Thursday, July 30, 2015

Santa Fe Fuego: Fuego Dog

My first encounter with the cuisine inside the independent Pecos League. And I made it in a nick of time. The league is a short-season confederation making catching a game a rarer affair than in ballparks associated with the MLB, and I caught my hometown Santa Fe Fuego playing one their last games of 2015. They play at Fort Marcy Park, which is kind of like a rundown high school field, but with a cooler grandstand.

I was not expecting much, particularly since some single A, MLB-affiliated teams have had some sparse offerings. But the Fuego surprised the Hot Dog Explorer. They have a few dogs in their lineup with the specialty dog being the ⅓ pound Fuego Chile Cheese Dog, known henceforth as the Fuego Dog. It sports a nearly six-ounce frank, beans, red chile and queso cheese.

Appeal-New Mexico is known for its red and green chilies, and topping the local dog off with a local favorite is a hit. 4

Ingredients-the Fuego know enough about putting out a quality product that they use Nathan’s hot dog. One of my favorites (right after a Hebrew National). 4

Uniqueness-the chili cheese thing is all over baseball. Tossing in the red chili is the only thing that sets this dog apart. 4

Monstrosity Factor-a nice sized dog, but nothing huge. 3.5

Value-pricey at $8. 3

Overall Taste-pleasing to the palate, especially when I was expecting a cold Oscar Meyer on a stale bun. 4
An overall score of 22.5 will not win any medals, but as an independent ballclub, the Santa Fe Fuego can be proud of having specialty dog that holds it own with many MLB minor league clubs. I am glad I was able to catch a game before they wrapped up the 2015 season. Even in the spartan trappings of Fort Marcy Park, a dog in hand taste better when hardball is on the field.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Twisters, Moving Vans and the Wayback Machine

Wonder why I haven’t been to a ballpark lately? In a nutshell I am taking a small break while I prepare to move. That’s right, the Hot Dog Explorer is pulling up the tent pegs and headin’ west. My stint in the midwest is, after nearly seven years, over. My time here was fun. The midwest loves baseball and hot dogs. I won’t miss the twisters though. I lived smack dab in the middle of tornado alley. The only thing scarier than a tornado is trying to decide whether to eat a hot dog with a frank that was prepared after its “best served by” date.

I am headed to the high desert. Santa Fe, New Mexico to be exact. I know you probably thought I would head to Roswell to wait for the mothership to return. I would, but I have acclimated to this planet so well I have decided to stay. The good news is: Sonoran Hot Dogs. The bad news: very little baseball in the area. I am about to become very acquainted with the independent Pecos League. I’ll keep you filled in.

Fulton County Stadium
I begin the last leg of my trip to hit the remaining seven MLB ballparks and a slew of of MiLB stadiums on August 1. Look for the blog posts to come fast and furious the first part of August. And, I have a large backlog of Hot Dog Hot Spots to share with you after my trip.

In the meantime, I was pondering the the ballparks I have visited in the past but no longer either exist or host baseball teams. I don’t want to imply that I am old, but here is a list of former baseball stadiums in which I have seen a game and had a dog:

Three Rivers Stadium-Pittsburgh Pirates
Astrodome-Houston Astros
Olympic Stadium-Montreal Expos
Joe Robbie Stadium-Florida Marlins
Fulton County Stadium-Atlanta Braves
Veterans Stadium-Philadelphia Phillies
Old Yankee Stadium-New York Yankees
Jack Murphy Stadium-San Diego Padres
Candlestick Park-San Francisco Giants
Kingdome-Seattle Mariners

Additionally, I did see a game in Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. But it was a Baltimore Colts football game.

You know what I miss about those old ballparks? Very little. We did baseball a favor by bulldozing those places and replacing them with slicker, new facilities. And since then, I believe those ballparks have upped their hot dog game as well. There are better and more creative selections. For a reason I have not discovered, old ballparks can’t compete in hot dog tastiness. Case in point: Fenway Park. Great old ballpark...terrible hot dog.

My favorite of the old ballparks that no longer have baseball? Probably the Astrodome. When I was a kid it was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was big and cool and modern. Today it is dwarfed by the football stadium next to it, and retractable roofs are way cooler. What those parks did have in their favor were the fans. They actually came to watch the ballgame.

