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The Super Burger Bowl: Green Bay vs. Pittsburgh

For the game-day party, serve the locals’ signature sandwiches, with 22 wines for $15 or less

Robert Taylor
Posted: January 31, 2011

The Super Bowl is for everyone, from hardcore football fanatics to Bowl-day bandwagon hoppers to the I’m-just-here-for-the-commercials-and-halftime crowd. That’s because Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just about touchdowns and beer ads; it’s also about good food, good drink and good company. For this year’s annual Wine Spectator Super Bowl food-and-wine pairing feature, we compare two signature sandwiches from Green Bay, Wisc., and Pittsburgh, Pa.—the butter burger and the Roethlisburger, respectively.

This year’s championship features the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’ve covered Steelers cuisine in the past, from French fry-and-coleslaw-filled sandwiches at Primanti’s to barbecue sauce-and-sliced ham on a bun at Isaly’s. And Green Bay is home to plenty of regional specialties as well—most people know about Wisconsin Cheddar, bratwursts and cheese curds. Also popular in the Badger State are Friday-night fish fries (white-fleshed fish only, please!) and Gilles/Gilly’s frozen custard ice cream.

The hometowns of these two storied franchises—they’ll be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named after the Packers’ legendary coach, and the Steelers have won the Lombardi Trophy more than any other team—have more than football in common: Both are famous for a signature hamburger. The Roethlisburger was invented by the owner of Peppi’s, just a few blocks from Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, while the Kroll family has been making Wisconsin’s butter burger a Green Bay staple since the 1930s. And of course there are plenty of great-value wines for your Super Bowl party. Below is a list of 22 widely available red and white wines—one for each player on the field—priced at $15 or less. These burgers should pair best with the reds, but also included here are six Chardonnays to set alongside the vegetable trays and dips.

So what is a butter burger? (That was our first question.) Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like—your traditional hamburger, topped with a heaping spoonful of butter. In Green Bay, there are two restaurants known above all others for their butter burgers, and they’re both run by the same family. The original Kroll’s Hamburger was opened by Harry and Caroline Kroll in 1936. In 1945, Harry moved the restaurant to what is now known as Kroll’s West, across the street from Lambeau Field, and sold the original establishment, now known as Kroll’s East, to his sister, Isabel Kroll Schauer. Today, Kroll’s West is owned by Harry Kroll’s grandson-in-law, Mike Wier.

There’s plenty of debate in town over which restaurant serves the better butter burger. So what’s the difference between the two? “Not a thing—both of us use the same products,” Wier laughed. “The [black angus beef] comes from Melotte-Skaleski Meats, the buns come from Quaker Bakery, and we both cook on the same Kingsford charcoal briquettes, so it’s pretty hard for them to be much different!”

When the burger comes off the charcoal grill, it gets a good-size slather of Wisconsin butter, and after that, it’s up to the customer whether or not to add lettuce, tomato, onion, condiments, cheese, bacon, etc., etc. (It’s already covered in butter—no need to hold back now …) Both restaurants use fresh-baked hard Semmel rolls, which must be toasted to perfectly soak up all the melted butter. At Kroll’s East, the burger is wrapped in wax paper and cut in half. “The trick is to leave it wrapped for about two or three minutes before you eat it,” said Betty Schauer, co-owner of Kroll’s East and daughter-in-law of Isabel, “then the butter melts and it adds this wonderful flavor to the burger. It really makes the sandwich.”

So what should you drink with a butter burger? “Well, it is Wisconsin, so, probably beer!” said Schauer. “Leinenkugel’s is very big here.” If you do want to go the wine route with your butter burger, any of the bold, fruity reds listed below should fare well, especially those with good acidity to cut through the fat of the butter and beef.

As previous coverage of Primanti’s and Isaly’s has revealed, Pittsburgh is a sandwich town. The Battleship Hoagie—a 26-inch sub crammed with ham, salami, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper—was invented at Swissvale’s Triangle Bar and Grill. In 1935 at the Stratford Club in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, owner Frank Blandi invented the Devonshire, an open-faced sandwich featuring layers of sliced turkey and bacon stacked on toast, with a thick cheese sauce poured over top and served bubbling hot from the oven. Today, however, Pittsburgh’s most famous sandwich is likely the Roethlisburger, thanks largely to the national media attention it’s received since its conception in 2004 by Peppi’s Old Tyme Sandwich Shop owner Jeff Trebac.

