Social media has allowed politicians to speak directly to their constituents.
Some have used this as a way to rally their supporters.
Some have used this as a way to taunt their opponents.
And then there’s Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, who uses his Facebook page to … post menus.
McNamara, who grew up in Cleveland, is a diehard Cleveland Browns fan. We could say a “long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan” but that would be redundant. Almost every Sunday during football season, McNamara posts on his Facebook page what he and his family are eating that day for the game. And let’s just say they eat very well.
Ever since 2017, when McNamara was still a Roanoke County supervisor, he and his wife, Cheryl, have put together a game day meal based on who the Browns are playing. And what a meal it is.
In 2017, the focus was on foods popular in the opposing team’s city, such as crab cakes when the Browns played the Baltimore Ravens, beer brats and cheese curds when they played the Green Bay Packers, a full English breakfast when the Browns traveled to London to play the Minnesota Vikings.
In 2018, the theme was iconic restaurants in the opposing team’s city – so when the Browns played the Los Angeles Chargers, the McNamaras recreated the hickory burgers and banana cream pie popular at the Apple Pan, a 1940s diner in LA.
In 2019, the focus was foods you could find in the opposing team’s stadium, such as the Jumbo Jet Breakfast Bagel served at New York Jets games or the Denver Green Chili and Nachos available in the Broncos stadium.
2020 was an off-year. The McNamaras tried making food that was important to certain players, such as quarterback Baker Mayfield’s favorite breakfast, Texas breakfast tacos. However, the pandemic also meant that their ice cream stores – Katie’s Ice Cream and the Salem Ice Cream Parlor – were short-staffed, so the couple often wound up working there instead.
Now, though, it’s 2021 and the McNamaras are back in the game, so to speak, with foods you could find on a grill at a tailgate party at the opposing team’s stadium. (It doesn’t matter whether the Browns are home or not; there’s always an opposing team and a city with a culinary history to draw from.)
McNamara says he and his wife started this tradition because “this is kind of a dead time for us,” with the ice cream business slowing down. Plus, he says, Cheryl is a very good cook. Perhaps maybe too good. “Even though I exercise, my girth continues to increase,” he jokes.
But back to the game day food. The first thing to know, McNamara says, is “my wife and I work as a team. She does 98% of the work and I do 2%.”
However, the work is apportioned, they take this very seriously. That first year, when the Browns played the Chicago Bears, the McNamaras paid to have a pizza shipped in from Giordano’s, a popular Chicago pizza place. Specifically, “their signature Wisconsin Mozzarella cheese pizza.” Other than that one exception, everything else is homemade. “My wife makes everything from scratch,” McNamara says, “so if we have perogies, we don’t cheat and buy from the store.” (She also makes the homemade soups served at the Salem store.)
The Miami Dolphins have a doughnut available at their stadium, so when the Browns played the Dolphins, “we greased up a pan and made doughnuts.” When the Browns played Baltimore one year, the McNamaras tracked down the recipe for Berger Cookies, a brand unique to the Maryland city. Another time, the recipe for chicken and rice valenciana – this was a Tampa Bay game – required finding saffron. McNamara found saffron. A fiscal conservative in Richmond, McNamara didn’t mind shelling out $20 or so for a bottle of the spice.
McNamara’s Facebook posts – which come on his personal page, not his official political page – almost always elicit comments from friends who jokingly ask when they’ll be invited over. Or maybe they’re not joking. (Usually it’s just the McNamaras and two of their five children, the ones who live in the Roanoke Valley.) Cheryl McNamara tweets out some of the photos and has gained at least one celebrity follower: former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar. The goal next year is to revisit the pandemic-interrupted 2020 theme of players’ favorite foods, and the McNamaras hope they might actually make contact with some current players.
Joe McNamara says the one good part about being a Browns fan is that few people dislike the team. “There are people who hate the Cowboys,” McNamara says. “There are people who hate the Patriots, or hate fill-in-the-blanks. But few people dislike a Browns fan.” A cynic might point out that one reason might be the team has rarely been good enough to hate, but let’s not go there. Given the team’s current record, there may not be much danger of the team generating many dislikes this year, either. But here’s one reason to root for the Browns to make the playoffs: More games would be more chances to see what the McNamaras are serving up on game day.
Here are some of the game day menus over the years and what he’s had to say about them: