Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trenton Thunder: Thunder Dog

As your pontificator of process meat it is my sworn duty to educate you. Lesson: pork roll. It’s a pork based processed meat that is extremely popular in a region that encompasses parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Think pork bologna...only tastier. How much do the denizens of New Jersey dig the pork roll? Trenton hosts an annual Pork Roll Festival. I am booking my next vacation now.

Two years ago, during the off-season concessions captain Chris Champion and his lieutenant Bryan Rock were retooling the menu and wanted to come up with a signature dog for the Trenton Thunder that would give fans something to rave about. After sleepless nights and hours of tapping into the NSA database, the Thunder Dog was born. Chris, who has over twenty years of ballpark concessions experience under his belt (he started selling popcorn in the very park where he co-invented the Thunder Dog) wanted to give the ballpark’s newest offering a local flavor. So the star of the Thunder Dog show is a Black Bear all-beef frank wrapped in….pork roll. And cheese of course.

Appeal-anything named Thunder conjures up images of greatness, and any double-meat dog is worth trying. 5

Ingredients-lots, including onions, pepper, cheese, meat, potatoes, meat and more meat. All this served on a soft and fresh hoagie roll. 5

Uniqueness-none other like it in baseball. I always dig adding a local flair to the dogs. 5

Monstrosity Factor-a huge dog, loaded with deliciousness. I got it down. But it was the only thing I ate that night. 4.5

Value-I paid $8 for a regular hot dog last year at Busch Stadium. The same amount of cash at Arm & Hammer Park gets you a meal in a bun. 5

Overall Taste-pretty damn good. I liked the Black Bear frank, it was the first time I had encountered it, but not as much as a few others. Toss in a Hebrew National frank for top score. 4.5
Bryan Rock & Chris Champion
An awesome score of 29. The irony? This AA team’s dog puts both the Mets and Phillies dogs to shame. Philadelphia and New York can take a lesson from their minor league neighbors and give the fans a slugger like the Thunder Dog instead of a pinch hitter. And given the current state of affairs, the Thunder could probably take the Phillies to task on the diamond as well. Speaking of dogs, the team doesn’t have a bat boy the first inning, it has a bat dog. A golden retriever that collects the bats. Really cool.

Arm & Hammer Park is a great baseball destination if in the area. It is situated in a park-like shore of the Delaware River. All seats are the same price and you won’t find a friendlier staff and front office in baseball. Just come hungry.

Monday, June 29, 2015

New York Mets: Pastrami Dog

You would think that in the Big Apple they would do things in a big way. But despite several laps around the main concourse at Citi Field and numerous inquires, the largest and most outrageous dog I could find at the Met’s ballpark was the Pastrami Dog. A Nathan’s hot dog topped with a hearty portion of pastrami, brown mustard and a pickle spear.

I know what you are thinking, pastrami and a hot dog on a bun at the same time? It sounds like an artery hardening experience only to be undertaken under the supervision of a cardiologist. After procuring one, I found a place near one of the ballpark’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED), took six Lipitor tablets and commenced to munching. Verdict: after awaking from emergency triple bypass surgery, the ambulance drivers tell me I was mumbling something about it being delicious.

Appeal-I love double-meat dogs. And I love pastrami. 5

Ingredients-one bite was kind of fatty, but otherwise top notch toppings, but it could have used at least one other topping. 4.5

Uniqueness-I like the idea of a deli-themed hot dog. 5

Monstrosity Factor-another hot dog that is just regular-sized but topped with out of the ordinary toppings. If you want to run with the big dogs, you have to be a big dog. 2

Value-In New York City most everything is expensive. Not so with the Pastrami Dog. At $7.25 it is a ballpark steal. 5

Overall Taste-really tasty, but could have used a bit of spice. 4.5
With a score of 26 the Mets get sent to the middle of the standings, which is better than they can hope for on the playing field if they continue their downward slide. I do like the fact that you can get to the park from the far flung reaches of anywhere remotely close to New York City by a combination of trains or subway. Plus, this was my first ever attendance of a resumption of a rain suspended game. The regular game was preceded by the game from the previous day and took back up in the 6th inning. And then lasted until the 13th inning. Lots of baseball, followed by a postgame concert by the Steve Miller Band. That’s a log of entertainment, just not a lot of hot dog.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Philadelphia Phillies: South Philly Dog

My bad luck with the weather seems to be constant no matter where I go. The rain keeps following me. Perhaps the state of California will sponsor me so to see some more games in that drought-stricken state. Attention Golden State: I only fly first class….at least when you are paying.

