from someone in the back that’s nice enough to share.
JC: I will occasionally partake in the offerings of our local high school’s concessions. Would I call myself a connoisseur? Nope, that title is reserved for Justin. He takes it very seriously!
JS: During the season, I make it a point to visit the concession stand once before and once during each Red Zone game of the week. And then in the off-season, I’ll prepare a hotdog dinner once every two weeks to stay in proper concession condition – clearly, I am a concession connoisseur. In fact, I’ve heard whispers that I am THE concession connoisseur of the entire Southeast region.
CS: concessions are a vital component of the high school football experience. In your opinion, what are the food items a stadium must have?
JV: Great question. Nachos are a must. It’s not a full meal, but enough to keep
you satisfied. Gotta have hamburgers and hotdogs.
JC: Further into the season when it gets colder, a good supply of hot chocolate
and chili always hits the spot.
SM: Don’t forget popcorn! The corn that is popped is very underrated. Then each school should have its own signature dish.
JS: A key component for me personally is mustard – inarguably the concession world’s most valuable condiment.
CS: What’s your concession stand guilty pleasure?
SM: Ah, funnel cake. If a school is willing to go the extra confectionary mile for these, I have to try one!
JV: Hamburgers. Hamburgers all day long.
JC: Being a member of the Coca-Cola Red Zone crew coming on 13 years now, an ice-cold Coke is near the top for me! But food-wise, I’m going with Cowboy on this one – hamburgers all day long.
JS: I’m a lover of the classics, so I have to go with the hotdog, preferably grilled, and with the minimum options of mustard and ketchup.
CS: What’s the oddest item you’ve seen served at a local concession stand?
JC: I’m going to go with the most “unique” item on this one. Every school has burgers, hotdogs, etc., but not many offer fish sandwiches. Tyner Academy’s concessions are well-known for having the fish sandwich available at all their home games. In recent years, Chattanooga Christian School has added the fish sandwich to their Friday night concessions arsenal.
JS: The CCS fish sandwich rivals the one served at Tyner! I also have to add turkey leg to the mix. That was different.
JV: I wouldn’t say it’s odd, because we do love our fried food in the South – a fried Oreo.
SM: The most unique item I’ve had is the brisket that Dalton announcer Rick Zeisig and his wife bring to the games and share with everyone working the press box. It’s completely off the chain.
CS: In the Chattanooga area, what stadium serves the best… burger?
JS: Signal Mountain, for sure. It’s fresh ground and grilled.
JC: Central offers what is called the “Pounder” nachos. It’s your traditional nachos but topped with BBQ pork/sauce. What more could you ask for?!
JS: Cleveland – they’ve won the coveted “Red Zone Golden Weenie” twice.
JC: Ringgold High School, in my opinion, has the best dessert in the area. They have deep-fried Oreos in addition to other deep-fried desserts – the batter is golden brown, and the Oreo melts in your mouth. It’s awesome!
JS: I second this. Ringgold’s deep-fried Oreos are the best.
SM: Couldn’t agree more with my boys on this one!
CS: What’s the best bang for your buck?
JV: Most concession stands in the area really bring it when it comes to the quality/price ratio. It’s hard to choose just one.
JS: At Cleveland High School last season, $3 got you a grilled dog with chili cheese and a choice of condiments that would make the Heinz board of directors blush. I’m talking onions, relish, mustard, ketchup, mayo, tomato, pickle, hot and coleslaw – simply wonderful.
SM: The best bang for my buck is your choice of the “Trojan” dog or the “Soddy” dog at Soddy Daisy. Both are exceptional and very affordable.
CS: What local stadium has the most efficiently run concession stand?
JV: I have to give a shout-out to my most recent visits. Rhea Co. and Sequatchie Co. know how to run their concession stands.
SM: Sequatchie Co.’s concession stand is off to the side and very organized. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in one of the most beautiful settings for a game you’ll ever see!
CS: When’s the best time to visit the concession stand – before the game? Halftime?
JS: Is there a bad time? For me, I treat concession stands like I treat the voting booth in November. I say go early and go often!
JV: This is a no-brainer. For a small wait, make your way to the concession stand with 2 minutes to go in the first half. For the express service, I’d head that way with 3-4 minutes to go before halftime. Never ever go at the half. NEVER!!
SM: This is an individual decision. Are you going straight for food, or are you going to socialize? It’s a personal preference.
JC: This is what separates the veterans from the rookies – the less time you stand in line, the more action you’ll see on the field! From my experience, the earlier the better, so I would head there before the game starts. But if you’re hungry and halftime is looming, I’m with Cowboy. Hit up the stand with just a few minutes left before halftime to avoid the rush.