Ahh, yes, it's Super Bowl time, and for serious eaters that means that the first contest between the 49ers and Ravens is of course a food tussle. Which city's food is better? San Francisco is a clear favorite, but Baltimore has enough hidden gems to make it interesting at the very least. We divided the game into four quarters: pizza, sandwiches, shellfish, and ice cream. Let's see who wins our Super Bowl of Food.
First Quarter: Sandwiches
Baltimore Ravens: Pit Beef is Baltimore's sandwich legacy. Roadside stands all over Baltimore county charcoal-grill hunks of well-seasoned meat, achieving a nice char and a rosy pink interior. Out on Pulaski Highway, Chaps is a longstanding favorite near the city for their tender, thin-sliced beef sandwiches. Set out on the rolling hills of the county roads in Woodlawn, Pioneer Pit Beef uses a wood-fire to cook their meat, infusing the moist slices with an intense smokiness. The pit beef sandwiches are pretty swell, and we can't forget the excellent tea sandwiches at the Women's Industrial Exchange or the fine crab cake sandwich at Faidley's (though why would anyone put a crab cake on a sandwich?).
San Francisco 49ers: SF sandwiches that might have me moving to the Bay Area include the insane breakfast sandwich from 4505 Meats, the San Francisco Style Red Lox sandwich from Cap'n Mike's, and the Cuban from Boccalone (all three of which can be found at the insanely delicious Ferry Plaza Market). Moving beyond that excellent eater's destination, The Sentinel, Molinari, Ike's, and Pal's Takeaway all earn SF points. The legendary Tartine, too, which has a sandwich shop (and boy do we love it). And if we're including Oakland, then we should call out Bakesale Betty's glorious fried chicken sandwich.
First quarter scoring: 49ers: 14; Ravens: 3
Second Quarter: Shellfish
Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore can steam with the best of 'em. Walk into LP Steamers in Locust Point and you'll be met with an aromatic cloud of steamy shellfish. And Chesapeake Bay oysters, the white gold of the Atlantic seaboard, when coated in a crisp cornmeal crust and fried are hard to beat. Just a couple on the half shelf at Nick's Oyster Bar on Charles Street will make a strong case for these briny creatures. But the crabs from the mid-Atlantic waters are the most beloved. And at the recently closed Obrycki's, a Baltimore institution, you could get as fine a crab as any; they were known for replacing the characteristic Old Bay seasoning with black pepper.
San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco is a great town for oysters, clam chowder, dungeness crabs, and other shellfish. Head to the Ferry Building for beautiful views of the bay and some freshly shucked bivalves at the Hog Island Oyster Bar. The oysters arrive fresh daily from Hog Island's oyster farm on Tomales Bay. Or, just hop into a car and escape the city, winding your way through the redwoods onto Highway 1 up to Tomales Bay. Settle down at the picnic tables and buy a bushel of oysters and start shucking away on the beach. Doesn't get much better than that on a sunny California day, right?
Second quarter scoring: 49ers: 7; Ravens: 10
HALFTIME SCORE: 49ers: 21; Ravens: 13
Third Quarter: Pizza
Baltimore Ravens: You can't have a conversation about Baltimore pizza without Iggie's and its very, very thin crust (it begins as a dough ball that's aggressively rolled into a round "skin"). Even if you're not into the snappy thin crust, Iggie's pies are topped with fresh ingredients including their housemade mozzarella. Matthew's is a different experience—it's "Greek pizza," even if they don't actually refer to themselves as being Greek pizza—where the dough cooks in a deep pan with a significant amount of olive oil at the bottom so it develops a crisp, slightly greasy, foccacia-like chew. "It's a pizza experience completely unlike most others... and unfortunately, it's the one pizza style that unless it's executed perfectly, can be downright awful (defying the old adage that like sex, even bad pizza is still good). Matthew's, fortunately, executes perfectly," noted our Kenji Lopez-Alt after his visit.
We also have to mention the imminent opening of popular Brooklyn pizzeria Paulie Gee's branch in Baltimore some time this year. Paul Giannone (you can just call him Paulie Gee) is partnering with Baltimore local and Slice community member "Pizzablogger" (who asked to remain anonymous), at what will be called Paulie Gee's Hampden, named after the neighborhood where it's opening (more on that here).
San Francisco 49ers: As someone who has eaten many slices in both cities in the past ten years, I can tell you that New York's pizza dominance over the Bay Area is not that clear-cut any more. First of all, one of New York's (and America's for that matter) greatest pie men, Anthony Mangieri was traded last year to San Francisco. Mangieri's Una Pizza Napoletana is bolstered by quite a few slices of pizza heaven in town, including Bruce Hill's Pizzeria Picco, Charlie Hallowell's Pizzaiolo, Craig Stoll and Anthony Strong's Pizzeria Delfina, Flour + Water, as well as Emilia's in Berkeley, thereby giving the Bay Area a whole pie's worth of great pizzerias. Lauren Sloss, Seth Mazow, and David Kover point us to Patxi's and Little Star for great deep-dish, and Tony's Pizzeria Napoletana should count for points, too.
Third quarter scoring: 49ers: 14; Ravens: 3
Aggregate score after 3 quarters: 49ers: 35; Ravens: 16
Fourth Quarter: Ice Cream and Gelato
Baltimore Ravens: The gelato from Pitango (which also has locations in D.C. as well) is worth scooping. Israeli-American owner Noah Dan insists on sourcing certain ingredients like "almonds only from a particular slope in Sicily" and grass-fed organic milk from Spring Wood Organic Farm in central Pennsylvania. It's about as good as gelato gets outside of Italy. And if we're opening up this category to the bigger sweets scene, we'd be remiss for not mentioning all the big Italian pastry shops and pie from Dangerous Pies.
San Francisco 49ers: There is no doubt about it; San Francisco is one helluva ice cream town these days. Bi-Rite Creamery's ice cream is creamy and intensely flavored, Humphrey Slocombe's flavors are more fanciful, sometimes even downright whimsical but they almost always make sense, and Mitchell's exotic flavors and creamy texture should also not be missed. Three Twins is a great local producer, and there's Ciao Bella in the Ferry Building. Both Bay Area native Carey Jones and SF writer Lauren Sloss recommend Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous in the Dogpatch. SF even scores points in the soft-serve department; many places serve Straus Creamery's soft serve with extraordinary toppings, including Zero Zero and Pizzeria Picco. (Bi-Rite's got soft serve too.)
Fourth quarter scoring: 49ers: 17; Ravens: 7
Final Score, Food-wise
49ers: 52; Ravens: 23
I'm sorry, Ray Lewis, I really am. I know it's your final game, but San Francisco bests Baltimore quite handily in the food department.