That rain caused the game to be suspended after a hearty 1 ½ innings of play. Plus, it was windy and chilly; not baseball weather. Still, it was enough to seek out the best that Citizen’s Bank Park had to offer. That would be the South Philly Dog served at the Frank and Steins stand. The City of Brotherly Love loves its meat and I figured this dog would compete. Unfortunately, that dog was still a pup. I could have easily had two, but in the interest of science I only had one. Then I had some ice cream to compensate. Hey, it came in miniature Phillies helmet, how could I resist that?

Appeal-the name South Philly Dog had me thinking cheesesteak. Plus it sounded like it would be Philly-centric, but it lacks the pizazz for top score. 4

Ingredients-it has a Hatfield all-beef frank topped with broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers and sharp provolone cheese. I give the Phillies credit for resisting the temptation of putting on the ever popular nacho cheese sauce. The provolone was a nice change. I liked the veggies as well but there were too many greens on the bun. 4

Uniqueness-pretty darn original. 5

Monstrosity Factory-just a regular dog with some special toppings. One will not do you. Hit the concessions stand after to call in some gastronomic reinforcements or you will have a growling tummy by the seventh inning stretch. 2

Value-this is a loaded dog, albeit a small one. For $7, especially in the Northeast, this is a good deal. 5

Overall Taste-it could have been better, but the broccoli hijacked the taste. 4
On the day the Phillies manager stepped down as skipper due to the team’s dismal performance, I am afraid I have more bad news: an overall score of 24 puts the South Philly Dog in the bottom half of the rankings.

I expected more from a ballpark that boasts some of baseball’s most raucous fans. I guess that, along with the Phillies performance, the demand for a winning hot dog is waning.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Baltimore Orioles: Crab Mac n Cheese Dog

If you read my blog or book (you are buying my book aren’t you?), you know that last year the Baltimore Orioles came out on top in the baseball/hot dog experience saga. It was well deserved. Taking in the Orioles game this year at Camden Yards while eating their specialty dog reinforced the fact that I made the right decision handing them the crown.

The Orioles hot dog team, captained by Chef Josh Distenfield, has an impressive lineup that includes a Bacon Chili Cheese Dog, the Eutaw Street BBQ Pulled Pork Dog, and the Oriole Park Crab Dip Dog. I chose the one that made Camden Yards dogs famous: the Crab Mac n Cheese Dog. Maryland is famous for crabs, and I am a sucker for dogs that pay tribute to local flavors or cuisine.

Appeal-they had me at crab. Maryland crab. 5

Ingredients-all top quality. It was important that they did not let either the mac n cheese or crab overpower the star of the bun; the frank. 5

Uniqueness-several parks are doing the mac n cheese thing on dogs these days, but none with crabmeat intertwined. 5

Monstrosity Factor-this is the one area the dog falls short. With all of those bulky toppings its size goes more vertical than horizontal. And I had a beer and peanuts after to fill me up. The good news is you could probably (if you are a trained dog eater like me) down two. Double the deliciousness. 3.5

Value-not a bad deal at $9, but not top score. 4.5

Overall Taste-if you are in Baltimore. Eat. This. Dog. 5
A score of 28 is a winner of a dog. Not top slot though, this dog suffers from being outsized by competitors. Not a judgement on its absolute tastiness though. If you are looking for just a great tasting specialty dog that is unique and a fan favorite remember this: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the size of the dog.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Come On Baby Light My Kindle

Great news! The book "Gone to the Dogs" is now available for download to your kindle. If you like the blog and love eating hot dogs or enjoy baseball you can learn all about the trials, tribulations, adventures and how long you can go without a shower before flies become a problem by reading the book that chronicles my trip to all 30 MLB (and 35 MiLB) ballparks last year. 

What are reading this summer? 
Here is the link to order your copy. 


And don't forget, you can follow this blog by clicking the "follow this blog" thingy on the left.

Washington Nationals: DMV Dog

I grabbed a dog in our nation’s capital on Thursday while watching the Nationals trounce the Braves. I like Nationals Park not for its baseball vibe, but that it was the first green baseball venue in the MLB. All sorts of environmentally conscious facets were built into the stadium. And a great park for gluttony as well. If you don’t like hot dogs, first of all please turn in your American passport, but secondly, you can still eat well at Nats Park.

