Thursday, November 11, 2004
It’s Monday night at Seaside’s Cuz’s Sportsman’s Club, and people are getting fired up. Under Budweiser Beer and NASCAR posters that plaster the bar’s ceiling, bartender Rudy Lopez, who is wearing a Harley Davidson hat and a sweatshirt adorned with skulls, gets more and more animated talking with Pete Henry, a Cuz’s regular. The two are not arguing about the Monday Night Football game being broadcast on a couple of televisions at either end of the bar. Instead, Lopez is explaining to Henry that his recipe for homemade upside-down cake must be made in an 18-inch black iron skillet with no less than two boxes of cake mix. Henry fires back that he can make a pretty darned good four-layer chocolate cake.
This is the sort of unexpected talk that takes place at Cuz’s on a Monday night, when regulars gather together to watch football and participate in a unique potluck called Chef of the Week. Owner Michelle Kaan explains that Cuz’s started to have Chef of the Week nights five years ago “to get the customers involved” in making meals for the popular Monday Night Football games.
Basically, every week, a different Cuz’s regular signs up to make a special meal that is served during halftime. Kaan gives each cook $50 from the bar to purchase the ingredients needed for the meal—even though Kaan’s boyfriend, Grant Townsend, admits that sometimes the regulars throw in their own money if it is needed for their recipe. Then, the cooks make the meals at home and serve them at the game’s halftime.
Past meals have included homemade enchiladas, casseroles, tostadas, marinated tri-tips and barbecued chicken. Kaan insists that the meals are always substantial.
“It’s a nice meal,” she says. “It’s not just a steak. Or a potato.”
All of the cooks for Chef of the Week Night take their duties very seriously. Henry says he took three days off of work to prepare his meal of 35 pounds of smoked pork and barbecued beans. For the labor-intensive meal, Henry says he worked on the barbecue sauce for 24 hours and smoked the meat for six and a half hours.
According to Henry, the regulars at Cuz’s love it. “It’s my recipe,” he says. “It’s unique. Nobody can touch it. I had people wanting me to make some barbecue sauce so I could sell it.”
Tonight’s chef is first-timer Debi Leonard. At halftime, Leonard personally serves a line of hungry regulars a hearty meal of meaty baked ziti, dinner rolls, a salad and, later, a moist square of pumpkin cake. While everyone eats at the bar or on small round tables, Cuz’s truly feels like a feast at a family member’s home.
Not all of Cuz’s regulars decide to take on the duties of Chef of the Week. Walt Lehner, who calls the bar his blue-collar Cheers, has been coming to the bar for three years, but he has not ever made a meal for Monday night at Cuz’s.
“I have been a little intimidated to do that thing,” he admits.
On the other hand, Lopez is excited about his plum gig of making food for the season’s closer.
“I’m not on this list cause it’s about the Super Bowl, baby,” he says, while holding a yellow sheet of paper with a list of the Monday night games and their cooks. “I get the big game.”
Cuz’s Sportsman’s Club is not the only place in the area to fill your belly with free food during Monday Night Football games. On the night that I dined at Cuz’s, I also visited The Bulldog British Pub and Doc Ricketts’ Lab in Monterey, during the fourth quarter of the game.
That night, the Bulldog had the remains of a shepherd’s pie and salad sitting on a small table. Earlier, the pub also had garlic bread with the meal that they served at halftime. Manager Kellie Morton says the bar changes their buffet every Monday night for the football games.
“We try to do something different every week,” she says.
Meanwhile, Doc Ricketts’ Lab fired up the grill early and served hot dogs, Italian sausages, cheeseburgers, teriyaki burgers, chips and salsa, and potato salad when the game started. One of the club’s owners says Doc’s will continue to give away grilled food for Monday Night Football.
Basically, I learned to head out to any of these local establishments on a Monday night during football season to fill my belly without emptying my wallet. I recommend that you do the same.
The Chef Of The Week serves meals at Cuz’s Sportsman’s Club, located at 594 Broadway Ave. in Seaside, every Monday night at halftime during football season. 394-2666.
The Bulldog British Pub is located at 611 Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey. 372-5565.
Doc Ricketts Lab is located at 180 E. Franklin in Monterey. 649-4241.