On the Road: Crab Fries, Cheese Balls and Tribute Bands in Trenton
Today’s serialized Trenton Thunder adventure continues just where the last one left off: at a concession stand! At not just any concession stand, but one featuring the Old Bay-doused “crab fries” of powerhouse Philly-area restaurateurs Chickie and Pete’s as well as the New Jersey specialty that is the pork roll sandwich.
As you may recall, I was accompanied at this juncture of the evening by reader/proud Ambler, PA resident Jeff Vervlied. Not only did Vervlied give me a hat representing my hometown Little League, but he volunteered to be the first “designated eater” in Ben’s Biz Blog history (my recent celiac disease diagnosis has rendered much ballpark food off-limits).
And what did I want him to eat? The pork roll sandwich, of course! Pork roll is definitely a northeast thing, and specifically a Jersey thing (one of its most prominent appearances in pop culture is the uber-catchy and not-at-all drug influenced song “Pork Roll, Ham and Cheese” by New Hope, PA’s Ween). Per Wikipedia, it was invented by Trenton’s own John Taylor in 1856 and originally called “Taylor’s Prepared Ham.” But once the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed, it no longer met the legal definition of ham. Hence: pork roll.
Taylor is still a prime purveyor of the product, and well-represented amidst the Thunder’s kaleidoscopic jumble of outfield billboard images.
And, finally, here is the pork roll sandwich in all its glory.
Vervlied, the first “designated eater” in Ben’s Biz Blog history, dove right in.
Vervlied made quick work of the sandwich, but his overall reaction to it was non-plussed. “It’s okay,” he said. “Basically just a pan-fried ham. Would I serve it to guests? Probably not.”
Later, in an email, he summed it up like this: “A poor man’s eggs benedict.”
While the pork roll sandwich was obviously off-limits to me (it’s the bread, stupid), Chickie and Pete’s Crab Fries were good to go.
There’s really not much to it, but these things are addictive — crisp, thin, crinkle-cut fries covered in liberal amounts of Old Bay seasoning (hence, the “crab”) and accompanied by a dipping sauce that is, essentially, melted American cheese. While some don’t see the appeal, I absolutely love them. (Last month I missed a large portion of Iron Maiden’s set at the Camden Waterfront because of an insatiable urge to visit the Chickie and Pete’s concession stand).
But enough about the food. At this point, the game (the first of a doubleheader) was in full swing!
As I made my way down the concourse, I walked by one of the more unique souvenir stands in Minor League Baseball…
…and soon made an unsuccessful attempt to catch a t-shirt shot into the stands by “Facilitator of Awesomeness” (actual job title) Cameron Fox.
And, jeez, where does the time go? This game was just flying, and before I knew it a local church choir was singing “God Bless America” as part of the fifth inning stretch (remember, Minor League doubleheaders are only seven innings).
Upon the conclusion of this nightly exercise in mandatory patriotism, I met up with Cameron so that he could facilitate some awesomeness involving me. I was a participant in the “Finish That Song” contest atop the third base dugout, going against an individual by the name of David Menegaux.
Menegaux, whose default disposition seemed to be “bemused,” is a local musician who plays bass in a Van Halen tribute band by the name of Romeo Delight. He asked me if I knew of any Minor League teams who would book his band, and while I couldn’t say for certain I think these guys would be awesome as part of an ’80s rock themed “Thirsty Thursday” promotion. Check them out!
The more I do this job, the more I find that the particular brand of awesomeness I am able to facilitate is making connections such as these. I would absolutely love it if this blog can be the vehicle for getting Romeo Delight a gig at a Minor League ballpark. Who can make it happen? Reading? Wilmington? Lehigh Valley? Brooklyn? Connecticut?
But anyway…I was up first in the “Finish That Tune” contest.
Here’s how it played out:
I won the cheese balls! But as soon as I won them, mascot Boomer tried to steal them from me.
I wrested them from his control and, soon, all was forgiven:
My first reaction upon winning the Cheese Balls was bittersweet, as I had assumed that I wouldn’t be able to eat them owing to, y’know, celiac disease. But, in perusing the label, I came across the two sweetest words in the English language.