I zeroed in on the DMV dog. Being a rube I figured DMV meant Department of Motor Vehicles. I fully expected to wait in line for 45 minutes for this dog only to be told I was in the wrong line and directed another line twice as long. As it turns out, it stands for DC, Maryland and Virginia. The DMV dog pays homage to all of its neighbors by combining a Ben’s half-smoke sausage, topped with Maryland crab cheese sauce and Virginia baked ham. Pretty clever no? But, I really was confused about the DMV thing at first. Then I realized I was in DC, the seat of our government. Confused and misleading is the norm.

Appeal-makes you want to get one just to see what the hell it is. Once you find out, it sounds pretty tasty. 5

Ingredients-love the Ben’s half-smoke. Ben is a DC staple in the world of encased meat. The ham was good, although I am not a fan of ham on a dog. The crab cheese sauce was...interesting. 4

Uniqueness-really cool play on three local culinary influences. 5

Monstrosity Factor-big dog, but not scary. I downed it without batting an eye. 3.5

Value-at 13 smackers it needs to be the only food you will eat that day. By the fifth inning I was looking for the peanut guy. 3.5

Overall Taste-it was good. The half-smoke really made the dog. The buns were fresh, but instead of using one large bun it uses two, overlapping regular size bun. Unique but slightly inefficient. 4.5
The overall score of 25.5 puts the Nats in the middle of the pack. Don’t be disappointed, it is still a unique and delicious, really large dog. But the competition for top spot is stiff.

A special thanks to the Washington Nationals for selling tickets for $5 a few hours before game time. They did the same last year. They get it. Put fans in the ballpark. A few other teams do something similar. Why not all. And for five bucks you have no excuse to not get your butt in a seat at Nationals Park. Watch the game and renew your license as the DMV.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pittsburgh Pirates: Cuban Dog

After a stint of dodging dodgy weather, I was treated to an evening of perfect baseball weather in perhaps baseball’s best MLB venue: PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Something about a retro-inspired stadium with modern amenities situated on the banks of the Allegheny River with a stunning skyline view that does it for me. The best part? If you read my book (you are buying my book aren’t you?) you know that the first MLB ballgame I ever attended was when my dad took our family to Three Rivers Stadium. This game I was able to return the gesture and take my pops to his first trip to PNC Park. It doesn’t get any better than a Pirates game with your dad; dog in one hand and an Iron City beer in the other. Did I mention the weather was picture perfect?

Pittsburgh has a strong Italian heritage and influence. So it struck me as a tad strange that the Pirate’s specialty hot dog is a cuban offering. The Cuban is footlong all-beef frank on an imported German pretzel bun. It is topped with diced ham and house-smoked pork, mustard and homemade pickles. What’s not to like about a double-meat dog?

Appeal-I expected this dog in Miami, the fact that it is offered in Pittsburgh intrigued me. And the picture on the advertisement looked really alluring. 5

Ingredients-mostly good, but I was not a fan of the diced ham. 4

Uniqueness-nice dog, but it would have been even more unique if it had a Pittsburgh flair to it. 4

Monstrosity Factor-a large dog, but no match for my appetite. It was the only thing I ate at the ballpark and it was filling, but I was not overwhelmed by size or toppings. 4

Value-for an MLB venue $9 for a dog of these proportions is a good deal. I should mention that last year, Pittsburgh had the least expensive hot dog in the MLB. 5

Overall Taste-the diced ham dragged the score down a bit. The franks were delicious and I mentioned to my dad that I could tell by the taste who the manufacturer was. I check with the concessions people and I was correct. The Cuban Dog is made with Hebrew National franks. Great choice Pittsburgh. It is comforting to know that I am both good and good-looking. 4
The Lohr Boys Demolishing Dogs
A score of 26 is not going to put PNC Park in running to be “top dog,” but they still have a great specialty dog at a good price in one of baseball’s best venues. And after eating the Cuban, my spanish improved significantly. Then again, that might be accredited to the several Iron City beers we drank.

Columbus Clippers: Sloppy Dog

A combination of minor league all-star games and team schedules landed me in the only option I had this day to catch a game: Columbus Ohio. I am glad that it did. Huntington Park is one of the nicest minor league parks I have visited. It is in a great location in downtown Columbus and espouses a nice merge of modern and vintage ballpark vibes. I love the four-sided, open air concession stands, and it was the concessions workers that steered me toward the Clipper’s ginormous specialty dog offering: The Sloppy Dog.

