Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’

On the Road: Surf and Turf in Potomac

To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

This is Tony Jaeger.

047Tony’s last name does not have an umlaut, but his name is pronounced as if it was the first two syllables of herbal liqueur Jagermeister (which does have an umlaut). He said that bartenders sometimes give him free shots of Jagermeister, which is good, because it’s not a drink that he likes enough to actually pay for.

But Tony wasn’t attending this Potomac Nationals game so he could drink, or at least that wasn’t the primary reason. He was attending it so he could eat. Specifically, he was to serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He was joined at Pfitzner Stadium by his girlfriend, Katie. They met on eHarmony, and have been dating for six months.

052Tony, an El Paso native, lives in Washington D.C. (about a 45-minute drive from “The Pfitz”). He works for a non-profit organization that aids those recovering from addiction, managing the property and also assisting with activities.

“I’ve watched him do bingo,” Katie said.

Katie, meanwhile, had been an elementary school teacher for the last decade. She recently resigned, however, saying that it’s “a longer day than I get paid for.”

Tony and Katie are both baseball fans. He has a share of a Washington Nationals season-ticket plan, regularly rides his bike to games and follows the team’s affiliates online. Katie, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, is a Baltimore Orioles supporter. She also supported Tony’s designated eating endeavors.

“I’m excited; he likes to eat,” she said. “And I like this stadium. It’s what baseball is really about. I’m glad we’re here.”

The three of us were standing in the Cafe Area, a concession and picnic area located just past the main entrance. The Cafe Area had a fairly wide-ranging menu, including, yes, a bacon boat.

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The Cafe Area also had a tremendous line, one so long that I have to show it over the course of two photographs.

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044We were in search of “The Codfather,” a fried fish sandwich obtainable at the tent on the left. There was no line to speak of at this tent, thank goodness. The mighty Ben’s Biz does not deign to wait in lines.

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This turned out to be a slightly trumped-up “Codfather,” as it included both cod and shrimp. It was topped with cole slaw. 046Here’s a shot of Jaeger:

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And here’s a short video:

“Thank God for the cole slaw, otherwise it’s just fried seafood in a hot dog bun,” said Tony, of the Codfather. “It’s good, tasty, if someone was looking for something substantial. I would add cocktail sauce.”

Okay, what’s next?

“Let’s look for the enigmatic,” it says in my notebook. I’m not sure who said that, but it captures our collective spirit at that moment. Specifically, we were looking for the enigmatic “National Burger,” which had been suggested earlier in the evening by P-Nats general manager Josh Olerud. But where could this burger be obtained? It wasn’t in the Cafe Area and it wasn’t in the same tent location in which we had located the Codfather.

As we bravely plunged into the crowded concourse area, our fates uncertain, I heard a voice call my name. It was P-Nats food and beverage manager Aaron Johnson, and in his hand was the mysterious National Burger. The enigmatic had been located, and all was right with the world.

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Johnson explained that the National Burger consisted of a pub burger topped with two slices of American cheese (one white and one yellow) and a Nathan’s hot dog. Beneath the burger, serving as the base, was a layer of french fries.

“Since our team name is the Nationals, we figured we’d do something all-American,” Johnson said.

Tony wasted no time getting down to business.

051 “Oh, that’s good,” he said. “I couldn’t taste the potatoes, but cheese, burger and hot dogs captures the taste buds. And it’s not falling apart. If there was [an eating] challenge with this, I’d do it. And I’d get it again, if I could find it.”

And with that, Tony had completed his designated eating duties. He and Katie were free to return to their seats, which were located right behind home plate (courtesy of the P-Nats).

“They’re excellent seats,” Tony said. “I was telling [Katie], ‘Baby, this is the closest you’re ever gonna see home plate.'”

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On the Road: Dawg Days of Summer in Salem

To see all posts from my June 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

We have now reached the third and final post in this Salem series and, if you’ve been following along so far this season, then you know that the third and final post is, invariably, dedicated to food. So what kind of concession items can you get at the Salem Red Sox’s home of Lewis-Gale Field? We’ll get to that in a moment.

I want to start, however, by highlighting something that you can sometimes get (but not on the Sunday afternoon in which I was in attendance): Baum’s BBQ truck, a vehicular food purveyor with an exalted reputation, sets up shop every Friday and Saturday night.

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Photo from baumsbbq.com

Salem Red Sox general manager Ryan Shelton is a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, a locale oft-referred to as “the barbecue capital of the world.” He told me that, with all due respect to Owensboro, Baum’s serves the best barbecue he’s ever had. I wish I had a picture of me eating it, to post right here. Use your imagination:

 

 

 

But, Baum’s or no Baum’s, the Salem Red Sox food show must go on. The first order of business, as always, was to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). At Lewis-Gale Field, that would be one Jennifer Frye.

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Jennifer and her family have recently moved to nearby Roanoke, with Jennifer taking a job as an environmental supervisor for the US Army Corps of Engineers. (Come to think of it, I should have asked her for information regarding “environmentally protected wastelands,” a term I was still confused about after hearing it applied to the portion of the Elizabeth River that runs behind the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park.)