Built to resemble then-rookie Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Roethlisburger is, well, very large. It starts with ground beef mixed with ground hot sausage and chopped onions on the grill, which are then covered in scrambled eggs topped with American cheese slices, all of which are then piled onto a large hero roll. Add shredded lettuce and sliced tomato and you’ve got a Roethlisburger.

“It was pretty much a no-brainer [creating a Roethlis-“burger”], but we never thought we’d be making it [his rookie season]," Trebac said. "He took Pittsburgh by storm and we unveiled it in 2004.” The sandwich was a mishmash of ideas—a regular Peppi’s customer frequently ordered sausage on his burger, and Trebac’s wife had a dish that she topped with a scrambled egg. Seven years later, the No. 7 (as the Roethlisburger is also known) is still going strong, making Peppi’s a year-round tourist destination, whether the Steelers are in season or not. “A lot of people come in and try it, thinking it’s a novelty item,” Trebac said, “but when 99 percent of them walk out, they say, ‘Wow, that was a really good sandwich.’”

Peppi’s has no liquor license (and, consequently, no corkage fee), so while most BYOB customers bring in beer, it’s not hard to get creative with a sandwich like the Roethlisburger. Trebac said the hot sausage gives it a spicy kick, making a bold, fruity red such as Malbec, Syrah or Zinfandel the likely best candidates to stand up to all those Roethlisberger-size flavors.

Peppi’s No. 7: The Roethlisburger

• 1 Italian loaf of bread or similar baguette
• 5 ounces ground hot Italian sausage
• 5 ounces ground beef
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 extra-large egg
• 3 slices American cheese
• Chopped or shredded lettuce
• Sliced tomato
• Mayonnaise, brown mustard or ketchup to taste

The best way to cook the No. 7 is on a flat-top grill or a frying pan. The burger and sausage should first be mixed together with a mixer or mixed well with your hands. While on the grill, the meat and onions should be chopped almost to the consistency of a sloppy Joe. As the meat is cooking, scramble the egg. As the meat is finishing cooking, top it off with the scrambled egg and the American cheese. Slice the roll or baguette, though not completely through the bread. Add the meat, egg and cheese to the roll and garnish to your taste. Serves one very hungry fan.

Recommended Food-Friendly Red Value Wines

BODEGAS ESCORIHUELA Malbec Mendoza Don Miguel Gascón 2009 Score: 89 | $14
A juicy, rounded style, displaying a core of plum and currant fruit carried by lots of sweet spice, with a lingering ganache hint. Nicely focused. Drink now. 210,000 cases imported. —J.M.

VIÑA SANTA EMA Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Reserve 2008 Score: 89 | $14
This well-built red delivers a solid core of crushed plum and blackberry fruit, with cassis, violet and dark toast notes that linger on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 25,000 cases imported. —J.M.

BODEGA RENACER Malbec Mendoza Punto Final 2009 Score: 87 | $12
This direct red delivers a beam of cherry, raspberry ganache and sweet spice notes that stay focused through the medium-weight finish. Drink now. 75,000 cases made. —J.M.

BOGLE Zinfandel California Old Vine 2008 Score: 87 | $11
This soft and juicy red shows easygoing cherry, sassafras and caramel notes. Drink now. 150,000 cases made. —T.F.

CHARLES SMITH Syrah Columbia Valley Boom Boom! 2008 Score: 87 | $15
Smooth and polished, featuring fresh currant and cooked plum character at the center, finishing with a touch of roasted fig. Drink now. 8,000 cases made. —H.S.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 Score: 87 | $13
Soft and supple, with pretty raspberry and cherry flavors on a medium-weight frame. Finishes with harmony. Drink now. 30,000 cases made. —H.S.

E. GUIGAL Côtes du Rhône 2007 Score: 87 | $14
Mature, with a rustic edge, this shows a lightly mulled character to its the plum and currant fruit, with coffee and roasted mesquite notes on the finish. Drink now. 220,000 cases made. —J.M.

M. CHAPOUTIER Côtes du Rhône Belleruche 2009 Score: 87 | $13
A light, soft and perfumy style, offering tea, mulled spice and supple cherry notes framed by a dusty finish. Fresh and balanced. Drink now. 20,000 cases imported. —J.M.

