Results tagged ‘ designated eater ’
To see all posts from my July 29-30, 2015 visit to the Biloxi Shuckers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
Before visiting the Biloxi Shuckers home of MGM Park, there was one thing I was certain of:
There will be oysters.
I mean, if this is your logo, then there better be oysters:
MGM Park’s concessions are overseen by Mike Brulatour, general manager of Ovations Food Services for the Shuckers. On this blog, which I aspire to write in a light-hearted and conversational tone, I usually refer to people by their first name. But I will refer to Mike Brulatour as “Brulatour,” because it’s a cool-sounding surname and allows us to imagine him as some sort of all-powerful Minor League food god. The Mighty Brulatour!
Brulatour had previously held a similar position with the Memphis Redbirds (whom I visited in 2012), where Barbecue Nachos are king.
“In Memphis, we claimed that we were the only ballpark where hot dogs weren’t number one,” he said.
It should come as no surprise that, under Brulatour’s watchful eye, the Shuckers offer their own take on this Memphis specialty: Shuckers Barbecue Nachos. The cheese sauce is actually made in Memphis, while the pulled pork is local (more on that in a moment).
The Shuckers’ iteration is the result of a partnership with The Shed, a barbecue joint in nearby Ocean Springs. Here, The Shed co-owner Brad Orrison poses alongside his ballpark kiosk with his three “Little Shedheads” (check the shirts).
Oh, Cale. He was so young then, so innocent, so entirely unaware of the culinary challenges that awaited.
Cale, an insurance agent who lives in Gulfport, recently returned to the Mississippi after a stint living in Houston. He’s a proud advocate of the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, which he says does not conform to the rural backwoods stereotypes that are often associated with the state. Cale’s also proud of his alma mater, collegiate baseball powerhouse Mississippi State University.
“You’re not gonna find bigger baseball fans than MSU, and don’t let LSU tell you something different,” he said. “You can print that.”
Cale is also a fan of the Shuckers, of course, whom he embraced as soon as they arrived.
“In the South, being outside in the Summer is what it’s all about,” he said.
And as for the Shuckers barbecue nachos?
“The pork is delicious, not just run-of-the-mill,” said Cale. “I like the sweet sauce. I’m not a mustard or vinegar-y kind of person. I’ve always loved [The Shed’s] food.”
Next up: Po’Boys.
And here’s the team’s Oyster Po’Boy, in its natural state.
Fortunately, Cale’s college buddy Turner was able to lend a helping hand with this (and many other) concession items. Turner lived in Washington D.C. for the past four years, but returned to the Biloxi area to help manage a casino construction project.
“What you’re eating was fished out of these waters yesterday,” said Brulatour, just before the above photo was taken. He also noted that the Po’ Boy sandwiches utilize “good to the last crumb” bread from New Orleans-based Ladenheimer Bread Company.
Cale said that he’s “Not a huge Po’Boy fan” and that he “doesn’t do lettuce.” Turner, perhaps more well-versed on the subject, said that “these are as good as you’ll find anywhere.”
Meanwhile, did you know that Barq’s Root Beer was founded in Biloxi?
“The people here drink it like it’s going out of style,” said Brulatour.
Therefore, it was imperative that Barq’s be served at the ballpark.
Cale, clearing the palate with a Barq’s Root Beer float.
“It’s not frozen,” he said. “We use fresh meat, and you can tell.”
“With pimento cheese, you can’t go wrong,” said Turner, again ably assisting in concession consumption. “I don’t understand why it’s not used more. I’ve never seen it on a burger, and it’s great.”
Brulatour, meanwhile, was plotting his next move. This is the only photo I have of him.
At Aw Shucks, one can get fresh oysters, fresh off of the grill. The oysters, provided by local Crystal Seas Seafood, are shucked offsite, shrink-wrapped and delivered to the stadium. This makes sense from an operational standpoint — on-site shucking would require additional space and resources — but it was disappointing to find out that no actual shucking goes on during a Shuckers game. I was naive enough to believe that it might.
This Vine appears to have been shot in reverse, I have no idea how that came to be.
Shuckin’ with the Shuckers https://t.co/bD2UbaYkoN
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 30, 2015
The Aw Shucks Grill also features, among other things, Bayou Jambalaya served in a helmet. Cale enjoyed some.
