Editor's note: Josh Pahigian and Kevin O'Connell toured all 30 major league baseball stadiums in 2003, and then produced The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiums, a thorough 530-page guidebook that tells you all you need to know about where to sit, what to eat and what to do around the 30 major league ballparks. Based on that experience, they offer their choices for the best signature ballpark food items and hot dogs here.
Back in the days when starting pitchers still occasionally went the full nine innings, dinner at a major league game consisted of a few lukewarm hot dogs with heaping side orders of peanuts and Cracker Jack. Wash it all down with some watery beer, and call your gastrointestinologist in the morning. For better or worse, those days have gone the way of the spitball, the afternoon World Series game, and Morganna the Kissing Bandit.
As major league baseball has evolved into a bigger business, its ballparks have come to offer smorgasbords of delight from which we fans can select our game-time snacks. And, to this happy development, we give three hearty belches each.
The better concession stands at today's big league yards reflect the local specialties of their surrounding cities. At U.S. Cellular Field, fans of Chicago-style deep dish can have their 'Za and their World Series trophy too. At PNC Park, beleaguered 'Burgh fans feast on pierogies while they wait for Steelers two-a-days to start. At Shea Stadium, cosmopolitan New Yorkers enjoy authentic deli sandwiches and knish, because, well, where else can you eat knish at a ballgame? Answer: At Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where the Mets play their spring training games.
While every ballpark has some hometown items on its menu, not all qualify as delicacies. In fact, some are downright nasty, like the boiled peanuts in Atlanta, the Rocky Mountain Oysters in Denver, and the Wrigley Pig (insert your own drunk bleacher-chick joke here) in Chicago.
Because road-tripping fans need to quickly separate the local plums from the local sludge, we've compiled our own list of the top ten ballpark treats in MLB, presented in no particular order.
1. Boog's Barbecue, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
Boog Powell smacked 339 home runs during a playing career that spanned 17 years. He also played in four World Series and made four All-Star teams. With all due respect to Mr. Powell and his exploits on the field, we think his best contributions to baseball are the ones he's making right now at his barbecue pit in Baltimore. Boog's delicious offerings include hickory-smoked beef, pork, and turkey, all slathered in savory barbecue sauce. The smoke from the pit wafts into the crowd all night long, beckoning and scintillating the senses. And yes, it is pretty cool when a former big leaguer asks you if you'd like a side of beans or slaw with your order. Best of all, just as Camden began the retro trend in ballpark design, Boog began the barbecue trend in ballpark cuisine. Since Boog opened his stand in 1993, Greg Luzinski has opened one in Philly, Gorman Thomas in Milwaukee, Manny Sanguillen in Pittsburgh, and Randy Jones in San Diego.
2. BBQ Stuffed Baked Potato, Minute Maid Park, Houston
Get this. A ginormous baked potato buried in cheese, loaded down with sweet pulled pork meat, doused in barbecue sauce, smothered in onions, and topped with jalapeno peppers. No, this did not come to Kevin in a dream, it's a true ballpark delicacy that can only be had at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Add another "B" to the list of Houston greats: Biggio, Bagwell, and Berkman -- and now, the BBQ Baker. The only caveat: you'll need an open seat to either side of you to get this job done right. Luckily, those seats are available.
3. Old Style Beer, Wrigley Field, Chicago
Think beer doesn't qualify as a food? Try telling that to Ronnie Woo Woo and the rest of the bleacher creatures at Wrigley. Fine lager this is not, but when the sun is shining, the Cubbies are playing, and the young ladies are flashing, you'll understand what Ernie Banks meant when he said, "let's play two." Seriously, Old Style might be your grandfather's favorite brew -- or maybe your great-grandfather's -- but on a summer's afternoon in the humid city of big and sweaty shoulders, nothing hits the spot quite like an Old Style.
4. Gilroy Garlic Fries, AT&T Park, San Francisco
Gordon Biersch's now-classic creation of ground garlic, herbs, and parmesan cheese served over French fries has been imitated but not yet duplicated at ballparks across the country. Hot, spicy, and chock full of flavor, garlic fries are just the thing to ward off the chill of a nippy night or to give a chilly post-game "boo-ya!" to an opposing pitcher heading for his car. At one time, Gordon Biersch used fresh garlic cloves exclusively and if you couldn't handle the zing -- tough luck for you. But the fries left patrons with breath worse than Thurman Munson's after a three-day bender, so out of necessity, Gordon Biersch replaced the fresh garlic with minced. But believe us, these fries are still plenty strong.