Have a favorite park that you have visited that no longer has a team that calls it home? Tell us about it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Louisville Bats: Half-Pound Dog

The last stop on the current leg of baseball and gluttony tour lands me in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Louisville Bats. I know what you are thinking; “holy hardball, it’s the bats.” Sorry to inform you the team is not named after the flying rat animal, but after one of Louisville’s most important exports: baseball bats. Ever hear of the Louisville Slugger?

If you have never hit a baseball with one of Louisville’s famed sticks, you can hit one with the frank on their specialty dog; it’s nearly as big. The half-pound hot dog sports on giant weenie and can be topped with grilled onions, pickles and brown mustard. It makes an impressive sight, but frankly the wiener felt more like 8 ounces than a half-pound to me.

Appeal-anything that has a half of a pound of meat on it will warrant a look. It could stand a better moniker and some unique toppings. 3.5

Ingredients-the bun was good, the frank was average tasting and slightly watery. The grilled onions is a good addition but it could stand a few more options. 3.5

Uniqueness-this dog has potential. Add a cool name, upgrade the frank and pile on some better toppings and you have a contender. 3.5

Monstrosity Factor-given the size of the frank, it could have a higher scare score. Lack of other toppings keep it in the realm of mortals. 3.5

Overall taste-with that much meat the dog has to be extraordinary. I did not finish mine. I wasn’t too big, I just got tired of it. 3
An overall of 20.5 will not garner any trophies, but it would not take much to get this dog into contention. Switching the frank to a Hebrew National, adding some grilled kraut with the onions, a heartier bun and it becomes an sought after item.

Hey, guess what the name of their ballpark is? Yep...Louisville Slugger Park Field. Nice park, and they have a vendor that sells items out of a basket that she balances on her head. Now that’s talent.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reading Fighting Phils: Chooch Dog

I love historic ballparks. Firstenergy Ballpark in Reading, Pennsylvania was built in 1950 and has one of the best baseball vibes in the minor leagues. It has a loyal fanbase and a carnival-like atmosphere on the concourse. It was also the site of the last performance of famed baseball clown Max Patkin.

For a small venue ballpark, the Fightin Phils offer up a nice selection of specialty dogs. It includes a Pizza, Pretzel and Philly Dog. On the advice of some of the concessions workers I chose the Chooch Dog. It is the favorite of one of the worker’s dad, and any dad tested dog gets the nod. It has chili, shredded mozzarella cheese, coleslaw and hot sauce.

Appeal-it has a cool name, although I have no idea what chooch is. The fact it was recommended by those in the know at the ballpark gave it good appeal. 4

Ingredients-an interesting combination. I liked the mozzarella cheese, the Berks frank could use a substitution. 4

Uniqueness-despite the interesting moniker, there is nothing super unique about chili, coleslaw and cheese. Perhaps if it were blue cheese. 4

Monstrosity Factor-a normal sized dog with some extra toppings. 3

Value-at $6 it was a decent deal. 4.5

Overall Taste-not bad, I didn’t go back for another though, despite having room for more. 4.5
Hot Dog Advisors
Checking in at 24 overall is not a bad overall result. While the specialty dogs are not huge, they do have a nice selection. If you don’t come for the dog, come for the history of Firstenergy Ballpark. While there, take a good look at the main concourse walls. It tells a nice history of the team and stadium and make the ballpark part museum. A museum with pretty darn good hot dogs.

Monday, July 6, 2015

West Virginia Black Bears: WV Dog

Disclaimer: I am a native of West Virginia. So, naturally, when I heard that the Morgantown area was getting a class A short-season team in the NY-Penn league I made sure it was on my list of ballparks to hit this summer.

With only 2,500 seats, Monongalia County Ballpark offers up some great baseball in cozy quarters. Don’t let the stadium’s diminutive size fool you, it has everything you would expect from a minor league venue, along with a spectacular appalachian valley view from the parking lot. And hot dogs? If you read my blog regularly you will know that a few years back the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council held a sort of bracket playoff system in honor of college basketball’s March Madness tournament. Only their bracketed system pitted regional hot dogs from around the nation against each other. The champion? The West Virginia hot dog of course. And that is the specialty dog the WV Black Bears offer to fans that trod up to their hilltop abode to catch some action on the diamond.