Jennifer said that she volunteered to be the designated eater because she’ll “do anything for Minor League Baseball. It’s good to me, and I’m good to it.” Her two sons — ages 13 and 9 — did not materialize at any point  during her time with me at the concession stands, with Jennifer remarking that they were “worried that Mom’s gonna embarrass them.”

Fair enough, kids. But I guarantee that, when all is said and done, your childhood will have been greatly enhanced by having a Mom with a fun, adventurous and humorous spirit. This spirit was shared by the entirely non-embarrassed adults in Jennifer’s party — husband Jim, sister Justine, and her sister’s husband Jonathan (Justine and Jonathan live outside of Frederick, Maryland, reminding me that I have yet to make it to a Keys game).

039We began at Swine Drive Deli Dawgs, which offers a wide array of specialty frankfurters.

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On the Road: Social Donut and Intimate Sausage in Lynchburg

To see all posts from my June 27, 2015 visit to the Lynchburg Hillcats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is Jimmy “Salad Bar” Wright, pointing to a much younger version of himself. Jimmy served as the bat boy for the 1983 Carolina League champion Lynchburg Mets, a formidable squad that included Doc Gooden, Lenny Dykstra (who stole 105 bases) and, never forget, Jeff Bettendorf.

025Salad Bar — read all about how he got the name HERE — gave up his bat boy duties long ago. These days, he’s the concourse grill master at the Lynchburg Hillcats home of Calvin Falwell Field.

Here are the items he grills up on a nightly basis; salad is not part of Salad Bar’s repertoire:

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Clearly, my designated eater for the evening — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark specialties that my gluten-free diet prohibits — would have to sample some of Salad Bar’s salad-free specialties. He suggested the “Aloha Donut Chicken Sandwich” (topped with bacon and pineapple) and “The Smoke” (sausage topped with fried jalapenos and fried cherry peppers). And so it was.

It’s fitting that the Aloha Donut Chicken Sandwich has a prominent ma-hole-o.

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The Smoke Sausage, meanwhile, would like to wish you a merry crisp-ness.

027My designated eater for the evening was to be the wife-husband duo of Judi Muir and David Freier. There was just one problem, however. When it came time to meet with these individuals, the tarp was on the field and the rain was pouring down. So what to do? And where to go?

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It was eventually suggested that we set up shop in a concourse storage room. The same room, in fact, where the previously highlighted picture of the 1983 club proudly hangs. And. hey, the more the merrier! Judi and David are part of a boisterous Lynchburg rooting section that has dubbed themselves the “Litterbox,” all of whom sought refuge with us in our storage room-turned-dining hall.

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In the above photo, David and Judi are flanked left to right by Litterboxers Steve Horeczko, Matt Lohmeyer, Amanda Bowling, Lauren Liwen, Matt Liwen, Mike Our and Christine Rudy. Laura is pregnant (with a lil’ Litterboxer?) so it’s only proper that she got the seat of honor while the others stood or kneeled.

David and Judi, who moved to Lynchburg in 2003, both teach biology at Lynchburg College. They met in 1988 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, got engaged in 1994 and, finally, got married (on a whim, in a hot air balloon) in 2005. (Just for the fun of saying it, I wish they had then decided to go by the hyphenated surname of Muir-Freier). The Liwens are former students of David and Judi, and now refer to them as “life advisors.”

Minor League Baseball has been a constant in the lives of of the Muir-Freiers, with Judi reporting that they attend about half of the Hillcats games and also travel frequently to other stadiums in the area. Otherwise, she said, “we stay home with our four cats.”

I wish I had been able to see “The Litterbox” in action during the game, as they were equipped with a variety of (literal) bells and whistles.

034If you want the scoop on the Litterbox’s plethora of ballpark chants, rituals and in-jokes, then please consult this handy t-shirt (dating back to the team’s Pirates 1995-2009 Pirates affiliation).

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But, anyway, we were here to talk about food. Have at it, Muir-Freiers.

David then started in on the Aloha Donut Chicken Burger.

030“The sweetness of the pineapple with the barbecue sauce blends together well,” said David. “The donut, there’s no sweetness, it’s like a well-made bun. It melts in your mouth. It’s not like a doughy cake donut.”

David then passed this creation down the line, with each Litterbox member taking a bite (clearly, they’re a tight-knit bunch). All gave it high marks.

“The Smoke,” charred to a deep-black, generated no small amount of skepticism. In an email, Judi later mentioned that it looked like “something you would see in a Bones episode.”

032“It needs more condiments,” was Judi’s first impression. “It’s a good sausage. There are supposedly hot peppers, but I haven’t hit them yet. I think I’d have the sweet [sausage] again, over this.”

While Judi wasn’t too enamored with the smoke, she is enamored with her husband. David wanted to give it a try, and this is what resulted.

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Linked by love

Shortly after this heart-warming display, a dispiriting message was heard over the PA: That evening’s ballgame, which had been suspended in the top of the second inning due to rain, would be postponed.

The Litterbox, enthusiastic as they may be, were not able to reverse the team’s decision. There would be no more baseball in Lynchburg that evening, nor would there be any more food. But my time with the Litterbox, believe it or not, was not over. The next day, I’d see them cheering on the Hillcats in Salem.

