Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Take Me Out

There's More Going On At The Park Than Hot Dogs

I love baseball.

But when I say baseball, I mean all of it. Sure, the games are fun in person... and every once in a while, you get a good one (with a 9th inning comeback).... but to me baseball is much, much more. Without spending an hour paying homeage to George Will, I'll explain.

As a kid, I became infatuated with stadiums. I loved everything about them… the architecture, the sightlines, the electricity of the game, the food. I loved the smell of the fresh cut grass when you walked into the right field bleachers of Wrigley Field. The call of the 85-year-old guy selling programs at Dodger Stadium from his soap box.

I loved it all.

By the time I was 30, I had been to over 75 college and pro baseball, basketball and football stadiums. Through my journey, I was able to do something special…. I was able to put my finger on the pulse of a community just by attending a game. How were the fans? Are they respectful? Did they support losing teams? Are there families in the stands? How friendly are the vendors? All of it made sense, and I was able to garner a real opinion that most of the time was right on target. Before you move to a new city?.... attend a local baseball game.

So, since I am here to talk food, I won’t spend a lot of time on communities and stadiums, but I can tell you this. People in Seattle love their sports… and cater to families. There is astounding dedication in Buffalo, where Bills fans fry bologna in 10 degree weather. Kansas City fans tailgate NCAA style…. and Florida Gator fans?... well, they can go to hell :) .

Of course, there is nothing like Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge on a Saturday night….. but that’s an entirely separate blog.

OK, back to food.

Each visit on my baseball travels grew into a culinary adventure, ballpark style. I have always judged a stadium on its hotdog. I have my own dream dog mind you… a natural casing snap skin wiener, steamed hot in its own freshly steamed bun, with onions and mustard. But hotdogs aside, ballparks these days offer a whole lot more than dogs.

So with the help of the USA Today, I’ve compiled the latest and greatest… with my own comments sprinkled in. If you live near one of the parks, call in sick, grab your glove, and get to the park. Sometimes, we need to feel 12 again.

In these cities, this is what I eat!

Whoever thought food would become part of a home-field advantage?

American League

: The Angels recognize the appeal of Mexican fare and offer shredded beef tamales. Mexican beer on tap. Ole!

Baltimore: The Orioles are from crab country and serve an acceptable crabcake. It's not all lump crabmeat, but it isn't packed with filler either. It isn't a native dish, but an open-pit barbecue sometimes run by former Baltimore slugger Boog Powell is popular. Love this park.

Boston: The Red Sox serve Legal Seafoods chowder, a mainstay at inaugurations. ...
The Hilltop restaurant is famed for a steak tips sandwich you can get at Fenway Park. True local flavor, even if you hate 'em like a Yankee.

Chicago: The White Sox serve a popular Polish dog, and a kosher hot dog with grilled onions. ...They also have a Mexican cantina in center field. Nothing too crazy, and I miss the pizza from the old days.

Cleveland: The city is famous for pierogies, savory potato dumplings, sometimes filled with meat. You can find them at Jacobs Field, where the filling is potatoes and cheese with sour cream and sautéed onions on the side. ... The brown mustard at The Jake is nationally known and marketed.

Detroit: Motor City fans are devoted to Coney Islands (chili dogs) from the Leo's Coney Island stand at Comerica Park. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch owns Little Caesar's Pizza, served at the yard. Love this new park, they did a great job... and the Tigers are winning again.

Kansas City: Gates Barbecue and Arthur Bryant's Barbecue in Kansas City are national barbecue landmarks. The Royals have Gates barbecue on sale. They even scream "Hi, May I Help You".... but the way, I could drink this BBQ sauce. Check my old blogs...

Minnesota: No local specialties. Where's the Walleye Pike and wild rice?

New York: The Yankees offer knishes (rolled dough with filling) and kosher hot dogs.

Oakland: No local specialties of note beyond varied sausages. Considering the aggressiveness of A's fans, maybe raw meat should be on the menu. Stadium is horrible for all pro sports.

Seattle: You can get a rich, creamy chowder, dished up by Ivar's, a local restaurant. Tacos del Mar serves fish tacos. What would Seattle be without coffee? Tully's coffee is all over the ballpark. The Hit it Here Cafe is awesome. This may be the best designed and fan friendly park in America.

Tampa Bay: The Columbia Restaurant, anchored in Ybor City, Fla., is a Tampa area landmark. It has a stand at Tropicana Field serving Cuban sandwiches. Great food, terrible baseball.