Appeal-I love it when team’s have regionally inspired hot dogs. The WV hot dog is famous and lures the locals to the concession stand. If you were not aware, it would make you curious as to what it is all about. 5

Ingredients-WV has a distinctive and delicious hot dog chili and that is included on this dog. Along with coleslaw and spicy mustard. The Farmdale brand frank is not my favorite, but it holds its own. 4

Uniqueness-very similar to the Carolina Dog. It’s the great tasting chili that sets the WV Dog apart from others. 4

Monstrosity Factor-lots on this dog, but you will need to eat two to fill you up. 3

Value-at $6 it is not a bad bargain considering the ingredients. On par with other minor league offerings of its size. 4

Overall Taste-I did mention that the WV hot dog won a national contest yes? 5
A solid 25 of 30 for an overall score means getting a dog at Monongalia County Ballpark is a treat not to be missed when in the Mountain State. Now that West Virginia has not one, but two minor league baseball teams. Perhaps now regular folks will realize that we are actually a state and not part of Virginia. It’s like we have our own governor and everything. I get that a lot when traveling when I tell people I am from WV. They remark about how they have relatives in Richmond or Norfolk, oblivious to the fact that we separated from Virginia in 1865. I just smile, nod and remind myself that our hot dogs kicked their ass in a national contest.

Boston Red Sox: Monster Dog

The age-old rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees is well known. Although, typically it involves the game of baseball. It seems it also carries over into the hot dog realm; as in who has the most measly specialty hot dog.

These teams are powerhouses in market size, history and fanbase. One would think it would be a no-brainer that at least one of the teams would offer up a specialty dog worthy of calling either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park home. Red Sox fans will tell you, and rightly so, that if you want a good hot dog eat one on the street near Fenway before going into the park. If some guy pushing a hot dog cart can figure out how to make a great hot dog why can’t the multi-billion dollar Red Sox franchise?  The Sox have a specialty dog called the “Monster Dog.” It gets its name from the Big Green Monster. For you baseball rubes that is the very tall green wall in left field. The dog is basically a large Kayem frank on a regular bun. Yawn.

Appeal-linking the Big Green Monster to the hot dog name was clever. But like many of the Red Sox batters this year, it doesn’t live up to the hype. 3

Ingredients-the saving grace of this dog is that it is served on a normal, toasted bun and not that strange, soggy New England style bun that every hot dog lover hates. The only condiment readily available is mustard. The rest of the paltry selection is in those damn packets. 2

Uniqueness-see picture. I met the monster, and it didn’t frighten me. 2

Monstrosity Factor-sure, the frank is bigger than the regular Fenway Frank, but the rest of Major League Baseball (except maybe the Yankees) and most of Minor League Baseball is laughing. 2

Value-shockingly, I did not have to sell a kidney to purchase this dog. But it was no bargain either. 3.5

Overall Taste-it was actually pretty good at first. But after half
of it I got tired of meat and bun with only mustard to top it off. 3
Fenway. What a great ballpark. But the Fenway Frank, and its “monster” variant is a huge fail. It did win a prize though...last place in the specialty hot dog standings.

While they fail in the dog world, the Red Sox did excel in one thing: customer service. A nice young man at the fan services booth near gate D helped me hunt down the Monster Dog and took me on top of the Green Monster to ensure I got the right one. Give that guy a raise. Just don’t give him a Fenway Frank. Boston….call me. We can fix this.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

New York Yankees: Nathan's Hot Dog

Yankee stadium. It’s hallowed ground. At least it sits on the hallowed ground that used to be Old Yankee Stadium. It is in the city that never sleeps, the big apple, home to ten million people from all over the globe. You would think a city with such a culturally diverse influence and storied franchise like the Yankees would have an awesome specialty dog worthy of representing the team. Not so. It’s like walking into Baskin-Robbins and finding out they only have two flavors.

Nathan’s is the dog that made New York famous. Or perhaps it was the other way around. In any case, the Yankees have bet their reputation on selling Nathan’s Famous hot dogs in two varieties: regular and large. Pretty mundane for a team with such an opportunity to offer the world of baseball an awesome specialty dog. I ended up with the jumbo version.

