What do Skyline Chili, Yuengling Lager, and crab chowder have in common? Ask JACK Casino.

In honor of the Cleveland Browns’ regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, September 9, chefs at JACK Cleveland Casino's Seven Chefs Buffet and STACK’D restaurant made Pittsburgh’s well-known smiley face cookies—with the cookies in Browns colors smiling and the Pittsburgh colors frowning.

JACK food and beverage director Shane Brassel jokes that perhaps the cookies should have had neither a smile nor a frown, given Sunday’s tie game. But the cookies—which are part of the casino’s new “Cook the Competition” menu—were still a hit. “There was a lot of talk about that,” Brassel says of the cookies. “People were taking pictures of them. We’re trying to be different and unique.”

The brainchild of Brassel, "Cook the Competition" will transport football from the gridiron to the griddle this season. JACK chefs have developed regional menus—paired with a regional beer—for each of the Browns’ eight home games that highlight the opposing team’s hometown fare.

“Clevelanders are diehard sports fans, and food plays into our surroundings here in Cleveland,” Brassel says. “We need to incorporate sports into the food we serve so people who live here can experience the regional food of the teams.”

During the game against Pittsburgh, STACK’D also offered up Pittsburgh-style beef sandwiches with shaved strip loin, provolone, fries, slaw, tomato, and creamy horseradish, while Seven Chefs served wedding soup, chipped ham BBQ with pretzel buns, kielbasa with sauerkraut, fried zucchini, cornmeal-breaded catfish, vinegar-based coleslaw, and red skin potato salad. All of that was served with Yuengling lager.

Brassel came up with the idea to not only cater to out-of-town visitors who come in to root for their home team, but to also introduce Clevelanders to regional favorites of the teams the Browns are facing any given week.

“We do get a lot of foot traffic in here on game days,” he says, adding that fans come as early as 8 a.m. to hit the casinos and get a bite before a 1 p.m. kickoff. “A lot of people travel in [to Cleveland] to watch their teams play, and we want to make people feel at home when they come in. And for the local fans, they can experience something new.”

Other upcoming fare includes a lamb gyro, Manhattan clam chowder, and a pastrami panini (with Southern Tier IPA) for the game against the New York Jets on Thursday, September 20; a surf-and-turf burger, crab chowder, and shrimp salad (with Heavy Seas TropiCannon) for the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, October 7; and a Skyline chili dog and loaded potato soup (with Rhinegeist Truth) for the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, December 23.

No matter what city JACK’s chefs are featuring during each home game, the casino continues to stay true to its local Cleveland roots with its produce. Brassel has partnered with several Ohio farms via Premier Produce to use only local produce in preparing its dishes, including mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, stone fruit, herbs, and Green City Growers lettuce.

“We try to use as many local ingredients as we can,” says Brassel. “We’re trying to focus on produce we can get year-round. I love the fall produce available—squash, beets, root vegetables.”

If all goes well with the Cook the Competition program during Browns season, Brassel says he hopes to start a similar program with the Indians as well.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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