Until then, I remain, in virtual form:

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On the Road: Pork, Pork, Pork and More Pork in Norfolk

To see all of posts from my June 26, 2015 visit to the Norfolk Tides (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This, here, is the unassuming facade of ballpark restaurant Hits at the Park.

036Located far down the right field line at the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park, Hits at the Park is a full-service eatery open to all fans during all home games. An “all-you-can-eat” dinner buffet, featuring a rotating menu, costs $18.95.

That’d be the sensible option when it comes to dining at Hits at the Park. There is also, however, an insensible option: The “Salute to Pork” Challenge.

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The above platter consists of four BBQ pork sliders, four 4-ounce Cajun-smoked sausages, 12 pork wings (the equivalent of a full rack of ribs) and bacon and chili cheese tots. It’s five pounds of food altogether, and the challenge is to eat it in one hour or less. Those who do so receive the meal for free (a $60 value), as well as a celebratory “I Kicked the Big Pig” t-shirt and four tickets to an upcoming ballgame. Most importantly, successful pork-eaters attain enshrinement on the “Big Pig Wall-O-Fame” (located just inside the restaurant entrance).

Only three individuals have ever completed the challenge successfully.

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Yep, that dude on the bottom completed the challenge with just 30 seconds to spare. That must have been one of the greatest moments in Hits at the Park history.

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The “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame” has far more occupants. Whereas three have succeeded, several dozen had failed.

009Prior to visiting Harbor Park, I made sure to recruit a designated eater willing to take on the Salute to Pork Challenge. That individual was Andrew Lind, a writer for the local Tidewater News who covers, as he put it, “a little bit of everything.”

041Andrew volunteered to be the designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) after his college buddy Josh Samuels told him about it. Samuels, the director of social media for the Columbus Clippers, served as my ballpark tour guide when I visited the Clippers last season. (Lind and Samuels are also pals with 2014 Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journal-writer Darius Thigpen, now with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Minor League Baseball is a small world sometimes.)

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Josh Samuels: Pork Challenge Instigator

“He’s never been a good influence on my life,” said Andrew, of Josh.

A good rule of thumb: If signing a waiver is a meal prerequisite, then it’s probably a meal you don’t want to have in the first place.

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But Andrew was up for it, regardless. He said that he hadn’t made any specific preparations for the Salute to Pork Challenge, other than to arrive at the ballpark on an empty stomach. His strategy was simply to “put the tater tots off for last” and to not touch the coleslaw.

As it turned out, Andrew would not be undertaking this challenge alone. On the left is one Tyler Rosso, a video intern for a local television station. (And yes, that garbage can is placed between them just in case a so-called “reversal of fortune” occurs.)

044Tyler’s late entry into that evening’s Salute to Pork Challenge was, quite frankly, the most baffling moment of the season for me. He just plopped down and took a seat, and since he had media pass I assumed he was one of Andrew’s Tidewater News cronies. Andrew, meanwhile, thought he was somebody I knew. After a few awkward moments, it was revealed that Tyler didn’t know either of us and had simply decided to participate after overhearing a conversation about it in the press box.

I was like “Well, okay, but you do realize that I’ll be documenting this entire event and you’ll be a part of it no matter what happens?”

Tyler assented with an affable shrug, like “Whatever you need to do, dude. I’m just here to eat some pork.”

Well, okay. The more the merrier.

The Pork Challenge platters were brought to our dimly-lit corner location with great fanfare.

IMG_1483In the below video, executive chef Steve Gillette, the mastermind behind the challenge, takes the mic and lays out the rules for everyone in the restaurant. This surreal situation now seemed even more surreal. Tyler isn’t even sitting at the table in the video. Was he a figment of my imagination? He sure seemed like it at the time.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s girlfriend Kayla can be seen sitting next to him. As soon as the Pork Challenge began, however, she went AWOL. (Probably a good decision.)

“I feel bad for him,” said Kayla. “It’s going to be a rough night if he finishes.”

Chef Gillette was expecting this to be an entertaining disaster. You can just see it in his eyes.

IMG_1479Andrew, meanwhile, seemed to be appealing to a higher power. I’d love to see this picture turned into a stained glass panel.

046The Pork Challenge officially began at 7:42 p.m. Alright, guys. Have at it.

Now underway, Andrew displayed a momentary burst of confidence.

“The sad thing is, after all this I’ll probably go home and want a snack,” he said.

Cory Evans of Ovations Food Services, seen on the left in the below photo, was the first person to attempt the “Salute to Pork Challenge” after it was devised by Chef Gillette.

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“I didn’t tap out, I just ran out of time,” said Cory of his attempt, before turning his attention to the evening’s competitors. “A helpful hint: Don’t drink too much water. Just sip it.”

“It’s the potatoes that get you,” added a nearby waitress, speaking in an emphatic Southern drawl.

But despite such helpful hints and overall moral support, this was a fundamentally lonely endeavor. It is times like these that try men’s souls.

047The game going on outside seemed a million miles away.

052“15 minutes into the Pork Challenge, Andrew has eaten all 12 wings. Still much meat to go.”

At 8 p.m., Andrew requested ranch dressing.

“It might be heavy, but it will give flavor when you need it,” he explained.

“I’d recommend a little piece of the kale,” countered Tyler. “There’s a lightness to it.”