But those oysters! Though pricey ($15 for 8), these garlic butter bivalves are one of the best things I’ve ever seen (and tasted) at a Minor League Baseball game. They are served “on the fly” (as in “atop a Frisbee”) and accompanied by a hunk of French bread. In deference to my gluten-free reality, we forwent the French bread.
Designated eater checks in, Biloxi Shuckers https://t.co/Eoa4bMf3c1
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 30, 2015
The Aw Shucks grill also features boudin, a Cajun specialty which is, essentially, a rice-stuffed pork sausage.
This, meanwhile, appears to be the grilled Italian Sausage.
After an impromptu upper-level ballpark tour, Brulatour led us into the Shuckers main kitchen area. This is the domain of head chef Bob Barlow, an old crony of Brulatour from his Memphis days.
Here, Cale, have a cookie. Brulatour said that it’s called “The Royale” and that “its got everything in it.”
While in the kitchen, we were also presented with deep-fried cheese curds. These, a suite-only delicacy, do not scream “Mississippi Gulf Coast.” But keep in mind that the Shuckers are a Milwaukee affiliate and general manager Buck Rogers is a Wisconsin guy. So, why not?
— Buck Rogers (@BiloxiGM) August 13, 2015
With the weather having cleared up and the game ready to resume, Brulatour led us back to the concourse and promptly handed Cale a BBQ Shrimp Pizza.
“Two hours ago, I was sad not to be eating the shrimp pizza,” said Cale. “But now…”
He didn’t even finish his sentence. He looked like he might pass out.
“I’m not eating anymore! I’m a small man!” Cale yelled into the unforgiving abyss of night.
He did, however, consent to pose with the corn dog.
Cale and Turner, both shell-shocked, stood dazedly on the concourse as Brulatour bid them adieu. When I came upon them again, nearly an hour later, they were being regaled by Shuckers GM Buck Rogers with the sort of story that only Buck Rogers can tell. From my notes:
“Buck is talking about drinking beer in Central America to stay hydrated for rabies shots after getting bit by a vampire bat.”
“I made a mistake. I ate a bunch of nachos right at the beginning,” he said. “But no regrets. I’d been looking forward to this, and it was first class.”
Cale had survived his brush with the mighty Brulatour, and has the souvenirs to prove it.
To see all posts from my July 28, 2015 visit to the New Orleans Zephyrs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
If there’s one thing you think about when you think about New Orleans, it very well may be “food.” From jambalaya to crawfish to oysters to muffalettas to Po’ Boys to gumbo to beignets and beyond, this is a city with no shortage of distinct culinary specialties.
Zephyr Field offers a solid array of region-specific concession items, allowing fans to forgo the traditional hot dogs and Cracker Jacks options endemic to the baseball culinary experience. The forgoing of hot dogs became a foregone conclusion on the Tuesday evening in which I was in attendance, as the local “Lucky Dogs” stand was closed for the evening.
Boudreaux’s Smoke House, named after the team’s nutria mascot, did not serve nutria stew and thus that was skipped over as well.
Instead, we settled on the unnamed stand located to the right of the Smoke House. There, one could find an array of New Orleans-centric items.
In the above paragraph, when I said that “we” settled on the above concession stand, I was referring to myself and my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). On this Tuesday night in New Orleans, that individual was one Eric Olsen. He was in attendance along with his wife, Ami.
Eric has actually appeared on this blog already this season, albeit in an incidental, extremely subtle way. He’s a member of the “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame,” as a result of failing to complete the Norfolk Tides’ “Salute to Pork Challenge.” Unbeknownst to me, but when I visited Norfolk last month I snapped a photo that included Eric within it. Within this melange of stuffed and defeated men, he’s in the first vertical row, second from the bottom.
Ami was not the biggest fan of Eric’s pork-eating endeavors.
“For the love of our name, don’t throw up,” was the thought running through her mind at the time. “Better a quitter than a puker.”
Eric grew up in Queens, New York and moved with his family to the New Orleans area when he was a teenager. He met Ami via a blind date, and it was Ami who helped him land his current job as a “master control operator” with a local television station. (She moved on to the position of “station operations manager.”) The couple have worked together for the better part of the last two decades, and they often attend Zephyrs games together as well. Eric, a dedicated autograph collector, estimates that he visits Zephyr Field 60-65 times each season.