VIÑA SANTA EMA Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Maipo Valley 60/40 Barrel Select Reserve 2008 Score: 87 | $12
Slightly firm, offering a note of grilled herb to frame the tobacco, mulled plum and bittersweet cocoa notes. A bittersweet hint lingers on the finish. Drink now. 30,000 cases imported. —J.M.

BODEGAS CAMPO VIEJO Rioja Crianza 2007 Score: 86 | $12
Light, firm tannins support a pleasingly plump texture in this fresh red, which offers black cherry, leaf and tobacco notes, with a smoky finish. Drink now through 2013. 50,000 cases imported. —T.M.

BODEGAS MONTECILLO Rioja Crianza 2007 Score: 86 | $12
This supple red shows dark smoke, licorice and espresso flavors, with dried cherry and tobacco notes. This offers lively acidity, enough tannin for grip and a smoky finish. Drink now. 150,000 cases made. —T.M.

HOGUE Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 Score: 86 | $11
This vibrant red offers black cherry and herb flavors on a sleek frame. Drink now. 27,000 cases made. —H.S.

J. LOHR Syrah Paso Robles South Ridge 2008 Score: 86 | $15
Serves up lots of complex flavors built around dark berry, plum, spice and sandalwood oak chip flavors. Full-bodied, turning a touch candied. Drink now through 2016. 11,500 cases made. —J.L.

LEONARDO DA VINCI Chianti 2008 Score: 86 | $14
A rich red, backed by good acidity, leaving space for its cocoa dust, blackberry and spice notes. Just a bit burly on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 130,000 cases imported. —B.S.

BOEKENHOUTSKLOOF The Wolftrap Red Western Cape 2009 Score: 85 | $11
A forward, friendly style, with light-bodied cherry and raspberry fruit backed by dashes of toasty vanilla and smoky herb. Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier. Drink now. 15,000 cases imported. —J.M.

NAVARRO CORREAS Malbec Mendoza Colección Privada 2008 Score: 85 | $11
Exhibits good mulled cherry, blackberry and plum notes laced with sage and vanilla. Drink now. 45,000 cases imported. —J.M.

Recommended Food-Friendly Value Chardonnays

FOUR VINES Chardonnay Santa Barbara County Naked 2009 Score: 88 | $14
Offers a strong Sauvignon-like citrus edge, with notes of lime and lemon. Medium- to full-bodied, clean and refreshing. Drink now. 48,000 cases made. —J.L.

SEBASTIANI Chardonnay Sonoma County 2008 Score: 88 | $13
Appealing for its charming floral, honeysuckle, melon and fig notes. Full-bodied, elegant and complex, ending with a long, full finish. Drink now through 2013. 47,300 cases made. —J.L.

BONTERRA Chardonnay Mendocino County 2009 Score: 87 | $14
Clean and refreshing, with snappy apple, melon, spice and light honeysuckle notes. Full-bodied, ending with a fruity aftertaste that offers depth and complexity. Drink now. 90,000 cases made. —J.L.

CHATEAU STE. MICHELLE Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2009 Score: 87 | $13
Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame. Drink now. 420,000 cases made. —H.S.

HOGUE Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2009 Score: 87 | $11
Light and tangy, with tropical fruit aromas and a hint of lime on the finish. Drink now. 127,150 cases made. —H.S.

SMOKING LOON Chardonnay California 2008 Score: 86 | $8
Complex notes of creamy oak, fig, melon and mineral are intense and vibrant, ending with a clean, fruity finish. Drink now. 80,500 cases made. —J.L.

Joe Dekeyser
Waukesha, WI —  February 1, 2011 9:47am ET
As a native of Green Bay I have had many delicious Kroll's hamburgers and still have to get my Kroll's fix whenever I am in town. The standard burger with everything (ketchup, pickles and onions is one of my favorite things and I would be hard pressed to give a specific reason why. As for the Friday night fish fry (not strictly limited to Fridays) there are two variations often in the same establishment. Battered deep-fried cod or, even better, freshly caught Green Bay (the body of water) blue gills and perch (generally deep fried). My favorite is Maricque's on University Ave. - they catch their own and serve it the same night. But there are dozens of really good choices ranging from the best restaurants to country bars.

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