Spring has arrived and baseball is in the air. This is the time of year when baseball fans' hopes and dreams are alive and well.
Everyone is in the race, and October baseball is still a possibility for the ardent supporters of every franchise. Most people get out to their home teams ballpark, and maybe even follow them on the road from time to time.
Others, myself included, like to travel the country to see different venues in different cities regardless of who is playing. The "Ballpark Experience" comes in many forms. A big rivalry like a Cardinals-Cubs matchup at Wrigley Field certainly gives the fans attending a sure fire good time. Opening day in Cincinnati is another that's hard to beat.
I have found that the food at the ballpark also goes a long, long way toward a memorable baseball experience. It provides much of the ballpark aroma that goes right along with the sights and sounds we take home with us in the form of memories.
I want this to be a guide to the top nine food experiences you will find around our nation's great baseball venues. We will start at No. 9 and count down to the very best in two categories. The best food and the best dog (no ballpark experience can be complete without sampling of the local hot dog).
I hope you enjoy my findings and I welcome any input you can give me based on your own findings.
When you take in a Tampa Bay Rays game, do not head out to the parking lot without sampling that parks standout delicacy, provided by a standout local restaurant in nearby Ybar City called The Columbia Restaurant. They bring you a taste treat by way of a stand in the ballpark known as Columbia's Cuban Sandwich!
It is ham, melted cheese, sweet peppers, pickles, and a marvelous set of spices all grilled into a flat sandwich. You will know your in for a real treat before you even get your first bite it smells so inviting.
The No. 9 hot dog? The Colossal Dog served up at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the home of the Oakland A's.
This is a steamed, oversized beef dog laid between an equally large french roll. My personal favorite way to dress this baby is with a mound of sauerkraut and plenty of bright yellow mustard. The only drawback is that they are so big that most fans will have trouble downing more than one.
My advice? Have one during batting practice and go for another during the seventh inning stretch.
The absolute only reason this is down at No. 8 is that the best food just isn't in the park itself. It is tucked away on Lansdowne Street behind Fenway's famed Green Monster. There are so many incredible tastes served by venders up and down the street, the hardest part is picking just one!
Because I haven't personally sampled it, I will defer to my friends who have. They recommend the Italian Sausages served by the Sausage King (not to be confused with the Sausage Guy). These messy entrees are fried up on a flat griddle floated onto a heated bun and then loaded with sautéed peppers and onions and topped off with a splash of barbecue sauce.
If you are wearing your white home jersey, be warned. These things are not for the dainty eater and will be dripping with every bite.
The No. 8 hot dog? The Blue Jay Dog, available to the fans at the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada.
Our only entry from outside the USA. The fans there love "The Jay." An all-beef frank slit several times during grilling and served on a poppy seed roll. Throw on some Grey Poupon mustard and you'll be a happy soul.
This was a tough call so I have to mention both standout dishes.
The first was hard for me to try but once I did I was hooked. The shrimp tacos are incredible. I have been urged on to try fish tacos for some time, but when I saw the shrimp version they inspired, I had to take the plunge.
And I am so very glad I did. I was wandering around the park checking out the nooks and crannies when I had mine under the Western Metal Supply building down the left field line. These are shrimp delights covered in garlic sauce, cabbage, and salsa served in a tortilla. One WILL NOT be enough.
The second is served at the Park in the Park out beyond the outfield near a lush patch of grass near the Tony Gwynn statue. It is the Randy Jones BBQ (yes THAT Randy Jones). They serve several scrumptious items but, the star at this show is the sauce. I'm told that it is Randy's Grandfather's 100-year-old recipe. What I do know is it is awesome! Chicken, ribs, or whatever else, you will love it! If your not of the faint of heart, you might try the Jalapeno pepper version...Ole!
The No. 7 hot dog? Not far to travel here. Just walk 25 feet or so to the nearest hot dog stand at Petco, and enjoy their all meat entry with the Friar Frank. Dress it up your way and enjoy three or four or heck, get a couple of extra and bring me one.
This is another that I have yet to try personally, but it has been described in such a way that I have a serious Texas hankerin' to try one soon.
Remember now, everything is reportedly bigger in Texas. And I am told this is no exception. Imagine a huge baked steaming russet potato. It is opened, and quickly filled half way with cheese. Then it is covered with sweetly spiced pulled pork and then followed with jalapeno peppers and smothered in onions.
Not enough? OK, now douse it with some down home Texas BBQ sauce. See what I mean? Can you almost taste it? They call this feast the BBQ Baker! Yee Haw.
