It's Sausage Season

baseball stadium hot dogs, brats are on culinary highlight reel

Luc Anthony

If you are going to write a column on sports food, it is best to write immediately following a slice of pizza. My stomach properly satiated, I can now opine on the gastronomy of athletic entertainment – apropos for the Eat Scene edition of Volume One.

I type this column as baseball season approaches, and if there is a sport most associated with food, it is the so-called “America’s Pastime.” After all, baseball has its own theme song – “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” – with references to snacks to be purchased by the partner of the singer. (By the way, who is supposed to buy me those peanuts and Cracker Jack?) Upon reading a book a couple of decades ago where one person took a tour of all Major League Baseball stadiums, the part that stuck with me most was the author’s rating of the concessions. That was where I learned of Dodger Dogs and Fenway Franks.

I might almost drive down to Miller Park just to eat three of those brats and head home – hey, this season, it’s not like I need to stick around to see if the Brewers are going to stay in the playoff race.

The hot dog: a staple of watching a baseball game. Now, a confession: I have a pretty wide tolerance for any type of food, so I would make a vanilla critic, liking everything I taste to one degree or another. You will never see me throw away any food on my plate. So, a ballpark hot dog is a tasty hot dog under all circumstances. Then again, my hot dog consumption is limited to a couple of stadium visits each summer, so I don’t have many opportunities to become particularly discerning.

The best hot dog I ever tasted at a game? Oddly enough, it was a Chicago-style hot dog at the Metrodome, which was usually one of the worst-rated venues for in-game dining. Who knows, that person behind the counter must have been a wiz with tomatoes and pickles.

Yet the one destination where a tube of meat is a requirement – one of the highlights of the journey downstate, really – is Miller Park. I mean, when you combine Wisconsin, bratwurst, baseball, tailgating and Secret Stadium Sauce? I might almost drive down there just to eat three of those brats and head home – hey, this season, it’s not like I need to stick around to see if the Brewers are going to stay in the playoff race.

If possible, you need to down a bratwurst, an Italian sausage, and a Polish sausage at a Brewers game, and maybe even leave the hot dog for another time. While I typically place mustard on my brat – I still do not understand people who insist on ketchup on bratwurst and only mustard for hot dogs, as they must not understand all that is good about eating and life – I call an exception for the aforementioned Secret Stadium Sauce, a carryover from the County Stadium days. The taste is somewhat ketchup-y, a little more tart, and, yeah, it gets away from my mustard preference, but when in Miller Park, do as the Miller Parkians do.

Yet, once I get past baseball, my desire for in-game food plummets. This has nothing to do with appetite – mine is ever-present – but rather cost and context. Prices at concession stands for major pro or college games in any sport will run you two to three times as much as in a regular store around the Chippewa Valley. The teams know they can charge more for hungry and thirsty types, since enough fans buy anyway, and those teams net gobs of cash as a result. I simply cannot spend $8 on a pop to watch the Packers in frigid weather.

The setting matters as well. Baseball and food are more of a natural combination within the venue. Food works with football and basketball, but more so watching TV in your house or at a sports bar over wings or a pizza. When I go to Lambeau Field or the Target Center, I’m thinking more about the action, and the food is as ancillary as what’s in the pro shop – though I will still waltz through it and dream a little.

If I find my way to the Express Fan Deck this summer, I’ll gorge again on whatever is at the all-you-can-eat station, and likely down at least one hot dog or brat on top of everything else. And only mustard will make its way upon my precious bratwurst.