12 minutes later, Andrew again chimed in.

“The worst part is the chewing,” he said. “The only way to cut down on that is to swallow bigger pieces, but that’s not gonna help you at all.”

We had now reached the half-way point. Andrew’s platter had congealed into a monolithic pork mess.

Both competitors, in it for the long haul, decided to stand up and stretch.

“I wish that I had gotten super-drunk before I did this,” said Andrew. “Then it’d go down easy.”

“This would be a good challenge for a stoner,” added Cory.

Chef Gillette stopped by again as well, telling the competitors to ‘Just close your eyes and throw down. Don’t stop. Don’t even listen to what I’m saying.”

053Good advice, but before re-engaging Andrew engaged in some light calisthenics. Gotta get the blood flowing.

055Cory, a Pork Challenge veteran, now assessed the scene.

“You’re looking pretty good for the halfway point,” he said of Tyler.

Andrew, however, was a different story.

“I’m worried about you. But you’ll both sleep very, very good tonight. I can tell you that much.”

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Despite Cory’s positive assessment, Tyler had reached his limit. With no warning whatsoever, he quickly reached over and made good use of the trash can. I snapped a picture of this, nothing graphic, but Tyler has gotten in touch with me to ask that I not use it. Okay, but there’s a lesson here:

If you don’t want anyone to take a picture of you vomiting, then don’t jump unannounced into an eating challenge taking place in a public location and, furthermore, being documented in detail by a member of the media.

Tyler, eliminated.

“I think it was the sausage that got me,” he said.

057This was all too much for Andrew, who immediately got up and moved to the next table lest he be the next to evacuate.

“Oh, I gotta move,” he said. “If I see it, then I’ll be the next one to do it.”

IMG_1490We were now in the homestretch.

Tyler, ever an enigma, declined to take his leftovers and quietly went back upstairs to resume working. Once again, I found myself wondering if he had ever been there at all.

“He don’t want no memories of that,” said a Hits at the Park waitress as she removed the remains of Tyler’s plate.

Andrew, meanwhile, had hit a wall.

“I’m seeing stars, and it threw me off when he threw up,” he said. “I didn’t want to do the same thing.”

But yet, he carried on, moving on to the tater tots because he “couldn’t deal with the meat anymore.”

058It was all for naught, however. Andrew simply could not finish in time. Good effort, though, as he made it about three quarters of the way through and had some pork sliders to take home and enjoy later.

So that’s how it all went down (and, in one instance, came back up). Congratulations to Andrew Lind, a proud member of the “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame.”

“Never again,” were Andrew’s final words on the topic. But also: “No regrets.”

(Click HERE to read Andrew’s first-hand account of the experience.)

059And congratulations as well to the mysterious Tyler Rosso. You made the night more interesting, Tyler, and I’m glad you stopped by.

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On the Road: Mounds of Pork and Stacks of Cheese in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

There are few things more American than a father and son enjoying a baseball game together, especially if said father and son supplement their ballpark experience by eating a bunch of food together in a windowless room while a traveling niche blogger takes pictures of them. This was the situation at Richmond’s The Diamond on June 25th, when my designated eaters (you know, the individuals who consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) were the father-son tandem of Stuart (on the right) and Turner Jordan.

045A windowless office within the bowels of The Diamond is probably not the most ideal place to have a ballpark meal, but under the circumstances, it was a pretty good option. It was raining outside, the game was in a delay and The Diamond concourse was packed with people who easily could’ve impeded on our operation.

Stuart, somewhere north of 30, and Turner, 15, live in the Richmond suburbs of Henrico County. Dad is a software analyst for Advanced Auto Parts. Son is a rising junior who is on the cross country and track-and-field teams. The Jordans are baseball fans, attending several Flying Squirrels games a year. Sometimes it’s a whole family affair, but Stuart said that his wife and daughter usually opt not to attend and the outing thus becomes “a man thing.”

“I hope they get a new stadium, because right now they’re putting band-aids on it,” said Stuart of The Diamond. “It’s such a cool thing, to bring your kid and watch some ball.”

As for why he wanted to be the Designated Eater, Stuart said “I saw your blog pop up and thought ‘Ah, that’s pretty cool.'” He is a regular visitor to MiLB.com, becoming more invested in the Minors after his nephew, Daniel Bowman, was drafted by the D-backs and spent some time in their system. (Daniel is now an assistant coach at East Tennessee State).

We began our sedentary food tour, graciously overseen by Flying Squirrels food and beverage manager Michael Caddell, with the Boss Hog.

047The Boss Hog features a rare south of the Mason-Dixon line appearance by pork roll, which is most closely associated with the great state of New Jersey. The pork roll is topped with pepperoni, American cheese and a fried egg and served on a pretzel bun. A closer look:

043Meanwhile, Turner was ready to try the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, which is fairly self-explanatory. All told, there are six or seven pieces of cheese residing within this thing. It’s cheese on cheese on cheese.

046The Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, ready for its close-up:

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Have at it, Jordans.

“I’m not a big fried egg fan, but this is pretty good,” said Stuart of the Boss Hog. “I like cheese and pepperoni, and the roll’s good. It’s nice and soft. It’s a good roll.”

