Head out on the highway: ‘Taste of Town’ football foodie tells us where to go in new book
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
He doesn’t have a son named Peyton or a dog named Smokey and he doesn’t wear orange every day of football season, but Todd Blackledge has things he loves about Knoxville and the University of Tennessee and he’s sharing it in his new book.
Blackledge, college football analyst for ESPN, has taken his original idea of melding a love of college football and eating and scored a touchdown with the publication of “Taste of the Town: A Guided Tour of College Football’s Best Places to Eat.” “Taste of the Town” started out back in 2007 as a short segment airing during ESPN’s prime time college football game. In it, Blackledge visits eateries in college towns and gives viewers a glimpse into their awesomeness.
After just a couple of segments aired, Blackledge knew he was onto something. People stopped him on the street and asked about places to eat. Calls came in. This former college and NFL player became instantly famous for his culinary sense of adventure. Over the first five years the segment, Blackledge covered 60 different restaurants from around the country.
We’re No. 1
When Vols fans pick up the book and turn to Chapter 1, there are instant smiles. That’s because UT is the first school in the book. Blackledge has chosen four of his favorite restaurants in Knoxville to gush about — Ye Old Steak House, Litton’s, Dead End BBQ and Chandler’s Deli. Of course it’s the porterhouse steaks and prime rib that people drive 200 miles for at Ye Old, Blackledge says in the book. At Litton’s, there’s nothing better than the cheeseburgers and onions rings — and sweet tea — according to Blackledge’s son, Eli.
If you go to Dead End, you have to try the beef brisket and smoked sausage, Blackledge’s recommendations. And if meat and three are what you seek, Chandler’s meat loaf, chicken and ribs, macaroni and cheese and corn bread are to die for, this foodie said.
“Two of the things I am most passionate about are college football and food,” Blackledge said in the book’s forward. He asked his producer back in 2007 if he could start the “Taste of Town” segments. At one point early on, Alabama coach Nick Saban even inquired of Blackledge, “Where are you going to eat this week?” at the start of a phone interview with Blackledge. He’s never looked back.
On Wednesday morning, Blackledge was in South Carolina, preparing to watch the Gamecocks practice in anticipation of their Saturday game with Georgia. This former football player and now analyst for more than 20 years, said SEC fans can definitely find something to love in this book. Other SEC schools included are South Carolina, Louisiana State, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State. Each college town has its own unique eateries that are showcased by Blackledge. He has eaten at every one of them, includes photographs and even recipes. You can now make Ye Old Steak House’s Woodshed Potatoes, Litton’s Onion Rings, Dead End Ribs like Dead End BBQ makes and Chandler’s Meat Loaf from Chandler’s. Blackledge also shares a Pimento Cheese recipe from the Blue Marlin in Columbia, S.C. and Momma Dean’s Hot Water Corn Bread recipe from Fayetteville, Ark. That’s just a few.
“I would always go and find these little places to eat because that’s the kind of food I like,” Blackledge said. “To me, that is part of the college experience. I already had this wealth of information from personal experiences.”
Every college town has these places that locals flock to. It might be an ice cream shop in one town or a doughnut place in another. Blackledge said it’s been his mission to seek them out. And the places are grateful for the recognition, he said. Most freely gave up recipes for the book.
This new author hopes the “Taste of the Town” book goes over as well as the broadcast segments. He thinks the audience is both men and women.
Cooking or not
“Obviously it’s a cookbook,” he said. “It will serve that purpose if people want to try the recipes. But I also kind of envision it as a handbook for people who are fans. People might be visiting a town for the first time and not know where to go. The book can help them pick the best places.”
As a seasoned football analyst and newbie in the world of publishing books, Blackledge said he has learned a few things. One is that not everybody is a huge college football fan like he is, but everybody likes to eat. The other thing is that so many of people’s good memories are often tied to food.
“People have memories of going to this place or that or where they went with their families,” Blackledge said. “Their dad took them to a game and this is where they stopped. I think that’s why the segment and the book struck people the right way. It brought that back.”
Blackledge covers the best food in 20 college towns from Knoxville to Clemson, Boston and Baton Rouge. He pays homage to the local flavor through stories recipes and a section on his favorite traditions from each school. There are even recipes from coaches, past and present.
He doesn’t know if he will be returning to Knoxville this season to cover the Vols; he knows his schedule two weeks out. He said his most vivid memories of Neyland Stadium are covering night games at the crowd-frenzied open stadium next to the river, a unique experience. “It’s football time in Tennessee” still rings in his ears.
“There is no other place like it in college football,” Blackledge said.
As for how the Vols will fare this year, this expert analyst sees lots of postives. He likes what he sees in coach Butch Jones and his staff. There is a lot of energy there and recruiting is going great, he said. But this week will be the first test, he said. “That team they are playing is capable.”
So Blackledge is hitting the road as the college football season gets underway. He’s also promoting his book in the college towns featured. He has a book signing tonight in Athens, Ga. Blending two passions into one has been great fun, he said.
“It’s a pretty good gig,” he said.