I never set out to be a food blogger, and, really, I’m not. Nonetheless, food is a important component of the Minor League experience, and throughout my travels this past season I did my best to document ballpark comestibles in particular as well as regional cuisine in general.
Today’s missive (which went live at lunchtime for a reason) is the first of what will be a two-part compendium of the 2011 season’s food-based posts and photos. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section and via email: What are your favorite Minor League ballpark foods, and why?
What follow are some of mine, presented in the order in which they were consumed.
My first 2011 road trip began in Tucson, home of the T-Padres. And what better way to enjoy Kino Stadium’s sunset views than with a plate of nachos from ballpark vendor El Charro? Nothing too fancy, but the freshest of ingredients combined with from-the-oven homemade tortilla chips helped to distinguish this particular platter.
The following afternoon, a reader recommendation led me to local institution El Guero Canelo. The specialty there is the “Sonoran Dog,” which I described as a “hot dog is wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese, salsa, onions, tomatoes, beans, mayonnaise and who knows what else. All of this was safely ensconced in the specially-crafted (and delicious) roll and served with a roasted pepper on the side.”
After a fleeting highway encounter with the still-elusive Biz Girl, I made my west to territories occupied by the California League’s South Division entities. One of the highlights of this leg of the journey came in Lancaster, where I was able to enjoy a non-photo shopped encounter with the JetHawks’ delectable “Sweet Po-Tater Tots.”
The Sweet Po-Taters were a mere appetizer, for then came the so-called “Stealth Burger:” a hamburger topped with pulled pork and onion rings. It was a formidable affair:
The Stealth Burger looked downright microscopic in comparison to the Brobdingnagian creation that was served to me in Lake Elsinore. Behold the Storm’s “Homewrecker,” perhaps best explained in t-shirt form.
The following month I traversed the great state of Ohio (with a detour in Fort Wayne, IN). The first stop on this particular Minor League journey was Toledo, where appropriately-named concessions manager Corey Pleasant laid out a stunning pre-game feast.
Here we have Greek Nachos (gyro meat and pita chips), Pulled Pork Nachos, and “Bases-Loaded Fries.”
But that, of course, was not all. Here’s the “Muddy Dog,” topped with chili, cheese, and onions.
And this artisanal creation is the “Bloomin’ Bacon Burger,” a 1/3 lb. grilled Black Angus beef burger topped with crispy strips of bacon, deep fried onion rings, American cheese, and bistro sauce on a fresh Kaiser bun.
And, of course, no visit to Toledo is complete without a stop at the legendary Tony Packo’s. I visited the Birmingham location before heading west to Fort Wayne, ordering a hot dog with chili, Paprika Dumplings, and a side of “Pickles and Peppers.”
After Toledo, I attended two ballgames at the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ Parkview Field. The majority of the second evening was spent with culinary director Scott Kammerer, who gave me a thorough tour of the team’s concession offerings. The tour resulted in an MiLB.com article, as well as this stunning image:
and a hot dog with “Cincinnati Chili” (the TinCaps’ best attempt to emulate the famous Skyline recipe).
The TinCaps are named after Johnny Appleseed’s iconic headwear, so this Apple Dumpling dessert was a fitting (and inspired) addition to the menu.
From Fort Wayne, I made my way back to the Buckeye State in order to visit the Lake County Captains. Food took a back seat to on-field participation during this jam-packed visit, but this was where I first became aware of the Cleveland-area phenomenon that is “Bertman Ballpark Mustard.”
Bertman’s Mustard: Responsible for the most delectable condiment globules around.
From Lake County it’s a veritable hop, skip and a jump to Mahoning Valley. It was Opening Day for the short-season Scrappers, and I celebrated the return of New York-Penn League baseball with the one-of-a-kind “Warsaw Wings.”
Deep-fried pierogies smothered in hot sauce!
A necessary cool-down soon came in the form of Handel’s Ice Cream. The flavor was called “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel ice-cream with bone-shaped chocolate-covered pretzels.
The Ohio excursion ended in Akron’s Canal Park, a location not lacking in death-taunting culinary options. After an exhausting evening that included a pie in the face and a stint in a dunk tank, I had both the following items placed before me.
