This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.
Throughout the season I highlighted concession items from every Minor League ballpark I visited. Now, for your secondhand gustatory enjoyment, it’s time to collect these appetizing entrees into a series of massive meals. Some of these dishes were included in previous editions of the newsletter, others are making their Ben’s Biz Beat debut.
Today’s focus will be the first ballpark road trip I undertook this season, which consisted of a quartet of Pacific Northwest facilities. As always: The concessions in question were consumed and commented upon by that ballpark’s Designated Eater, recruited prior to the game and tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Team: Eugene Emeralds
Ballpark: PK Park
Designated Eater: Cal Ravich
The Emeralds played as the Exploding Whales on May 6, paying homage to a 1970 beach demolition gone wrong. Most of my energies that day were focused on talking to people connected with that (in)famous occurrence, but before time ran out I met with Cal Ravich for a brief Designated Eating session.
The Emeralds’ Philly Cheesesteak wouldn’t meet the exacting standards of a City of Brotherly Love denizen, as the rolls were not Amoroso and there was no “Whiz” to be found. But Cal, a hungry teenager, was not on a quest for authenticity and therefore had nothing but good things to say. In sum: “Melty. Hot. Well-balanced.”
With the consumption of that cheesesteak, he became part of a rare multi-generational line of Designated Eaters. His dad, my friend and co-worker Jared, did the deed at a Salem-Keizer Volcanoes game all the way back in 2012 (the inaugural season of Designated Eating). Here’s a file photo, featuring what Jared described as the “saltiest kielbasa in the world.”
Meanwhile, I enjoyed an order of the Emeralds’ Loaded Brisket Fries.
The brisket is served in formidable chunks, so it didn’t meld with the fries so much as rest haughtily atop them. But, man, no complaints. I’m getting hungry just looking at them.
Team: Hillsboro Hops
Ballpark: Ron Tonkin Field
Designated Eater: Heather Lubay
The Hillsboro Hops utilize fresh local ingredients and offer rotating specials, resulting in one of the Minors’ most vibrant and unpredictable concession menus. Heather Lubay, a Pittsburgh native who now teaches journalism at Portland Community College, tried four of these items during May 7’s ballgame. She began with Taco Pizza -- seen in the photo below -- which she reported was “just like eating a taco” as regards to taste and texture.
The Mexican theme continued with the Charro Bean Tostada, which also included pulled pork, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa on the side. “A bit similar to the Taco Pizza,” said Heather. “The beans have good flavor and the salsa’s excellent.”
Next, a brief detour to the United States via the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich, dredged in chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. The onion rings served alongside it were fried until they were crispy enough to be able to stand on their own.
Heather handled the Nashville Hot Chicken just fine, as it was “not burn-your-face-off hot.” She then moved onto the Turkey Banh Mi, topped with pickled radish, cucumber, carrots, sambal mayo and cilantro.
Per Heather, the house-smoked turkey served as a “good counterpoint to the pickled vegetables.” But when all was said and done, the tostado was her favorite of this Hops’ quintet.
“The beans,” said Heather, “elevated it to the next level.”
Team: Tacoma Rainiers
Ballpark: Cheney Stadium
Designated Eater: Brandon Sparks
Ivar’s, an enduring Tacoma-area seafood chain, operates all of Cheney Stadium’s concession stands. There are several items that speak to the city’s Puget Sound locale, while others are simply unique to the ballpark. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich, found at a poultry-based stand called Saucy’s, is in the latter category. It is served on a jalapeño bagel and this, not the chicken breading, provides the spice.
Designated Eater Brandon Sparks, who serves as director of fun for the summer-collegiate DubSea Fish Sticks (check ‘em out), reported that the sandwich, while good, could have benefited from the application of sauce between chicken and bagel. He then moved on to the Ivar’s Dog, featuring two fried cod patties and coleslaw.
While Brandon remains partial to the fried fish served at Fish Sticks games, he nonetheless praised the crispiness of the Cod Dog and lamented that he reduced said crispiness via the overenthusiastic application of malt vinegar.
Finally, we have that rarest of concession specimen: Ballpark soup.
On a cold day at Cheney Stadium, of which there are many, you can’t go wrong with an Ivar’s Clam Chowder. Brandon said it hit the spot, especially because he grew up eating it and few things are tastier than nostalgia.
Team: Vancouver Canadians
Ballpark: Nat Bailey Stadium
Designated Eater: Alec Du Hamel
The most memorable concession item I crossed paths with this season? It had to be the metric system-eschewing Yard Dog sold by the Vancouver Canadians. It’s 36 inches long, as in three feet, as in a yard, and served on a custom-made bun that is slightly smaller than the dog itself. Designated Eater Alec Du Hamel was impressed by this bun, saying it was surprisingly good for something of its size. He also heaped praise upon the “really high-quality hot dog.”
“Maybe not the best hot dog I ever had,” he clarified. “But definitely the longest.”
At the very top of this newsletter, you’ll find a photo of Alec procuring the Extreme Katsu Dog. This remarkable wiener -- available at a Japanese-themed stand on the Nat Bailey Stadium concourse that also sells sushi -- features Tonkatsu sauce, cabbage, jalapeño, green onion, Japanese mayo and tempura crunch.
“I’d get it again,” said Alec, who had never gotten the Extreme Katsu dog before. “I’m happy with the jalapeños. I’m a sucker for those. The Tonkatsu sauce starts out smoky and soy sauce-y.”
Finally, we have the Totine, a variation of the Canadian specialty that is poutine. It consists of tater tots topped with pulled pork, cheese curds, gravy and green onions. I can’t locate my quote from Alec on this one, but I think the picture tells the Totine story better than words ever could.
In short: Delicious.
Speaking of delicious, thanks to everyone who emailed me regarding their favorite restaurants located near a Minor League ballpark. Keep ‘em coming, and I’ll include as many as I can in a future edition of this newsletter: [email protected].
And before I go, I would like to remind you that Logovember is underway. On Wednesday evening the Greensboro Grasshoppers -- High-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates -- unveiled a fresh new look. For more, click the link:
READ ABOUT THE GREENSBORO GRASSHOPPERS’ NEW LOGOS HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.