“This is awesome, really good,” said Turner of the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger. “I love the meat. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just really good.”

Next up was the BBQ Pork Fries, in which the team’s Cajun-seasoned Squirrely  Fries are loaded up with a North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce, pulled pork and jalapeno nacho cheese sauce. (Not pictured: a side of cole slaw.) Sporks are usually required.

049 Father, son, food:

050The only quote I have from Stuart regarding this item is that “I like the crunch of the fries, and the texture change with the pulled pork.” But this is maybe because he was too busy eating. He was an immediate convert to the BBQ Pork Fries, love at first bite. He just wished it had had some bacon, is all. (Stuart Jordan wanted it to be known that, for the record, he loves bacon.)

Turner, however, was not much of a fan.

“That’s spicy. It burns my mouth so easily,” he said. “I just cannot handle it.”

What Turner can, and did handle, was this Deep-Fried PB&J.

048This is, quite simply, a Smuckers Uncrustable dipped in funnel cake batter.

051“It’s good,” said Turner, a rising junior of few words.

“It’s really good, and you could stick some bacon in the middle of that,” said Stuart, who now had bacon firmly on the brain.

In addition to bacon, Stuart is also a proponent of beer. This, at least according to Turner.

“That’s what you do every day,” said Turner to his dad. “Come home from work, play with the dog, and drink beer.”

“See, never bring a son with you,” replied Stuart. “He’ll rat you out.”

Nothing wrong with having a beer after work, and nothing wrong with having a beer at the ballpark. It was time for us to depart this office lair, so that Stuart could enjoy the Flying Squirrels’ signature “Chin Music” amber lager, brewed by Center of the Universe (a local brewery co-owned by former Major League hurler Chris Ray).

IMG_1442Note, in the above photo, how the tap handles are made from Louisville Sluggers. Note, also, that Stuart was happy to be drinking a beer.

“If it’s cold and in the house, I’ll drink it,” said Stuart of his overriding beer philosophy. “I am not a connoisseur.”

He gave high marks to the Chin Music, remarking that “There’s a little bitterness. It’s hoppy, but it’s drinkable.”

And thus, we say goodbye to the Jordans. The weather had cleared by this point, and it was time for them to watch some baseball.

“I thought it was cool to try something different,” said Stuart of the designated eating experience. “Usually I stick to the basics. Like, eh, I’ll get a cheeseburger.”

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On the Road: Wrapped, Stacked, Smothered and Deep-Fried in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Shortly after May 28th’s Omaha Storm Chasers game began, I rendezvoused with a fan by the name of Paul Biler.

But Paul was not just any fan. Paul was that evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). I picked the right man for the job.

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Paul is “from Toledo by way of Utica,” but has lived in Omaha since 1997. His family made the move to Nebraska after his wife got a job as a private investigator for a health insurance company. Paul now works for Mutual of Omaha, but he also has an extensive background as a radio deejay. His most recent work in that regard was for Omaha oldies station KGOR, but for the majority of our time together his mouth would be used for the consumption of food. That, in a nutshell, is why Paul volunteered to be designated eater in the first place.

“I can eat,” he said.

Our journey began with the “Cor-dog-o”, a new addition to the Werner Park concession menu. It is named in honor of general manager Martie Cordaro, who became enamored with it after it was originally served as a Nashville-inspired “Eat Your Opponent” specialty item. I’ll defer to the press release:

OMAHA, Neb. – This season the Omaha Storm Chasers are bestowing their President and General Manager Martie Cordaro with the highest honor a Minor League Baseball team can give: naming a hot dog after him. The “Cor-Dog-O” is one of many new food items fans can try this season from Ovations Concessions at Werner Park.

A concession item that was long overdue, only the “Cor-Dog-O” can truly reflect the “interesting” personality and style of Martie Cordaro. The specialty item consists of two hot dogs, pulled pork and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla shell, one of the only hot dogs at Werner Park that is not served in the traditional hot dog bun.

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A closer look:

062Martie sets the scene:

“Oh, that is good,” said Paul after his first bite. “I only got the dog side of it, but I can definitely taste barbecue sauce.”

He then took another bite, leading him to declare that “the pulled pork is wonderful.”

When informed by Storm Chasers executive chef John Schow that the barbecue sauce used was local favorite Cookies (a molasses-based sauce), Paul was enthused.

“If you’re having  a party, put a pound of Vienna sausages in the slow cooker and then throw some Cookies on it,” he said. “Cook it for four hours, and then it’s perfect.”

Next up was an item that can be procured at “Poldberg’s Philly Grill,” named after Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg.

063That item is the “Ruben Philly” — chopped corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye and 1000 island dressing on a hoagie bun. It’s served with a Schwartz-brand pickle and chips (made in-house).

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Oh, man. Let’s take a closer look.

066Take it away, Paul.

“The corned beef is nice and lean, and there’s a good zing from the dressing,” said Paul. “Definitely, a heart attack in a bun.”

We then moved on to the Champ Burger, created by Schow in 2013 after the Storm Chasers won the PCL Championship. It consists of three 1/3 pound patties, bacon, ham and onion rings.

068Paul was ready for it.

070“The beef is good, cooked all the way through,” he said. “And the onion rings are really good, too. But I’ve never been too much of a burger eater.”