Before finally moving away from the topic of Utz Cheese Balls, I want to state that they are a phenomenal snack product. True story — I buy a tub every year on Super Bowl Sunday, and now that I know they’re gluten free this tradition will continue until western civilization collapses upon itself like a white dwarf that has exceeded its Chandrasekhar limit.
Does anyone actually read this blog? No? Doesn’t matter. We’ve gone beyond material concerns at this point. With cheese balls in hand, I went into an area of the stadium that few men dare to tread. This is the base of operations for the promo staff, littered with the surreal tools of the trade.
Hmmm…where have I seen these before?
Oh, right. This is classic:
The funny thing about this room is that it doubles as a location for press conferences when rehabbing Yankees stars are in town. So the next time you see Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain et al talking about how their night in Trenton went as they recover from injury, remember that such conversations are taking place amidst the atmosphere seen above.
This picture didn’t come out well, but, hopefully, it illustrates what I’m talking about here.
By this point, the first game of the doubleheader was in the books. I briefly stopped in the press box to score some free iced tea, and while there took a photo of the view.
And, back on the concourse, I snapped a scene straight outta Norman Rockwell. A Trenton Thunder employee was writing the game two starting line-ups on the whiteboard, with an eager young fan beside her immediately transcribing them into his scorebook.
The crowd had filed into the park throughout the first game, and at this juncture there were quite a lot of people in the seats.
The starting pitcher for the visiting Harrisburg Senators was Ryan Tatusko, a nice guy who is very accessible via Twitter. (Correction: was accessible. His Twitter account is no longer active.)
Not knowing quite what to do with myself (relaxing and watching a baseball game was clearly out of the question), I met up with Cameron and the promo crew. It was time for the annual mascot race, in which a young fan races against Boomer and Strike.
Boomer we’ve already met, but this is Strike:
The young fan won.
Shortly thereafter came the Dizzy Bat Race, with the contestants awaiting their moment of glory within the sepulchral glow of the dugout tunnel.
And, oh, how glorious it was. The players were really into it, as was the usher atop the dugout.
Feeling dizzy by association, I decided that it was time to eat. I needed something to complement the crab fries I’d had hours before, but what? The Thunder have plenty of food options…
but not much that was gluten-free. But, after a thorough investigation, I found that the St. Louis-style ribs at Boomer’s BBQ were good to go.
They were going to close soon, so my portion of ribs was a heaping one. I can’t say that they were the best ribs I ever had, but they were the most recent.
I washed that down with a cabernet from Hopewell Valley Vineyards (which, incidentally, is located directly behind my Dad’s property outside of nearby Pennington) — my first glass of wine at a Minor League game! Oh, what a milestone in my professional career…
And then, after all that, the rains came. In the sixth inning of the second game of a doubleheader.
Again, not knowing what to do with myself, I wandered into the “Tom McCarthy Radio Booth” and checked in on broadcasters Jay Burnham and Josh Maurer.
Oh, hey guys!
While I was in the booth, the game was called after a delay of just 25 minutes. I barely had had the time to check the latest MLB standings.
As Burnham and Mauer launched into their post-game show, fireworks began to light up the sky. Therefore, auditory adjustments needed to be made.
I barely watched the fireworks, as I was under the gun to produce some quality poetry. Inspired by the book Baseball Haiku, Burnham has instituted a post-game tradition in which he and Maurer write a haiku about the night’s events. The spirits were with me, I suppose, as I dashed off four. Quite graciously, Burnham and Maurer read them all over the air.
singing on dugout/cheeseballs won, life dreams realized/and then the rain came
Boomer and Strike race/their opponent a young girl/of course, the girl won
you can get beer here/but you can also get wine/I had cabernet
Ryan Tatusko/his name has five syllables/Ryan Tatusko
And – finally! — it was then time to go home. My only companion was Utz Cheese Balls. On NJ Transit:
The E and G trains
And, finally, home.
One of these days this will all make sense, I hope.