What's more American than baseball, apple pie and the freedom to gorge on a sandwich the size of your head? To spend an entire nine-inning game watching the national pastime while gnawing on a meal that would do Henry VIII proud?
To ignore every caloric counter, blood-pressure warning and shred of common eating sense as you’re screaming for the home team?
Ahhh, it's spring, and in the spring, sports fans turn to the opening of the baseball season. Meanwhile, teams from Everett, Wash. (home of the Class A Aqua Sox) to Fort Myers, Fla. (the Class A advanced Miracle) turn to doing whatever it takes to bring fans out to the ballpark.
Increasingly, that means upping their concessions game. To gastronomically gut-busting heights. Or, perhaps, depths.
"It's about the show. It's about the experience," says Sam Levitt, the radio play-by-ply man for the Gateway Grizzlies and the team's director of broadcasting and media relations. "And that's part of our experience."
Back in 2006, the Grizzlies — a minor league team unaffiliated with Major League Baseball that plays in the St. Louis suburb of Sauget, Illinois — introduced Baseball's Best Burger to the food stands around GCS Ballpark. It was an immediate smash success.
It's a burger, with a couple slices of bacon and a slice of sharp cheddar cheese ... between two halves of a grilled Krispy Kreme donut.
It's difficult to tell if this burger on a donut concoction started a kind of anything-goes trend when it comes to ballpark cuisine. But it's clearly a trend. The Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks are introducing a yet-to-be named hot dog to their concession stand this season that is sprinkled with bacon bits and raspberry jelly and sits, oh so modestly, on a Krispy Kreme donut bun. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, you know. Or is that fattery?
Be aware, now. An original Krispy Kreme glazed donut alone is 190 calories and provides 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat. The donut. Alone.
MILB.com, the official site of Minor League Baseball, has had fans vote on their favorite ballpark food for the last couple years. The 2014 champion was a half-pound crab cake sandwich, with pineapple and mango coleslaw, drizzled with a chipotle sauce. Known as the Triple C, or Clawd's Crab Cake, it can be found at the concession stands at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, N.J., northeast of Philadelphia along the Jersey Shore.
The fight for baseball's concession crown is on.
"I know there's people that say, 'Hey this is enough already,'" Levitt says. "But we're always thinking of new things to put on our menu. We're always thinking progressively, both on the food side and in every other aspect of what we do in our organization...to make our experience more unique.
"I have a feeling we might have something up our sleeve. There's never a ceiling on what we may do."
Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the more...interesting items currently on ballpark menus.
Pass the Tums.
Bats & Balls
Missoula (Mont.) Osprey
Photo: The Missoula Osprey
Rocky Mountain oysters on a bed of fries. The key is the Rocky Mountain oysters. They are not oysters. They are — brace yourself — bull testicles. Honest. But they are deep fried.
The Big Mother Funnel Burger
(Appleton) Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Photo: Timothy Michael Hansen/Twitter
A one-pound burger — think about that: a pound of beef — with mozzarella cheese and bacon on a bun comprised of two funnel cakes, complete with the powdered sugar. Oooof.
Rapa Scrapple Burger
Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks
In the mid-Atlantic, scrapple (hog "trimmings," corn meal, spices) is a mainstay. It's fried crisply, served with peppers, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. Served with local Herr's potato chips.
Photo: Baltimore Orioles/Twitter
The only big-league food in this mix, found at Dempsey's in the warehouse at Camden Yards. Old Bay Roma sausage on a pretzel roll, smothered with Old Bay crab dip. This IS Baltimore.
The Moby Dick
Lake County (Eastlake, Ohio) Captains
Photo: The Lake County Captains
You'll feel like a whale if you can pound this monstrosity down. Five (!) quarter-pound fish filets, six ounces of clams, eight slices of cheese on a 15-inch bun. With fries and all the trimmings.
The Southern Kimchi Dog
Charleston (SC) RiverDogs
Collard greens and kimchi. South Korea, of course. With peppers, tossed in soy and toasted sesame oil sauce. On a Hebrew National dog with a garlic Siracha sauce.
Hickory (NC) Crawdads
Half-pound chili cheese dog. Half-pound burger. Pulled pork barbecue sandwich. A corn dog. Onion rings. Jalapeño poppers. Pub chips. And, oh, don't forget the pickle spears. (Burp!)
Battle Creek (Mich.) Bombers
Ohhhhhhhh. Exactly what you'd expect. A simple hot dog in a split Twinkie. Brave souls put whipped cream and sprinkles on top. Mustard and ketchup, too? Onions? That's your call.
Triple Play Sandwich
Reno (Nev.) Aces
Photo: Reno Aces
Saucy pulled pork, beef brisket and coleslaw smushed between three pieces of Pullman bread, stuck with a skewer of cherry peppers, pickles and barbecue meatballs.
The Big Apple
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Tin Caps
Photo: Tin Caps
Four servings of apple crisp. Topped with four handmade apple dumplings. And five scoops of vanilla ice cream. Whipped cream. Hot caramel. Apple slices on top. It weighs five pounds.
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