Snacketology: Tournament-ready restaurants

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From the March 8, 2012 edition

“Suck on that, Sparty!” I yelled, flailing my arms and hopping around like a madman trying to walk across hot coals. Piercing the momentous tension, William Buford had just won us a share of the Big Ten title by sinking Michigan State — and a last-second bucket — on Sunday. It was the stuff of infectious excitement.

I mention this because when asked to compile an all-star lineup of spots to eat, drink and comfortably watch the upcoming basketball tournaments (the Big Ten begins today; the NCAA commences next week), I thought about people like my PBS-addicted mom. See, she actually bothers to fill out one of those damned brackets — even though for her, a pick-and-roll is only something nasty a school kid hasn’t learned not to do yet. No, the reason sports-challenged folks sink themselves into all the hoopla is simple: March Madness is about more than basketball.

Easily the best miniseries of the year, March Madness is must-see reality TV. As a bonus, it provides pseudo-holiday excuses for long lunches and early work departures to pubby perches in order to witness those buzzer-beating baskets everyone will be talking about.

But your tournament viewing will be charged with a technical foul if you get stuck watching in generic sports bars where concessions are basically limited to fried bundles of crap dumped out of freezer bags and plastic pitchers of Crud Lite. You don’t want that to happen.

And it won’t if you stick with my picks — I wound up with a Final Five — which I narrowed down from scores of beer- and sports-TV-friendly restaurants that also excel at munchies. While I focused on top-notch, hoops-appropriate finger foods (they leave a hand free for high-fiving — or angrily throwing stuff across the room), there are a few knife-and-forkers included. In short, there’s a place on this spread-across-town list guaranteed to please any hungry and thirsty bracket-head out there.