Dog is misleading. It should be dogs...as in plural. This culinary colossus consists of two regular-size dogs topped with a large portion of french fries and then smothered with sloppy-joe style chili and then covered in nacho cheese. When finished, you cannot see the hot dogs due to all the other food piled on top. Wow.

Appeal-a catchy concept that makes you want to sample it. 5

Ingredients-not bad, but teams are over doing the nacho cheese thing. This dog included. 4

Uniqueness-using two regular dogs to beef up (pun intended) this hot dog conception is pure genius. 5

Monstrosity Factor-I can tackle some pretty big dogs. This is a LARGE meal. I could only get about 75% of it down. 5

Value-this is a two-person meal. For $9 that means it is $4.50 a person for a good ballpark snack, and that is the ONLY thing both fans will be eating for the evening. A great deal. 5

Overall Taste-I would recommend going a little easier on the nacho cheese. The Clippers also use Sugardale franks. They are ok, but the taste suffered. I would have gladly paid an extra dollar to get the same meal with Hebrew National franks. And the dog would have gotten top score in this category. 4
An overall score of 28 means the Sloppy Dog is must have when at a Clippers game. Plus, you get to eat it in one cool ballpark. Great job coming up with a unique dog that even your intrepid Hot Dog Explorer could not slay.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hot Dog Alert #5

I, like all baseball fans, am thankful that basketball season has finally drawn to a close (and hockey as well). Warm weather was made for the national pastime...baseball. Still, basketball has legions of fans and the finals matchup pitted fans from California against a place with some of the most ardent fans in all of sports: Cleveland.

While Cleveland came out on the short end of the stick, America’s sport paid homage to one of the Cleveland Cavalier’s grittiest players: Matt Dellavedova. Just south of Cleveland is the tire capital of the the world, Akron, Ohio. The aptly named RubberDucks are introducing the Delly Dog. Using a play on the Cavaliers player’s nickname and the word “deli,” this delicatessen in a bun features an all beef frank, ham, salami, provolone cheese and stadium mustard. Sounds like a dog that demands a side of potato salad.

The RubberDucks are proud of their dog lineup. Last year, fans asked me if I had stopped by. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it but am trying this season to test the offerings the RubberDucks are touting. Including the “Three Dog Night.”

Once again, the minor leagues show their culinary creativity and put out a dog worth blogging about. I hear they have a pretty nice ballpark as well. The next time you are in the Buckeye State, down a Delly Dog and be my guest blogger and tell us about it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Quad City River Bandits: Smokey Dog

My last stop in the Midwest League was notable. The Quad City River Bandits serve up several tasty specialty dogs, but first I want to rave about their ballpark. There is just something about a park that is special when a long homer over the right field wall lands in the Mississippi River. Modern Woodmen Park is located on the banks of the Big Muddy with the steel-arch Centennial Bridge in view on the right field side. The ballpark was originally constructed in 1931 and the bridge in 1940, they compliment each other nicely.

Then there is the ferris wheel on the left field berm. It’s a cool addition that makes Modern Woodmen standout from other parks. It is bejeweled with colorful lights and fans can ride the wheel while at the ballgame. This is a truly unique venue that is located in downtown Davenport. I couldn’t wait to see a game there. And apparently I will still be waiting. I got in, had a dog and watched the grounds crew in action as they rolled out the tarp as game time approached. The game was finally cancelled, but I was there long enough to complete my mission.

For a single A team, the River Bandits have a robust specialty dog menu:

Chicago Dog-by now you should know by heart what goes on a Chicago Dog. Every ballpark has one.

Bandit Dog-chili, nacho cheese sauce and bacon on a pretzel bun.

Cheesy Mac Dog-homemade mac & cheese and breadcrumbs on a pretzel bun.

I chose the Smokey Dog. Pulled pork, coleslaw and BBQ sauce all served on a pretzel bun. All of the dogs mentioned come with a 100% beef frank. The best part? I spoke with the concessions manager and they use Hebrew National brand franks. I applauded him on his good taste in meat.