Texas: They take barbecue seriously in the Lone Star State. So do the Rangers. They smoke brisket on site. You can smell it in the outfield, and it's enough to drive you insane.

Toronto: It's hard to identify any single food creation with Toronto. Fast-food franchises Pizza Pizza and Mr. Sub have stands at SkyDome. Otherwise this stadium stopped being cool about 10 years ago.

National League

Arizona: The D'backs don't go heavy on Southwestern cuisine. Instead they have a stand offering a specialty food from the visiting club's home. Nice in the summer evening with roof open.

Atlanta: Bison burgers from bison raised on owner Ted Turner's massive Montana ranch are an item that can't be found anywhere else. And oh yea, the Braves win a lot.

Chicago: The Cubs serve three favorites -- Italian beef, Chicago hot dogs and deep-dish pizza. Italian beef is shaved slices of well-done roast beef, with peppers and onions and plenty of au jus soaking the bun.
Take a steamed hot dog on a big, seeded bun. Add bright yellow mustard and bright green pickle relish, chopped onions, two slices of tomato, one of cucumber and a sprinkle of celery salt for a Chicago dog . Deep-dish pizza started in Chicago... and it rocks.

Cincinnati: The Reds offer Cincinnati chili, a cinnamon-scented concoction that is less meaty than classic Texas chili. Chiliheads live in Cincy and visit parlors there where it tops spaghetti or hot dogs. Skyline is my favorite, and is available at the park!

Colorado: The Rockies serve Rocky Mountain oysters, lingo for the testicles of cattle. Yummmy! They also offer buffalo dogs, burgers and brats. After that, you probably will need to drink one of the seven microbrews at Coors Field. Ready for this? They pump the beer from ice cold kegs underneath the stadium.

Florida: Think your espresso is strong? Drink dense Turkish coffee? Prefer a brew with 10W-30 viscosity? Cafe Cubano, Cuban coffee, is for you. It gives you a hair-raising jolt, especially if you let them ladle in the sugar. It's at Pro Player Stadium. ... The Marlins also offer the ubiquitous Cuban sandwiches, crusty bread toasted with boiled ham, roast pork, salami, turkey (optional), Swiss cheese and pickles.

Houston: Sheriff Blaylock's barbecue is in the Texas tradition. Rosa's Cantina fajitas, chicken and beef, are popular. If only they had the rocket pitching.

Los Angeles: The local specialty, Farmer John's Dodger dogs, can be made at home or gobbled at Dodger Stadium. They are grilled, never boiled, and the best dogs west of Chi-town... also serve great mexican food as well.

Milwaukee: The bratwurst with red sauce is a legendary item in Wisconsin.
It made the walk from County Stadium to Miller Park. Foodies nationwide are rejoicing. ... Of course it wouldn't be Milwaukee without beer. Miller Park does have beer.

Washington: Nothing going on other than dippin' dots and average hot dogs.

New York: Shea's best fare: Brooklyn soft pretzel and kosher hot dog.

Philadelphia: You can get a Philly cheesesteak at Veterans Stadium, a good one, not a cheap imitation, plus Italian water ice (frozen, flavored ices, very refreshing) and soft pretzels. ... It's a real taste of the city, short only scrapple (slices from a loaf of meat scraps and filler).

Pittsburgh: Two unique items made the move from Three Rivers Stadium to PNC Park: One is Primanti's, a cheesesteak with cole slaw and fries on it, messy and tasty; and the local favorite, Benkovitz's fish sandwich.... awesome.

St. Louis: The Cardinals offer toasted ravioli, a nationally recognized St. Louis snack food specialty, and prize-winning Super Smokers barbecue, done St. Louis style (i.e. meaty ribs). The new park is great, and the food is rockin.

San Diego: Former Padres Cy Young winner Randy Jones serves succulent barbecue. ... You can get fish tacos from the Rubio's chain. They're big in Southern California. ... Try kettle corn, sweet and salty baby!

San Francisco
: The Giants have been adventurous concessionaires for some time (aromatic garlic fries and 40-clove chicken sandwich, for instance). They didn't change with their move to Pacific Bell Park. They have on the stadium promenade a fresh catch stand with Pacific seafood specialties and Orlando's Caribbean BBQ with a marinade from the family kitchen of former Giants great Orlando Cepeda. This is a great park and even with Barry Bonds, worth a trip. The bay setting is amazing.

NEXT BLOG: A report from Rapallo, Italy.... see you from the Italy next week... home of Ligurian Cuisine!