The Big Ten Tournament is going all in on their, well, Big Ten-ness.
Levy Restaurants, the culinary team at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, confirmed next week's 2016 Big Ten Basketball Tournament will once again feature custom, school-centric baked potatoes, available for order at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In full disclosure, artisanal baked potatoes are a subject I have some specific authority on. For parts of five years, I worked part-time (sometimes full-time) at a Jason's Deli.
Jason's, to the unfamiliar, is better than average quick-service food for upper middle class types. Perhaps one of the heaviest hitters on their entire menu are their abnormally large baked potatoes. Their famous absurdly big potatoes in actuality are two large potatoes strategically cut, carefully positioned, and then baked with an unreasonable amount of toppings on them until they essentially resemble one.
As I have prepared in excess of 1000 of these such potatoes, I was intrigued to learn about the Big Ten's forthcoming culinary options. Until I got around to reading their ingredients.
The best of the potato options are largely unimaginative, and well, plain, and the worst are "creative" in the worst possible ways.
Accordingly, here are all 14 Big Ten themed baked potatoes, ranked from most palatable to do-not-eat/place-directly-in-the-garbage:
1. Michigan Wolverines: Bacon & Shredded Cheddar
As much as it pains me to rank this one number one, this humble offering attacks your taste buds with an enthusiasm unknown to man. It's incredibly hard to screw up bacon and melted cheese. Sometimes less is more. This is one of those instances.
2. Penn State Nittany Lions: Jalapenos & Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Like putting names on the back of their iconic monochromatic football uniforms, jalapeños on a cheese covered potato is just bold enough to make the milquetoast natives of State College irate. This is the kind of culinary offering your boring middle aged relative would consider threatening. But it's fine.
3. Wisconsin Badgers: Shredded Cheddar & Monterey Jack Cheeses
Are you aware that Wisconsin is known for their dairy? Two varieties of cheese is better than one. It's a bit disappointing there's nothing more diverse or any other proteins available, but this is safe. And fine. Not unlike Wisconsin.
4. Northwestern Wildcats: Diced Red Onions & Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Diced red onions on cheese?! Let's save some for the honeymoon, Northwestern.
NU is not exactly famous amongst those in the conference as a party destination. This barely ambitious potato may be a testimonial why.
5. Michigan State Spartans: Chopped Broccoli & Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Cold broccoli would be a disaster, but assuming this topping is fully cooked, the monterey is an interesting spin on a classic. The only solace in eating a potato that likely nears or exceeds a thousand calories is that you'd be eating something green on it.
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Tomato Corn Salsa & jack cheese
Corn salsa is mostly bad. The phrase "tomato salsa" ushers in fever dreams of disgusting, soup-y Pace salsa. These words together are frightening, but jack cheese is okay. Assuming the salsa is favorable in terms of the voluminousness, this might work.
7. Purdue Boilermakers: Smokey Black Bean Salsa & Sour Cream
"Smokey black bean salsa" is possibly written on the archway of the Mexican fast food restaurant next to the River Styx. Giving the salsa the full benefit of the doubt, and again assuming the sour cream is both quality and appropriate proportionally and this might not be so bad? Maybe?
8. Illinois Illini: Salsa & Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Not unlike Nebraska, the concept of crappy grocery store salsa on top of a cheese covered potato strikes fear in my very heart. Assuming this is even replacement level salsa, Illinois seems tolerable. The photo doesn't leave much room for optimism, though.
9. Indiana Hoosiers: Sour Cream & Salsa
The lack of salsa diversity is rapidly becoming concerning. Sour cream is extremely high variance too but a decent quality sour cream offering with a healthy but not unreasonable amount of edible salsa would be passable. Not ideal, but edible.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes: Southwest-style Corn Salsa & Corn Tortilla Strips
The tortilla chips (did you know Iowa produces corn) are an interesting mix in for variety's sake, but the blandness of corn salsa is concerning. "Southwest-style" makes it sound flavorful enough, but I'm skeptical.
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Black bean relish, salsa and sour cream
We're now all but completely off the rails. One of the Big Ten's newest members is shown no favors with something called "black bean relish". You'd almost have to assume that's a very creative name for some kind of black bean salsa until you see the word "salsa" listed immediately after it. Help.
12. Ohio State Buckeyes: Chopped Bacon & Shredded Lettuce
WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND PUTS SLICED ICEBURG LETTUCE ON A DAMN BAKED POTATO!??!
Wendy's is the only fastfood place somewhat known for their (admittedly not great) baked potatoes. Wendy's is based in Columbus, OH. So is The Ohio State University.
Couldn't there have been some attempt at something more traditional and less, uh, lettuce-y?
13. Maryland Terrapins: Cottage cheese, salsa and red onion
Stop. Just stop. We get it: A lot of Big Ten fans didn't want anything to do with Maryland but serving this unholy abomination just seems cruel.
14. Minnesota Gophers: Salsa & Cottage Cheese
So let me get this straight: It's exactly the same as Maryland but with one less ingredient? It's been a tough year for Minnesota basketball.