How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game: What to Eat

The sixth article in our How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game is another special one as John Donohue of Stay at Stove Dad has provided a meal plan for your epic evening of card playing.

Donohue is 42-year-old journalist and father of two who started the Stay at Stove Dad as a way of chronicling his effort’s to feed himself and his family. He’s since edited a book called Man with a Pan that features 21 writers and chefs discussing cooking.

If you like what you see here we highly recommend you check out his excellent Stay at Stove Dad blog.

Bon appetit!

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I’m not much of a gambling man, though I did have kids, which, truth be told, must be the biggest parlay of married life (and I doubled down, becoming a parent twice over), so I guess I’m not terribly risk adverse.

Back in my single days, I was once a part of a monthly poker game with some “card-playing friends” from work. I put that in quotes, because the only way our friendship could continue was if I stopped playing cards with them.

You must know that old saw about knowing who the sucker at the table is? Well, it took me about two nights around their table to figure out who it was. That was the end of my gambling days.

If I was going to have a poker party, though, I would have to serve food with it. I checked with some of my card-playing friends to see what kinds of things might work. Pretzels were the universal answer—It seems you don’t want anything sticky or greasy, lest you mess up the cards. 

Well, pretzels would never satisfy me—I need to snack on protein or else I feel jangly and worn out—so I racked my brain, and came up with some other ideas.

They might be far afield, but I think they’ll meet the requirement that you hands remain more-or-less clean, and no matter what the cards turn up, you’ll be a winner with these two dishes—they’re rich in protein, and that will make you feel good, and keep going.

Mussels a la Plancha

For something savory, make mussels a la plancha. It is pretty foolproof—all you need (besides the mussels) is a cast iron frying pan. These would be good with beer, too.

  • 1 pound mussels
  • 1 cast-iron frying pan
  • Rinse the mussels well and pull any beards off them. Use only the intact ones that are completely closed.
  • Heat the cast-iron pan until hot.
  • Place the mussels on the pan in one layer.
  • Cook over high heat until the mussels open, release their juices, and the juices boil off. When the liquid is gone, the mussels are ready.

Eat them right out of the pan. They will be smoky and delicious.

This will serve about 2-3 people. Do up to 3 lbs of mussels in two pans for more folks.


For something sweet, make meringues, which may be a dessert, but they are almost all protein, so you won’t suffer a sugar crash. These must be made well ahead of time. I don’t know if these would be any good with beer, or not.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.

  • 4 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • Beat eggwhites til frothy. 
  • Add vanilla. 
  • Add sugar a few spoonfuls at a time.
  • Beat until stiff peaks form. 

Scoop onto parchment paper and bake (really, oven-dry) at 225 degrees for a long time (about a hour) -- depending on whether you like them chewy inside or crunchy.

Proper recipes will tell you to make sure the egg whites are at 70 degrees, and to sift the sugar.  I'm lazy and don't do either.  It is important to preheat the oven or you may burn the bottoms.  Also, Joy of Cooking says that if you like chewy, 275 degrees; if you like crunchy 225 degrees.  And leave them in the oven, with the heat turned off, and the door cracked open, to cool, for 30 minutes or so. 

Serve with berries and ice cream on top, if you want the whole experience. Otherwise, just pop them in your mouth and keep playing.

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