Schow was enamored with Paul’s eating efforts, and eventually told me “I want a photo with that guy.” So, here you go:

073Schow, like a lot of food and beverage guys I’ve met in this industry, absolutely loves working at the ballpark. It’s a casual environment that allows plenty of room for fun and experimentation.

“It’s a sweet gig,” he told me. “I mean, killer.”

And, clearly, he’s doing killer things with it. Hopefully not in the literal sense, but items like this will certainly accelerate one’s path to the boneyard:
069This is the Midwest delicacy known as the “Frenchee” — American cheese on white bread, deep-fried.

IMG_1334“Is the bread Rotellas?” asked Paul, referring to a beloved Omaha bakery.

“Of course it’s Rotellas,” replied Schow.

These two were definitely on the same wavelength.

“Say a prayer for me,” added Paul, overwhelmed by the amount of food he was now dealing with.

“Sir, I have a couple times already,” replied Schow.

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If you want a Frenchee outside of the ballpark, Paul mentioned that local restaurant Don and Millie’s is known for them.

“It’s hot, definitely something you want to break open and let cool for a while,” said Paul. “It could use more cheese. Mostly I’m tasting bread.”

But that was a rare criticism of what was clearly a fantastic culinary experience.

“The food here is great,” said Paul. “I’ve been to a lot of ballparks where the food is pedestrian, but here there’s a lot of stuff that’s unique to the Omaha area.”

I’m writing this post some three weeks after visiting Omaha, but for all I know Paul is still at the ballpark making his way through what was a most prodigious dinner. He sure had his work cut out for him.

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Oh, and for the record: I would like to commend the Storm Chasers for offering gluten-free hot dogs at the ballpark. I enjoyed one later in the ballgame.

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On the Road: Yesterday Hits Today in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The last time I was in Omaha was September of 2010, attending the final game at Rosenblatt Stadium. The city’s Pacific Coast League team, then known as the Royals, was slated to move to a new stadium in the nearby town of Papillion the following season. As part of this 2010 visit, I swung by the stadium construction site and got a sense of what this new facility would look like.

sarpy_behindhomeplate-thumb-450x337-23907813

sarpy_suitesandseating-thumb-450x337-23908813I think my favorite image, though, was this: piles of warning track dirt, looking like sand dunes on another planet.

sarpy_warningtrackdirt-thumb-450x337-23909213Cut to May 28th, 2015, when I ended my Midwest road trip with a visit to this same location. Much had changed.

The stadium, now known as Werner Park, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers. If nothing else, the parking is ample.

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031A statue out front pays tribute to noted Nebraskan Bob Gibson.

033The Storm Chasers have a large cadre of mascots, but I’m not sure if this one is part of the official roster. Regardless, he (she? it?) was there to greet me when I arrived.

034Hello, Werner Park.

035During my exploratory lap around the ballpark, I noticed a group of well-dressed men standing in the outfield. I have no further information to offer.

036 037The area surrounding the ballpark still possesses a rural feel. However, Storm Chasers general manager Martie Cordaro reports that 150 houses are under construction in the immediate area, as well as additional commercial and recreational development.

039The home and visiting clubhouses are located in left field, with a ramp leading across the concourse and down onto the playing field. The Storm Chasers clubhouse is on the right, as in toward center field.

041If this random grouping of individuals doesn’t scream “Minor League Baseball” then, really, I don’t know what does.

040I then made my way onto the field, so that I could observe the pregame ceremonies at close range.

043Kids love to mess with Casey’s tail.

044While Vortex likes to mess with people (I incorrectly identified Vortex as “Stormy” in this Vine video. I hope that the Omaha mascot community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.)

This is Stormy. He’s anemometer-ically correct.

048Now here’s an idea that other teams might want to steal. Before every Storm Chasers game, a young fan accompanies manager Brian Poldberg to home plate for the exchanging of the line-up cards.

051During the singing of our National Anthem, the Storm Chasers players were accompanied by a veritable gaggle of local youth athletes.

053And then it was time to, yes, Play Ball.

056It was a gray Thursday night, decent but far from ideal conditions for baseball. Martie told me that, the day before, the team had experienced what he deemed to be the best weather in Werner Park history. And, on top of that, the team had staged a star-studded “Salute to the Kansas City Royals” promo in honor of their long-time parent club.

“You should have been here yesterday,” said Martie, echoing a sentiment that has been expressed to me by Minor League general managers across the land.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was today. In the next post of this Storm Chasers saga, I’ll cover the today that was in further detail.

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On the Road: Tenderloins and (Gluten-Free) Buns in Cedar Rapids

To see all of my posts from my May 27, 2015 visit to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is Tim Mullin.

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May 27, 2015, was to be a very special day for Tim. For on May 27, 2015, he visited the Cedar Rapids Kernels and served as my Designated Eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Tim, a Indianapolis native who now lives in Chicago, is very familiar with the Minor League scene. In addition to owning his own production company, Park Walk Productions, he the author of the (recommended) Baseball Road Trips: Midwest and the Great Lakes.

“I’m glad that I can share in the experience, because I’m typically alone at the ballpark,” said Tim, referring to a professional state of being that I’m familiar with. “I’m definitely qualified [to be the designated eater]. but maybe that’s not something to be proud of.”  