Appeal-hey! It’s a hot dog….and just a hot dog. Meh. 2.5

Ingredients-at least they use a decent brand frank. Other toppings include kraut and some sort of onions in red sauce. Bun barely held together. 3.5

Uniqueness-hey! It’s a hot dog. 1.5

Monstrosity Factor-you will need at least two. 2

Value-at over $7 it is not particular bargain. 3

Overall Taste-this is the only category the dog does well. It tasted pretty darn good. The tomatoey onions add something. 4
Do you like irony? The Yankees won the game I attended which gave them sole possession of first place in their division. Their hot dog, with an overall score of 16.5, lands them dead last in the MLB specialty hot dog standings. The Bronx Bombers have...bombed. Perhaps rehiring George Costanza can infuse some creativity into their hot dog lineup.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hudson Valley Renegades: Half-Smoke Dog

Did you ever want to take a road trip across the United States? That is what the Hudson Valley Renegades offered fans on a Wednesday night at Dutchess Stadium. The NY-Penn League team had a “Great American Road Trip” night in which the between inning sideline games and food offerings paid tribute to popular destinations in the USA. Fans followed along on a map displayed on the scoreboard and food specialties were offered while the fans were still “visiting” that locale. Crab cakes were available while fans were “in” Baltimore.

On the hot dog front the Renegades have a “Be Your Own Chef” stand and offer a different specialty dog during each homestand. During my visit the Renegades were honoring Washington DC as we close in on the Fourth of July. DC is famous for their half-smoke and that is what you could use as the foundation for your own creation. I put mine on a pretzel bun, added onions, kraut, chili, red peppers, mustard and commenced munching.

Appeal-the idea of designing your own dog ensures you get what you want. And anyone that has ever tried a half-smoke likes it. The stand was a bit difficult to find. 4

Ingredients-quality ingredients, using a Sabrett’s half-smoke frank. The pretzel bun was good, but I have had softer. 4

Uniqueness-half-smokes are not new, in fact they are quite popular in DC. Making it the dog of the homestand for Independence Day was a great idea. And with a build your own you can design it the way you want. 4
Monstrosity Factor-a nice size dog, and I wasn’t hungry the rest of the game, but I also had no problem demolishing it. 3.5

Value-for a large dog with a half-smoke on a pretzel bun $6.50 it is a good deal. 5

Overall Taste-pretty tasty. While the Sabretts frank is good, it isn’t my favorite; but I like the fact it is a regionally recognized product. Decent pretzel bun and a generous amount of good-tasting toppings. 4.5
An overall score of 25 is a solid showing for a short-season class A ballclub. It is not an easy task to toss out a specialty offering in a modest ballpark where space for preparing concessions is limited. The Renegades do a good job of giving fans’ tummies something to look forward to when they get to the stadium.

Camino Walker Linda
It was also a special night for me as I got to take my friend Linda to the game. Linda and I met while walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Spain a few years ago. She graciously allows me to stay with her when I go to the Yankees games and take the train that drops you off right in front of Yankee Stadium. I even got her to eat a hot dog.

So how did the Renegades do on the field? Did I mention they have a great hot dog?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lehigh Valley IronPigs: Hog Dog

Some days you eat the dog, some days the dog eats you. I knew I was going to go toe-to-toe with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs two-foot long meat monster a week ago. Being no fool (at least in matters of processed meat), I called in reinforcements. I met my aunt Tressa and Uncle Bob at Coca Cola park to assist me in ridding the planet of this meat menace (at least one of them).

The Hog Dog is a 24-inch Alpine frank covered in chili, beer cheese sauce, bacon and fried onion straws served on a french roll the length of a Cadillac. The sheer size of it requires that it comes in its own special box. It’s big. This thing is so huge it should have its own TV show. And the thing is damn delicious. Results: one disappeared, oversized dog and three stuffed fans.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Tressa: Monster Killers
Appeal-this thing has a reputation, but the IronPigs need to do better in promoting it. Hog Dog doesn’t cut it. A monster like that needs a monster name. How about Hogzilla? 4.5

Ingredients-the above mentioned toppings are all tasty and plentiful. Eat it as it is served. No additional topping required. 5

Uniqueness-the sheer size of it makes if somewhat unique, especially in the minor leagues. 5

Monstrosity Factor-off the scale. 5

Value-scary at $25, but it comes sliced for 5 fans. Do the math. $5 for a loaded dog is a good deal. Pepto Bismol costs extra. 5

Overall Taste-downright delicious. With a dog of that magnitude, a team would be tempted to skimp on quality. No so in Coca Cola Park. 5
Eating this dog is an event in itself and the overall score of 29.5, which is nearly perfect, reflects the unique ballpark experience it entails. For a dog that could feed ⅓ of the population of Guatemala (or me and two of my relatives), it deserves the notoriety that it gets. Just change the name.