5. Fenway Sausages, Ted Williams Way, Boston
On game day, Lansdowne Street behind the Green Monster is home to a small fleet of private vendors who serve sweet Italian sausages to the ravenous Fenway faithful. The flat griddles these folks use create sausages that are actually more fried than grilled. Order your sandwich "loaded" with sautéed peppers and onions and top it off with a generous portion of ketchup or barbecue sauce, and you're sure to destroy your Trot Nixon jersey after about three bites... but it's well worth it. Our favorite vendor is the Sausage Guy, as much for the succulence of the sausages he peddles as for the logo on his cart. You'll know what we mean when you see it.
6. Ivar's Grilled Salmon Sandwich, Safeco Field, Seattle
In the Pacific Northwest, fresh wild-caught salmon is about as good as eating gets. Ivar's salmon sandwich boasts a ½-pound plank of lightly seasoned grilled salmon, served with cole slaw on a freshly baked organic roll. It's delicious and the salmon is wild-caught, which means that it's also friendly for the environment. How's that for the perfect marriage of a ballpark food with the local culture of eco-seamheads? Some folks put tartar sauce on top, but we don't. A good salmon plank is firm, pinkish, and has a delightfully mellow taste that's not, well... too fishy. It's a great ballpark sandwich that you can eat with one hand while you keep score with the other.
Josh: Hand me a napkin so I can get this fish oil off my hands.
Kevin: Why don't you rub it into you mitt instead and you'll field like Ichiro.
7. Rick's Steaks, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
The debate continues to rage at Ninth and Passyunk in Philly, where Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks have treated local connoisseurs to delicious sliced rib-eye hoagies topped with Cheese Whiz or provolone for decades at their stands on opposing corners of the intersection. But the fact is Pat's steaks are cut a little thicker and fried a little juicier than Geno's. The Phillies offered their own quiet endorsement of Pat's when Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, awarding the stadium steak deal to one of Pat's grandkids, Rick Olivieri. Since then, we make sure to visit Rick's Steaks whenever we're in town for a Phillies game, and you should too.
8. Shrimp Tacos, Petco Park, San Diego
Like, we hear you skeptics out there, dude. But Rubio's is an authentic San Diego eatery that brought the recipe for its fish tacos to the U.S. from Baja, Mexico way back in 1983. And the shrimp tacos only improve on the original. Though the price of these shrimp delights covered in garlic sauce, cabbage and salsa will run you about twice what it does at a Rubio's restaurant, the quality suffers little. And these babies will have you hanging loose and looking for the next set of worthy waves.
Kevin: Dude, wanna go ride some tubes.
Josh: Gnarly idea, but it's only the fourth inning.
Kevin: Oh yeah, the game... like, totally.
9. Ybor City Cuban, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg
Visiting Tampa Bay and not going to Ybor City would be akin to visiting Las Vegas and not stopping by the Eiffel Tower. Or something like that. Ybor City, the home of Lou Piniella and a proud cigar-making history, is a neat old part of town made up of Cuban, Italian, Spanish, and German immigrants and their descendants. The Columbia restaurant, an Ybor City landmark, also has a stand at Tropicana Field, where it offers baseball fans a taste of the old neighborhood. The Columbia's Cuban Sandwich is made with spicy ham, gooey cheese, pickles, and sweet peppers, all grilled into a flat sandwich that is so delicious it will leave you hankering for cigar rolled by Fidel himself.
10. Bratwurst with Secret Sauce, Miller Park, Milwaukee
Leave the fried chicken, pizza and nachos to the other ballparks and enjoy the festival of sausages that is a trip to Miller Park. In this land also famous for its cheeses and beers, the bratwurst and spicy Italian sausage at "The House That Bud Built" are clearly a cut above the cased meats you'll find at other ballparks. Both delicious links are firm and flavorful and made all the more delicious by a generous topping of the Brewers' Secret Sauce, which tastes a lot like Arby's Secret Sauce to us. For Josh, who has been trying to replicate Arby's similarly "secret" blend in his kitchen since about the eighth grade, this is a match made in heaven. After a few innings of gorging yourself silly, sit back and root for your favorite piece of meat to finish first in the nightly Sausage Race.
Josh Pahigian and Kevin O'Connell are the authors of "The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiums," which can be ordered at Amazon.com.