Tim wasted no time in getting down to business. When I met him on the concourse at the start of the game, he had already procured this pork tenderloin sandwich.

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The Pork Tenderloin is, quite literally, bigger than Tim’s head. It is bigger than just about any human’s head, unless that human happened to have a cranium of Bochyian proportions.

038Tim had procured this sandwich from a concourse kiosk that only sells pork tenderloin sandwiches. (Hey, it’s the Midwest). His had lemon pepper seasoning and a citrus BBQ sauce, along with “tons of pickles for resistance.”

When put up against Tim, the pork tenderloin offered little resistance.

“You’ve got to hit it at an angle,” he said. “It’s good to get a little bit of bread to accentuate the meat.”

Tim reported that Iowan pork tenderloin sandwiches are actually smaller than those found in his home state of Indiana. Also, he was gratified to learn that the Kernels’ version of this sandwich was not deep-fried. “I think that’s what skyrocketed Indiana into obesity,” said Tim. “The fried pork tenderloin sandwich.” As for the Kernels’ iteration of the Pork Tenderloin, Tim declared it to be “outstanding.”

“I’ve never seen a grilled one at the ballpark before,” he said. “They do it fresh here, take the whole patty and just throw it on the grill. Like, ‘Whoa, isn’t this supposed to be frozen?’ It’s great.”

However, as great as the Kernels’ pork tenderloin was, Tim said it wasn’t the best he’d ever had. He bestowed that honor upon the Bourbon Street Distillery in Indianapolis, instead.

“But I’m getting toward 50, so I have to phase [Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches] out of my life,” he said.

“Whoa, you don’t look 50,” I replied.

“I’m cherubic. I feel like I’m cheating on my wife right now. She watches out for my diet, and is constantly pulling me out of trouble.”

As for me, Ben’s Biz, I’m a lone wolf. I don’t have anyone to pull me out of trouble. I must look out for myself. But I didn’t even need to look out for myself while in Cedar Rapids, as the Kernels were already looking out for me via a substantial slate of gluten-free items on the concession menu.

Excuse the quality of this photograph. It’s the thought that counts.

044I opted for a gluten-free jumbo dog, which was delicious. The bun had a great consistency, melded well with the dog and (the ultimate test for a GF bun), did’t fall apart. (I need to look into what brand of bun this was. I somehow seemed to have neglected this crucial bit of information.) 045Who needs a designated eater?

But, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Tim. Our next stop was this riotous build-your-own burger and hot dog stand.

027Tim, after careful consideration of all the options, ordered what was, in essence a foot-long hot dog BLT.

048He looked rather professorial after putting on his glasses.

049“In Chicago it’s a mortal sin to put anything but mustard on a hot dog, but I’m tempted to try mayonnaise on this,” said Tim. “The dog’s fantastic, but this might be the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten. It tastes like a Polish sausage, but girthier, if that’s a word. I’m gonna speed dial my cardiologist.”

And that’s where we say goodbye to Tim, as he eats his foot-long frankfurter BLT.

050As unhealthy as the evening may have been, Tim had no regrets.

“If Ben Hill said he needed somebody to eat for him, and at the end of the day you get thrown off a cliff, I’d do it,” said Tim. “It’s fun. It really is.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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On the Road: Chips, Burgers and Beer in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The Peoria Chiefs, who played their first season in 1983, were named in honor of the Peoria Indian tribe. But, in these more culturally aware times, the team has shifted its iconography and marketing to more firefighter-oriented themes. You know, like “Fire Chiefs.”

Peoria_ChiefsThe Dozer Park concession areas follow this incendiary theme, with stands like these:

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007My designated eater on this evening — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits — had no interest in visiting either of the above two locales. This individual, one Thomas Doran, was in fact saddened at the suggestion that we do so.

031Only one thing could turn Thomas’s frown upside down . He was a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and therefore wanted to stop at a concession stand with the alliterative name of Cantina Caliente.

So that’s what we did. Pulled Pork Nachos put Thomas in much better spirits.

034Before we learn about Thomas’s food opinions, let’s learn about Thomas. He’s a 22-year-old Peoria native, and a huge fan of both the Chiefs and their parent St. Louis Cardinals. He graduated from nearby Ridgewood High School, where he managed the baseball team, and then went on to Bradley University. Thomas graduated from Bradley with a bachelor’s degree in history — “Because I’m a baseball history buff” — and he is now looking for employment at either a museum or a library. While at Bradley, Thomas remained involved with baseball as the school’s play-by-play transcriber.

In my notes it says that Thomas is a “fountain of local baseball knowledge.” Several weeks after meeting him, this is what I most remember. Throughout our various conversations his eyes would light up and his speech would quicken, in his excitement to convey various baseball facts and figures. He has a true passion for what he loves.

Thomas gave high marks to the nachos overall, due to the fact that they “pack in a lot of stuff.”

029

“The chips could be stronger,” he added. “So they don’t fall apart when you scoop them.”

Thomas also enjoyed some tacos.

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He said that these were “spicy and dripping” and that he would get them again. And if you happen to be in Peoria and have a craving for Mexican food, take note: Thomas reports that the best such restaurant in town is Blue Margaritas.

