Tailgaters Linc up

DREW LAZOR / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Wendell "Shep" Shepherd is " the grill dude" of the Q Lot.
DREW LAZOR / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Wendell "Shep" Shepherd is " the grill dude" of the Q Lot.
Posted: September 20, 2013

CRAFT BEER on tap. Filet mignon on the grill. Foie gras in the cooler. Aged Gouda on the cheese board.

Yep, they've come a long way since the Vet days.

"We did the most horrible tailgates back then, man," said Curt Decker of his Eagles pregame get-together in its nascent years, established well before the 2003 opening of Lincoln Financial Field. In those days, Decker, owner of Nodding Head, and his buddy Peter "Bear" Brett, a sales rep with Stockertown Beverage, would drain plastic Budweiser beer balls and heat up franks on "Lil Smokey" grills so low to the ground that meals often came with a side of spinal conniption.

Now all grown up, their tailgate, in the Holiday Inn parking lot off 10th Street, seems to offer one of the most distinct sporting-event spreads this side of club level.

For the Eagles' Sept. 15 home opener, a heart-bruising 33-30 loss to the San Diego Chargers, they wheeled out a CO2 canister to power sixtels of Nodding Head's Berliner Weisse and Enigma, a coffee-flavored blonde ale. Nick Johnson, a friend from Troegs, brought along his beers to share.

Dogfish Head rep Wendy Domurat handed out bottles of the Delaware brewery's Punkin Ale. Ken Correll, a caterer and part-owner of Memphis Taproom, showed up armed with a sixer of Alchemist Heady Topper, a rare, cult-followed IPA from Vermont.

While Bear browned Fiorella's sausage and Benton's bacon in a pan for breakfast burritos, he tended a second grill filled with Nathan's dogs for his buddy's signature "Decker Dogs," served on a roll with cream cheese, sriracha and Coke-caramelized onions.

Joined by his teenage daughter, Monk's Cafe owner Tom Peters, another longtime tailgate participant, checked on the materials for his filet-and-foie sandwiches. (Going gourmet to welcome new head coach Chip Kelly, he explained.)

"This tailgate was the third place in America to pour draft Chimay," Peters declared. The Birds fans were only beaten to that Belgian-beer distinction by Monk's itself and a pub in Austin, Texas.

No gut, no glory

Not many tailgates are able to best the Philly beer mafia's little corner in terms of big-ticket items, but a sunny morning walk through the Sports Complex lots suggested that many Eagles fans value sprinting into the new season with a full stomach.

A few parking spaces down from the brew crew, Scott Miller, a ballcapped computer consultant from over the bridge, floated his tongs over a behemoth double-tanked eight-burner gas grill, feeding patient friends from South Jersey and York spare ribs slathered in Sweet Baby Ray's.

A little closer to the stadium entrance, John Rodio, a landscaper from Hammonton, N.J., arrived at 5:45 in the morning to secure the best possible spot for "Tailgator 2," an over-the-top kitchen trailer on wheels with enough cooking power to feed 150 Shady McCoy-jerseyed people.

Shrimp, lobster, pasta and rib-eye are just a few of the specialties produced aboard Tailgator, plastered with corporate sponsorship logos like a Formula 1 racecar. Also on the menu: roast pork and rabe sandwiches.

A quick jaunt over to the Q Lot ran me right into Wendell "Shep" Shepherd ("no one calls me Wendell"), a pharmaceutical chemical operator who stood over his charcoal drum with levels of concentration and command that Coach Kelly wishes Trent Cole could achieve.

Working on corn on the cob and hand-blended burger patties, Shepherd teased his next rounds - jerk chicken, pork ribs and beef ribs.

"I'm the grill dude. Block parties, cookouts, that's me," said Shepherd, down with a big group of buddies from West Oak Lane who were set up comfortably beneath the canopy of his friend Shocky Vaughn's camper, complete with DeSean Jackson's name airbrushed on the back. A John Elway admirer since childhood, Shep is a devout Denver Broncos fan but still enjoys cooking out at every Eagles home game.

The eats at Eddie's

Popping over to P Lot, it's difficult to miss the hopping, old-school Kelly-green RV station emblazoned with the old-school football-in-talons Eagles logo. The vehicle's named "Eddie," after Randy Quaid's Cousin Eddie character in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," and it's the freshly painted handiwork of guys who pledge allegiance to the Marlton, N.J., Elks Lodge.

"I'm always making something a little eclectic," says builder Nick Jannicelli, who's put together jambalaya, shrimp egg rolls, roast-pork sandwiches and "Jucy Lucys," cheese-stuffed burgers native to Minnesota's Twin Cities.

Shortly before kickoff, he and his group crisped up pieces of fried chicken on roadwork-sign-orange OGrills, basically gigantic Formans powered with propane.

Megan MacAllister, a junior pastry and baking student at Johnson & Wales University, in Rhode Island, came with her father, Glenn, who asked her to tap into her education to make something sweet for the Elks.

She brought buckeye brownies, multilayered, not-messing-around desserts with walnuts, chocolate chips, peanut butter cream and peanut butter ganache. She'll soon ship off to a study-abroad program in the south of France, perhaps bringing some Gallic tricks back with her in time for a playoff run.

Maureen Booth contributed a caprese salad to the decidedly meat-heavy Eddie crowd. "I figured we needed something healthy," she said.

Bear, from the beer-royalty group, admitted that he doesn't make it on as many Sundays as he used to - he didn't actually make his way into the Linc this game, opting to run the tailgate only. "Everyone's getting older, and TVs are getting nicer," he said.

Despite his non-aligning fandom, Shep, grillmaster from West Oak Lane, doesn't plan on missing a single sausage or a single snap. "This is my pastime," he said. "This is my time of year."

Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene since 2005. His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at andrewlazor@gmail.com or on Twitter @drewlazor.

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