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.
Harry and Caroline Kroll stand in front of the original Kroll's hamburger stand.
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.
Add as many toppings as you like, but all butter burgers have one thing in common. Guess what that is?
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.
The Roethlisburger in the nude—to dress, add shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and, of course, condiments.
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.’”
Owner Jeff Trebac (left) presents a Roethlisburger with another Peppi's original, "Crazy Tunnel Guy."
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.
• 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.
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