Appeal-when you talk of meat and mention smokey, it gets meat lovers’ attention. 5

Ingredients-a nice play on all things southern. Both pulled pork and coleslaw. No southern boy can say no to that. 5

Uniqueness-numerous teams do the pulled pork over a frank dog. It goes by different names but taste about the same. 3.5

Monstrosity Factor-this is a loaded dog, but the size goes vertical from piling on the toppings. It’s a really loaded dog, but I could have downed two. 3.5

Value-considering what dogs cost in many parks, you get a lot of eats for the $6 you will plunk down to consume the Smokey. 5

Overall Taste-adding to the fact that it has a delicious Hebrew National frank, the pulled pork was tender and the BBQ sauce was both sweet and tangy. 5
My only regret about the visit was that I didn’t get to see any actual baseball. I did, however, get a bobblehead...and that makes any 300-mile drive worthwhile. I should mention that the River Bandits were honoring Chad Pregrake with their bobblehead. He is not a baseball player. He is an ordinary guy that has dedicated his life to cleaning up America’s waterways, primarily the Mississippi River. He has spearheaded an effort that has removed MILLIONS of pounds of trash from Ole Man River. That’s a dude I’d like to buy a dog

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Milwaukee Brewers: Downtown Wisconsin Avenue Brat

If anyone knows hot dogs and Brats it is Brewers fans. They live smack dab in the middle of the encased meat capital of the world. Their Miller Park tailgate grill parties are legendary, and fans like that demand a meat monster worthy of living in Milwaukee. Last year the Brewers answered with “The Beast.” This year, the new meat missle on the block is the “Down Wisconsin Avenue” brat. The moniker comes from a call from famed Brewer broadcaster, and former MLB player, Bob Uecker’s call when a pitch is thrown right down the middle of the plate, which the Uecker claims is right “down wisconsin avenue.”

When you replace a dog called “The Beast,” you had better be impressive. And this brat will make fans forget The Beast ever existed. It is an 18-inch Klement’s spicy brat topped with beef gravy, shoe string fries, frizzled sauerkraut, two types of cheese curds, cheese sauce, sour cream, fried jalapenos and fresh chives. Zoinks! (as Shaggy would say when encountering a monster), that is a whole lot of food. First, I didn’t know there was more than one type of cheese curd, and second, this conglomeration of ingredients is placed not in a large hot dog bun, but a gonnella bread bun (which is like a hoagie bun). It is large, soft, tasty and daunting.

Appeal-anything that is supposedly better than “The Beast” is a dog I want to meet. 5

Ingredients-all first class and fresh, and Klement’s makes world class brats. 5

WARNING: It is larger in real life
Uniqueness-the only entry I know of named after a broadcaster’s signature call. Plus the name alone makes you curious. 5

Monstrosity Factor-you did read the part about it being an 18-inch brat yes? Throw in all those toppings in that huge, soft bun and you have dog evan Pac-Man can’t devour. There was no way I could eat a whole one. 5

Value-this is a two-person brat, and those two fans are going to be full. Sure, it’s $20, but that is $10 a fan for a meat lover’s fantasy in a bun. And it will be the ONLY thing you eat that night. Get a regular dog and some peanuts and you are already over $10 per eater. 5

Overall Taste-spicy but not overpowering, top-notch ingredients and the best bun/roll in baseball. I was tempted to purge just so I could make room for another. I figured I could tell fans Bob Uecker’s play-by-play was making me ill. 5
The Sausage Rope
Finally, after a few entries getting close, a dog with a perfect score. It all comes together for the “Down Wisconsin Avenue” Dog. But wait...there’s more! The Brewers also offer a sausage rope (see photo), and they will whack off 6 or 12 inches to suit your taste. Place it on a gonnella bun with sauteed peppers and onions. Can’t handle the the “Down Wisconsin Avenue” First of all: wimp. Secondly: the rope sausage is for you.

Service With a Smile
I also got to meet Chef Pastor Jimenez who was at Target Field last year and part of the team that designed another brat that received high marks, “The Brat Dog.” The concessions team (Delaware North Company) is led by Eric Babcock. You may remember I ran into Eric during Spring Training in Arizona. He ran the concessions at Scottsdale Stadium, which ended up winning the Cactus League best ballpark/hot dog experience. Now he captains the team that has the first dog with a perfect score. My hot dog instincts tell me personnel is just as important as ingredients when putting out the perfect dog.

Brewers fans love baseball and have a dog they can be proud of. But if you go to more than a few games a year, and tackle the Downtown Wisconsin Avenue Dog; make sure to renew your gym membership.