Sunday, August 22, 2010

Take Me Out to The Ballpark: Part 1

While getting my post-breakfast, pre-lunch coffee at Wawa this morning the cashier and I struck up a conversation about Citizens Bank Park (CBP), the new(ish) home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Prompted – I assume – by the Phils t-shirt I was wearing, the cashier informed me that despite his allegiance to Chicago's purveyors of the "national pastime" he loves CBP and suggested that when I get there on Wednesday evening I should seek out the pulled pork and grilled kielbasa at Bull's BBQ.

Ah yes, Wednesday evening. To say the date has been circled on my calendar well in advance is like saying a 7-year-old looks forward to Christmas.

Not only will the evening feature my first trip to a Philly ballpark since my wife and I bid a fond farewell to the Vet, but it also mark an equally long-overdue reunion of sorts with Chris, Scott (aka Koog) and Joe – a trio of pals I've known for, well, let's just leave it at many, many years. Hell, I'd venture that Chris has known me longer than anybody I'm not related to by blood.

Knowing that I was going to be descending upon the park whipped into a food frenzy of orgiastic proportions, I decided that I had to channel my inner culinary Boy Scout and be prepared. Chris and Scott were all-too-eager to help and have been filing reports from their various visits to the park over the course of the season.

Despite the welcome culinary advice from my chatty cashier pal, it seems that THG's trusted advance scouts might quibble with his recommendation. Here's a report the dynamic duo filed earlier this season...

After learning that the hot dog contest was over, we wandered around a bit to find some eats. The line at Tony Luke's was about 40 people deep and unless I haven't eaten in a week, I'm not standing in that kind of line for food, so a TL cheesesteak was out. We made our way to the Schmitter stand and watched them mass produce these overloaded piles of calories and fat. It really doesn't look particularly appealing so we took a pass and made our way to Bull's BBQ pit. Koog had the Bulldog and I opted for the Pulled Pork Sandwich. And yes I ate the bread. I'll allow Scott to provide his food commentary (see below). The pulled pork was adequate – smoked nicely and tender but over-sauced. It could use a little more subtlety a la less barbeque sauce drenching it. The cole slaw was awful – way too much mayo. The baked beans were not bad but they and the pork could have been a little hotter. Overall, I'd give it 2.5 stars out of 5. While better than the crap they served at the Vet, I have become spoiled. I want good food at the ballpark. The real find was the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. Fortunately they sell it on tap at a stand near my seats. Nice wheat beer with a hint of lemon. A perfect adult beverage for a hot day in the sun. – Chris R.

I'd had my fill of barbecue on a southern trip just a week before, so I wasn't too particularly inclined to try the CBP version of BBQ. Anyway, I've had it before. However, long lines for what would likely be mediocre cheesesteaks didn't seem all that attractive, so we went for it. I opted for the Bulldog, more a sausage than a 'dog'. True to it's namesake, former Phillie slugger Greg "Bull" Luzinski, it looks big, menacing, and appears to be more than you can handle. [Ed. Note: No word on whether it swings at pitches in the dirt like a drunken or fields its position like a pregnant mule.] For all it appeared, this Bulldog was no more than a dachsund. All bark, no bite. While it looked luscious, and even appeared to have the ruddy complexion of spicy hot sausage, the bulldog was no more than a bland tube of meat. It didn't seem to know what it was. Spicy italian? No. Smoked Sausage? No smoke flavor either. Best I could figure was that it was a Kielbasa, but lacked the smoky, garlicky punch that I expect from the best polish meat-torpedoes.

I really want to like Bull's BBQ and will try it again. The restaurant, and CBP in general are a noble experiment in ballpark dining. The concept of actually giving fans a place to spread out, congregate and even choose from multiple dining options (as in a food court) only makes the ballpark experience better. The fact that a place as far north as Philly would devote so much space to a 'cue outlet in a ballpark is even that much better. I appreciate it, but it needs to come up a notch. CBP has been voted among the best in ballpark food every year since its opening. High standards must be set.

I second the vote on Summer Shandy. I was a bit skeptical of Leinenkugel beers after my first experience with their Sunset Wheat. Wheat beers are great by me; they're almost a meal in themselves. However, what I didn't expect with the Sunset Wheat is the over-the-top flavoring with coriander. I love coriander, mind you, in my food (particularly Asian dishes). Not in my beer. This brew tasted like my beer had a collision with the lady at the Chanel counter at Macy's. Summer Shandy, on the other hand, is also a wheat beer, flavored instead with lemonade and a touch of honey. It's definitely not sweet, but very refreshing. It really slaked the thirst – perhaps too well, on a hot spring day. Buy it while this seasonal brew still is on the shelves.
Scott W. aka Koog

Will the Bull get another chance on Wednesday night? Can I actually resist the siren song of The Schmitter – something named after one of my all-time favorite Phils? Will CBP security haul me out after stadium personnel tire of my demands for something called The Bowa Blast?

Stay tuned!

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