The No. 6 hot dog? OK here comes the arguments. Dodger Stadium trots out the Dodger Dog. The Farmer John icon is one of the most contested weenies of them all. There was a time when I considered it the best thing with a sliced bun, but today's version is just no longer there. Virtually every vender in the park, (including the all you can eat right field pavilion), serves the steamed variety. And I am sorry but that just doesn't cut it. The grilled Dodger Dog is the entry that earns it the No. 6 spot, but you will have to search out where it is available. Pssst...field level just beyond the bag on the first base side still has them.
Safeco comes in at No. 5 not because of one standout ballpark meal. They offer simply more varieties of food than I have ever seen at a baseball venue, and were actually nominated by Food Network for having the 'Best Ballpark Eats In America.' They were even ranked by an ESPN poll as having the 'Best Signature Ballpark Food.' However, with all of that said, their extremely unique Grilled Salmon Sandwich sets them apart from 25 other clubs spreads. The vender is Ivar's and Ivar's Salmon Sandwich contains a one-third-pound steak of lightly seasoned grilled salmon, served with cole slaw on a freshly baked organic roll. It's delicious! Making me hungry right now.
The No. 5 hot dog? This spot goes to Yankee Stadium. In fairness,the Mets new Citi Field offers this Nathans Dawg as well. But seriously, there is something about a Yankee game and a dog. Just ask Billy Crystal.
The city of brotherly love steps in with, what else, a version of the Philly Cheesesteak. You want mouth watering? Here it is. Pat's King of Steaks puts together sliced rib-eye hoagies topped with provolone cheese full of juiciness that is sure to delight even casual fans. I'm told that Pat's been running his stand on a Philadelphia corner for decades now. On a side note, Citizens Bank Park was voted "Best Ballpark Eats" by the very first Food Network Awards.
The No. 4 hot dog? Tough call but I will give this spot to the Chicago Dog at U.S. Cellular Field, the proud home of the White Sox. The same dog can be found over on the north side of Chicago, as well, but it just seems to shine on the south side.
My only question is, how do they get that relish that neon green color? I swear it looks radioactive, but it is wonderful as it dances on that juicy all-beef frank!
Here is some of that WOW factor. Again lots of goodies in old Wrigley, but the Italian beef sandwich with grilled peppers smothered in onions is to die for. I really have to add that if you happen along on a hot summer afternoon wash that beautiful culinary treat down with an Old Style Beer or two (or three). Truth is I'm not sure how good Old Style really is, but at that ballpark when the temperature is up and your throat is going on you from cheering on the Cubbies? Yea baby! Old Style it is!
The No. 3 hot dog? Just a short drive down from Wrigley you will find Miller Park. Go on in, catch a Brewers game, and feast on a couple of their Milwaukee Miller Park “Brats.” These bratwurst sausages are second to none but be sure to enjoy them with a generous topping of the Brewers' Secret Sauce (no, I have no idea what the recipe might be). You will be coming back for more.
The home to the Birds was an extremely strong contender for the No. 1 spot but some tough choices just have to be made. It is still with pleasure that I hand out the second place medal to the Orioles and their former first baseman Boog Powell. As good as Randy Jones BBQ in San Diego is, Boog is the original BBQ Pit master.
The aroma of the slowly smoked meats have you hungry before you can sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game! You just have to try his hickory-smoked beef, pork, and turkey, all slathered in Boog's very own savory barbecue sauce. Mmmmm Mmmmm Good.
The No. 2 hot dog? Kansas City's Barbecue Dog topped with smoked beef brisket and a tangy barbecue sauce served up at Kauffman Stadium in the show me state.
If New Orleans had a Major League team they might have been here. But since they don't, the city by the bay wins out, and is the only other double winner besides Petco Park. The sheer amount of taste treats here make this an easy pick for me.
In dead center field just a tad bit south of the famous Coke Bottle slide is Orlando's (Yep Orlando Cepeda) Caribbean BBQ and a bevy of other top flight venders. My favorite is the sour dough loaf at Fresh Catch cut into a bowl and filled with a New England Clam Chowder that is worth the price of the ticket all by itself. Fresh Catch also serves an overstuffed crab meat sandwich that is off the hook.
Several locations throughout the Park offer Gilroy Garlic Fries, and just way too many great specialties to eat them with to mention here.
The No. 1 dog? The Chicago Red Hot, here at AT&T, is the kind of hot dog you might find at Boston Blackie's in Chicago. Sauerkraut, onions, and mustard are pretty standard condiment choices, but add pickles, tomatoes, hot peppers, and celery salt, and this is a dog a South-Sider would ahhh...die for.
This was fun sharing all of my favorites and I hope you will share some of yours with me so I will have something to look forward to on my next trip.