“This is what he loves,” said Ami. “We already spend eight hours a day together, so we might as well spend a couple more watching baseball.”
But when it came to designated eating, Eric was on his own.
Go for it, Eric:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 28, 2015
“It’s good. Has a nice kick to it, and the etouffee has a good flavor to it. I’d definitely get this again,” said Eric, who had never ordered this particular item before. “You’ve got the crunch of the sausage, the spice, the onions and the peppers. I’ve had fried alligator before, and like everyone says, it tastes like chicken. But, to me, this is almost like a Spicy Italian.”
“It’s not a typical po’ boy bun, it’s more a hoagie than French bread,” he added. “They’re stretching the definition just a tad.”
For the record, Eric’s favorite place to get a po’ boy is Short Stop, located in Metairie. He also reported that his crawfish cravings are most thoroughly satisfied at the Gumbo Shop in the French Quarter.
Ami, too, is a Gumbo Shop fan.
“The blackened catfish nuggets? Oh, my God,” she said. “You get them with a Creole honey mustard meets orange marmalade dipping sauce.”
Such recollections complete, we then moved on to the ballpark jambalaya. It’s shot through with sausage and shredded chicken.
“It’s good, spicy, and there’s a lot of sausage,” said Eric.
That’s a solid quote, succinct and descriptive, so with that we’ll say goodbye to Eric. His designated eater duties were completed successfully, ensuring that he would not be inducted into another food related Wall-O-Shame.
Once is enough.
To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (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!
My late June jaunt voyaging through the Virginias was bookended by an all-too-common occurrence: A delayed start to the ballgame due to inclement weather. It happened in Richmond on June 25, and it happened again in Morgantown (or, technically, Granville) on June 30:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 30, 2015
In Richmond, I used this extra pre-game time to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). And at Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the fledgling Black Bears franchise, I did the same.
My designated eater, one Mike Rensland, was an old friend of mine from the University of Pittsburgh. And, like most Pittsburghers, he travels as part of a pack.
Mike’s on the far right, standing next to his wife, Julia (I almost referred to Julia as his “long-suffering” wife, just because she’s married to Mike). Next to them is Mike’s brother, Tim. On the far left, wearing a vintage Acid Mothers Temple “Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno” t-shirt, is Gary Boeh. Gary was the metal director during the time I was a DJ at 92.1 WPTS, the University of Pittsburgh radio station. (Where I was known, depending on the time slot, as Futon, Professor Murder, and Sanctimonious Jerkface).
In order to get us out of the rain, Black Bears assistant general manager John Pogorzelski bestowed the above group of misfits (and Julia) with their own media passes so that we could proceed to the upper level and occupy a suite. Mike felt right at home, despite the fact that a metal pole had somehow lodged itself into his cranium.
In Mike’s left hand is that most vaunted of West Virginia delicacies, the Pepperoni Roll. Specifically, this is the “Loaded Pepperoni Roll.”
The Pepperoni Roll, long a coal miner’s lunchtime staple, is simply pepperoni baked into a roll. The Black Bears’ “Loaded” version is topped with chili and cheese. It’s a “Julia’s Pepperoni Roll,” made locally by Chico’s bakery.
For comparison’s sake, this is the pepperoni roll served by West Virginia’s other Minor League Baseball entity, the West Virginia Power.
Have at it, Mike, but, please, introduce yourself first.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 30, 2015
“The word that comes to mind is ‘Mmmmm,'” said Mike, making a noise that clearly contained six m’s. “The best bites are when you get everything at once. All alone, it’s normal. Together, it’s a flavor masterpiece. I would definitely get it again. I might get it again when we go back outside. It’s fresh.”
Then, turning to his brother, Mike said that “This is up there with the sausage rolls that Mum makes.”
Here’s what the roll looked like after Mike had taken a few bites out of it:
Mike wore a cutoff t-shirt bearing an indiscernible black metal band logo to his own wedding reception, but don’t let his appearance deceive you. He’s the math department chair at Urban Pathways, a charter high school located in downtown Pittsburgh. He’s been with the school since 2001, when he and I both worked there as AmeriCorps members in Pittsburgh’s KEYS (Knowledge Empowering Youth to Success) program. Some 14 years later he’s the math chair there, while I’m a niche Minor League Baseball writer based out of New York City. It’s exactly how we planned it.
‘They gave me the job two years ago, and I’m still waiting for my chair,” said Mike.