On the left is the “Nice 2 Meat U Burger,” two 1/3rd pound patties, two hot dogs, bacon, cheese, and onions.
The sauerkraut-covered creation on the right is the “Three Dog Night,” a hot dog stuffed inside a brat stuffed inside a kielbasa.
And, let’s not forget: Bertman Mustard on top of it all!
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of this food-based season retrospective, featuring a bevy of offerings from South and North Carolina as well as the doom metal capital of the world (the state of Maryland, in other words).
Until then, send me your photos and anecdotes related to your favorite ballpark foods and regional creations. I’ll be right here waiting for you.
Please note that this chronological blog narrative is about to go slightly askew, momentarily skipping past a memorable Thursday in Lake County in favor of a more straight ahead post documenting Opening Day in Mahoning Valley.
Yes — Opening Day. The New-York Penn and Northwest Leagues kicked off their 76-game seasons on Friday, bringing Class A Short Season baseball to the masses. The Scrappers are in the former circuit, despite not residing in either New York or Pennsylvania (as any follower of the Pacific Coast League can tell you, geographical designations can be quite liberal in the world of Minor League Baseball).
I arrived at Eastwood Field before the gates opened, and took in the calm before the storm.
It’s an idyllic setting, but don’t be fooled. The ballpark (built in 1999) is located behind a mall, and clustered among a seemingly endless array of big box retailers and chain restaurants. The drive to the stadium from my hotel wasn’t on any actual roads — I just took a right at the Home Depot, drove past a shopping center and movie theater and — voila! Baseball.
Here’s the view from behind the ballpark.
Soon after arriving, I did a series of interviews for a story on MiLB.com. As part of my ongoing quest to assure you that I am not “just” a blogger, I implore you to read it HERE.
One of the individuals I interviewed was Tony Mansolino, making his debut as hitting coach of the Scrappers after retiring as a player last season.
It was good to see Tony again — in 2008, I did a story on his children’s book “Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go.” It has gone on to sell 1000 copies independently and he is hoping for a wider release.
But this was Opening Day; the dream of baseball had come true once again in the Mahoning Valley. If you can come up with a worse segue than that, then I’d like to hear it!
The gates were opened, and the fans came streaming in.
Scrappy, the only chain-wearing mascot in Minor League Baseball.
Scrappy is prominently represented in the team’s logos. I was familiar with this design:
But the team wore this one, which kind of bites.
Take your pick at the “Pet Store”:
Scenes from the stadium, as the first pitch drew nearer and nearer.
Pitcher Kyle Vetter and outfielder Aaron Siliga were amiably signing autographs in the kid’s “Fun Zone.” I was surprised that Siliga was out there, given that he was in the starting line-up and the game was going to begin in less than 30 minutes. You’ve got to love Minor League, for that and 3.2 million other reasons.
Ceremonial first pitch…
And, finally, BASEBALL!
Baseball’s all well and good (the best, even), but I had a thick cache of Dawg Dollars burning a hole in my pocket.
I strongly considered getting an item that could be liberally doused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce”:
Or perhaps that could be chased with canned tequila:
But instead I opted for the timeless combo of Warsaw Wings, Nachos Supreme, and Pepsi.
Warsaw wings are simply deep-fried pierogies drenched in hot sauce. Delicious, but not for the faint of heart. A closer look:
Dessert was courtesy of Handel’s, a very well-regarded (and delectable) Ohio-based ice cream purveyor. I opted for “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel flavored ice cream with chocolate covered bone-shaped pretzels (not to be confused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce).
As the sun set, the ballpark took on a new character. One more nuanced and refined. Genteel, even.
The Scrappers ended up losing to the fearsome Jamestown Jammers, but that didn’t stop the festivities from continuing. Launch-A-Ball included human targets both living (an intern standing on the mound with a garbage can and catcher’s mask) and inanimate (a cardboard Grady Sizemore).
And this? It gave way to fireworks.
And once the pyrotechnics were complete, it was finally time to call it a night.
An endless expanse of asphalt awaited us all.