036Thomas and I were soon joined by the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz history, the appropriately-named Eric Cupp.
035

Eric, an active-duty guard who lives in Paragould, Arkansas, is a big fan of the Cardinals and all Cardinals affiliates (particularly the Memphis Redbirds). He and his wife were in town celebrating their 15th anniversary, as part of a baseball-centric vacation that also included a Cardinals game in St. Louis as well as what would be his first game at Wrigley Field.

Eric was tasked with drinking the Chiefs’ new “Squeeze Play Ale,” created especially for the team by the Peoria Brewing Company. Strictly from a logo-perspective, this is the best team beer in Minor League Baseball.

sp

Eric gets to work.

“It’s smooth, but has a little bit of a bite,” said Eric. “It’s refreshing, and smooth going down. A very good beer. There’s just the right amount of flavor, to let you know that you’re still drinking a beer. It’s a shame you can’t try it, but I’m glad that you can’t.”

I can’t eat burgers either. Next, and last, up for Thomas was a “Beer Cheese Burger” from the Chiefs’ Burgertopia kiosk. I don’t think this picture really does it justice, but here you go.

038

Thomas was a man of few words: “The bun’s a little soft.”

Nonetheless, he only had good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“I did it because I wanted to be on the blog,” he said. “It’s great. I get free food, that’s the best part.”

Thanks to Thomas (and Eric) for acing their “designated” responsibilities. I enjoyed getting to know them.

033

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On the Road: Deep-fried Everything in Clinton

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Clinton LumberKings (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

As you can see, the Clinton LumberKings offer a fairly extensive concession menu.

037Upon close inspection, however, there’s one item that stands out above the rest.

The Garbage Pail.

At $8.50 this is the most expensive item on the menu, and the only one that explicitly warns that substitutions are not allowed. Per LumberKings concession manager Kathleen Ward, it generally contains “mini-tacos, chicken strips, french fries, onion rings, cheese balls, corn nuggets, poppers, corn dogs and sometimes beef sticks.”

I don’t think beef sticks were in this one, but everything else was and then some. This is the Garbage Pail, in all its glory.

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Ward is one of the creators of the Garbage Pail, the original iteration of which dates back to over a decade ago.

“We always had fried food left over,” she told me. “So we finally went to [general manager] Ted [Tornow] and said, ‘Can we just put it all together and call it the Garbage Pail?’ He said, ‘I have no problem with that.'”

She continued, “At that time it was super-small and it was, like, three bucks. … It was literally the leftovers. Cook’s choice. [Fans] didn’t get to pick, and they knew it. But they loved it, and now it’s grown to eight different things. A family of four could eat a Garbage Pail now and be very happy. And men drinking a lot of beer eat one by themselves.”

My designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was not a man drinking a lot of beer. Rather, my designated eater was — shocker! — a woman.  She wasn’t drinking beer, but she was nonetheless amenable to having a large heap of fried food placed in front of her.

Meet Amanda Cady.

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Amanda was at the LumberKings game along with her husband, Cory, and son, Alex.

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The Cadys were a fun family to get to know, however briefly. Cory, a machinist by trade, has amassed a collection of some 110 hats. In the above photo, he’s sporting a Fourth of July edition LumberKings cap.

“It’s a little ridiculous,” said Amanda. “The guys at Lids know him by name.”

Alex, meanwhile, is sporting a Round Rock Express cap because he loves trains. Alex, who Amanda said is a “local celebrity” at the ballpark, has autism. Amanda and Cory are heavily involved with a local organization, Strides for Clinton County Autism, raising money for special-needs teachers and other such educational initiatives.

“We just want Alex to have the same opportunities that everyone else has,” said Amanda.

Here’s a closer look at the shirt she was wearing.

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Amanda grew up in Clinton and has been going to ballgames at the Midwest League ballpark now known as Ashford University Field all her life. Her uncle, Brian Eggers, served as LumberKings assistant general manager from 1987 through 1994. Among many memories from that time, she recalled going to afternoon dinners at her grandmother’s house and playing ball in the street with members of the team.

As for the Garbage Pail, Amanda said she’s “been eating it ever since they had it.” (I wonder if, back then, she was a Garbage Pail Kid.)

The Garbage Pail is a bit monochromatic, and it can be difficult to discern exactly what lurks beneath the deep-fried breading. Amanda said she challenges herself to identify and then eat one specimen of every item before repeating herself. It’s a noble strategy.

Here, Amanda breaks down that which lurks therein. She’s a Garbage Pail expert.

You’ll notice that some of these items differ from those listed at the top of this post, but Amanda said that minor deviations are common. When it comes to the Garbage Pail, there’s always “some kind of surprise.”

Amanda’s favorite item in the Garbage Pail pantheon would be the corn nuggets.

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Yeah, corn nuggets.

And, jeez, I’m just now realizing that that’s all I’ve got from this Garbage Pail-centric portion of my afternoon with the LumberKings. Thanks to Amanda for  being a good sport and knowledgeable fried food consumer. Hopefully her appearance in this post helps spread the word that women can be designated eaters too. It need not be the male-dominated sphere that it has been thus far.

Yours in equality,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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