Anyhow, things did not stop with the Pepperoni Roll.
Mike had apparently forgotten about the hot dog he had put in that steam tray 10 minutes prior. Specifically, it was the West Virginia Dog, a Farmdale frank topped with chili, coleslaw and Dijon mustard.
“See, I told you you’d be disappointed,” replied Julia, choosing to interpret Mike’s ambivalence as disappointment.
But Mike pressed on.
“It’s a fairly standard hot dog. I think I’ve been spoiled by Dee’s,” he said, referencing a stellar establishment in Pittsburgh’s Edgewood neighborhood. “It wouldn’t be good without the coleslaw. It gives it a creamy punch.”
Mike then made a punching motion.
An order of nachos had made their way up to the suite as well, which were standard-issue ballpark nachos. It was frustrating, however, that the cheese supply was diminished when there were so many chips left. This is a common lament of the nacho enthusiast, and I believe that teams across Minor League Baseball need to take steps to rectify this problem.
Actually, they need to take just one step: Provide more cheese.
Our brief suite-based food tour ended on a high note, however. Bear Claws. stuffed with a sugar, butter and almond extract filling, had been obtained from a concourse-level kiosk. Each Bear Claw comes with a bowl of ice cream.
“But what do they do with the rest of the bear?” pondered Mike.
“The ice cream wets you up, and the bear claw dries you back up,” stated Mike.
The only downside was Mike’s cutlery snafu, as a plastic spoon is clearly no match for a bear claw.
And that’ll do it for Mike and company’s designated eating adventure. If you, for some reason, just can’t get enough of Mike, then check out his band Night Vapor.
“It’s music for the mentally ill,” he said.
The “media” members seen above soon ended their charade, turning their badges in to guest services and returning to their seats just in time for the start of the game.
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.
Tony’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.
Tony, 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.
The Cafe Area also had a tremendous line, one so long that I have to show it over the course of two photographs.
We 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.
And here’s a short video:
Designated Eater checks in, Potomac Nationals https://t.co/ws9f5OhD6a
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 29, 2015
“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.
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.
“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.'”
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.
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.
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).
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.
Salad 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:
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.
The Smoke Sausage, meanwhile, would like to wish you a merry crisp-ness.
My 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?
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.
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.
But, anyway, we were here to talk about food. Have at it, Muir-Freiers.
Designated Eater checks in during rain delay storage room party, Lynchburg Hillcats https://t.co/78fNdJ5Ehh
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
David then started in on the Aloha Donut Chicken Burger.
“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.”
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.
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.
Lynchburg Hillcats “Litterbox” defies the game postponement. https://t.co/eQWE4T9imK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
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:
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.
Located 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.
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.
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.
The “Little Piggy Wall-O-Shame” has far more occupants. Whereas three have succeeded, several dozen had failed.
Prior 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.”
Andrew 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.)
“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.
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.)
Tyler’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.
In 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.
Andrew Lind and bonus eater Tyler Rosso, attempting to eat 4 pounds of pork in one hour. https://t.co/GpUu84szgi
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2015
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.
“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.
15 minutes down, 45 to go. Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. https://t.co/jRrHJGA8S8
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
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.
30 minutes down, 30 minutes to go. Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. https://t.co/c6AigKXDOy
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
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.”
“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.”
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.
“I think it was the sausage that got me,” he said.
“Oh, I gotta move,” he said. “If I see it, then I’ll be the next one to do it.”
One man down, but Designated Eater Andrew Lind still remains. 15 minutes to go in Pork Challenge. https://t.co/BCDghX6OQt
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
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.”
It 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.
The anti-climactic end to Norfolk Tides Pork Challenge. Good effort by designated eater Andrew Lind. https://t.co/VBHFQYsWUb
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
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.)
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.
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.
A closer look:
“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.
Oh, man. Let’s take a closer look.
“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.
Schow was enamored with Paul’s eating efforts, and eventually told me “I want a photo with that guy.” So, here you go:
“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:
This is the Midwest delicacy known as the “Frenchee” — American cheese on white bread, deep-fried.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The stadium, now known as Werner Park, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers. If nothing else, the parking is ample.
The 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.
The 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.
Six seconds of Stormy https://t.co/PsoNndaZR5
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 28, 2015
This is Stormy. He’s anemometer-ically correct.
It 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.