Munch Madness: A bracket-style guide to the best Columbus bar snacks

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From the March 20, 2014 edition

So how’s your bracket looking? Yep, it’s that crazy short season when even casual sports fans act hoops-mad, and besting workmates and pals in illegal-but-they-happen “office pools” becomes important. Bonus: This year, super-rich William Buffett has promised $1 billion to anyone with a perfect bracket. 

Anyway, this means it’s also time for story-hungry media types (if I said I’m only a pawn in this game, would you buy it?) TO ORGANIZE EVERY GODDAMN THING INTO BRACKETS. This is my way of saying: Welcome to Snacketology, aka “Road to the Final Gorge.”

Cut to a tavern and you pint-handedly rooting for those last-second-losing underdogs who turn your bracket into a disaster. Since you’re gonna be hanging out awhile — hey, the next game might go your way — what should you choose to soak up the booze? Another loser?

To help, we assembled an expert selection committee (my wife with a cocktail napkin) to seed a Bar Snack Elite Eight that would compete in the Inaugural Munch Madness Tournament Championship. Obviously, this rigorously scientific approach is guaranteed to crown the undisputed champion of sports-watching bar snacks.

As you can see, in Round One, mighty Wings tipped-off against bottom-seeded Free Popcorn — a gritty play-in contender. It wasn’t much of a match. Turns out, gobbling all-you-can-eat-on-the-house popcorn ends in nausea long before you reach snack satisfaction.

In other action, Soft Pretzels’ usually smothering defense couldn’t stop Sliders’ fast-break offense, and play-in Free Nuts was, well, nuts to think it had a chance against Pizza (really, what do you expect for free?). While Potato Skins matched up well against Nachos, in the end, the Skins were just outmanned — you only get a few stuffed ’taters, but a whole plate of Nachos.

The disappointing Wings vs. Sliders semifinal had a similar result because injury-prone Sliders only dressed a three-man line-up. One of the best contests of the tournament was an up-and-down Final Four battle in which Nachos upset Pizza in a buzzer-beater because Pizza’s stuff-you-up crust didn’t leave adequate paunch room for hooch guzzling.

The championship match, Wings versus Nachos, was an instant classic. Both well-prepared treats traded spicy early buckets, until meaty Wings began to use its size-advantage and powerful inside game to score easy points in the Buffalo-flavored paint. Then Nachos countered with a cheese-sauce-blanketing zone defense that Wings couldn’t shoot out of. Eventually, Nachos secured the win with unanswered salsa-to-sour-cream runs and zesty-meat-to-crunchy-tortilla-chip transition-game alley-oops.

So Nachos topped our hard-fought, though easily eaten, and certainly silly “tournament.” But, as cliche-happy sportscasters and losing coaches are apt to say, it’s an honor just to be in this elite company. And (gangway for more cliches) on any given day, any of these mouth-pleasers — except for no-chance Free Nuts and no-way Free Popcorn — could be cutting down the  nets.

With the best bar snack staples to watch the upcoming glut of tournament basketball in mind — as well as basketball-friendly taverns capable of serving damn good food — here are recommended pub-cooked renditions of our top seeds. Unlike your brackets, these are guaranteed to put your hands around a champion.