For me, and I’m sure many other lifelong baseball fans, the number 81 has always signified the true halfway mark of the MLB season. 81 games down, 81 to go. This is the 81st edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter, but it’ll be anything but a halfway affair. Let’s talk about Minor League Baseball.
BALLPARK FOOD ROUNDUP, PART TWO: A SCINTILLATING SOUTHERN SWING
Throughout the season I highlighted concession items from every Minor League ballpark I visited. Now, for your secondhand gustatory enjoyment, these appetizing entrees have been collected into a series of massive meals. Some of these dishes were included in previous editions of the newsletter, while others are making their Ben’s Biz Beat debut.
Today’s focus will be the second ballpark road trip I undertook this season, in June, which consisted of two teams in Alabama, one in Florida and one in Mississippi. The concessions in question were consumed and commented upon by each ballpark’s respective Designated Eater (with one exception). This individual is recruited prior to the game and tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits.
In each of the following four write-ups, please find a link to each team’s corresponding Minor League Ballpark Guide. Perhaps these culinary explorations will inspire your own 2024 road trip!
Team: Birmingham Barons
Ballpark: Regions Field (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: None
My 2023 Southern Swing began in Birmingham where, sadly, no one volunteered to be a Designated Eater and I didn’t get around to finding one onsite. I did purchase the iconic Magic City Dog for an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, however.
The Magic City Dog is a smoked sausage from local Dreamland BBQ, topped with coleslaw, spicy mustard and barbecue sauce. “It’s delicious,” the anonymous individual told me, heaping particular praise on the firm snap and pleasing char of the sausage.
While I did not visit Dreamland BBQ during my time in Birmingham, I did enjoy two exemplary barbecue meals. Prior to the evening’s Barons game, I got a two-meat plate with corn and coleslaw from Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ.
The following afternoon, acting on a tip from Barons GM Jonathan Nelson, I visited Saw’s and ordered their famous Pork N’ Greens. (I realized after the fact that this was not gluten-free due to the onion rings, but, hey, you only live once.)
Team: Montgomery Biscuits
Ballpark: Riverwalk Stadium (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Corey Goodrich
Montgomery Biscuits Designated Eater Corey Goodrich, a taproom manager at Montgomery’s Common Bond Brewery, enjoyed the following Riverwalk Stadium spread:
First up was the Philly Cheesesteak Nachos, served up some 940 miles from the City of Brotherly Love.
“They’re really good,” said Corey, nodding appreciatively. “Meat, cheese, peppers, all there. Good flavors, good seasoning, well balanced. I’d recommend them.”
The Frito Pie Dog followed, a frankfurter-specific take on the Southern (and Midwest) specialty that is the Frito Pie.
“The bun’s nice and warm. Good chili, good flavor to it,” said Corey, a succinct but effective food reviewer. “The cheese is good. The chips are still crunchy, adding a little bit of texture. It’s very nice. I like it.”
Montgomery’s team is called the Biscuits and the team has a standalone kiosk called “Biscuits, Of Course!” You can get them plain, or you can try a specialty item such as the Nashville Hot Chicken Biscuit.
After taking a bite out of this “messy bad boy,” Corey proclaimed that the “chicken’s tender, got a good breading on it. The sauce is very nice. It’s not too hot, but it’s got a nice spicy flavor to it.”
Corey washed it all down with the Biscuits’ Crafty Lefty summer shandy ale. It’s made by Common Bond Brewery, whom he works for, so consider this to be a nice bit of synergy.
As for me: While I did not visit Dreamland BBQ in Birmingham, I was able to stop by the Montgomery location before leaving town. I got the ribs, and if this is a dream then I don’t want to wake up.
You’re probably still hungry, and I have plenty more to share, but right now there’s someone who insists upon intrusion.
This is Josh Jackson, and none shall pass until I get a word in. I host Ghosts of the Minors, The Show Before the Show segment in which I challenge you to identify the historical Minor League team or player hidden among two fake ones.
Loyal listeners were distraught when there was no podcast last week. But toughen up! On this week's episode, I'll ask you which of these teams bullied their way around the bases in the Minors of yesteryear:
The Thunder Bay Thugs
- The Paris Bruisers
The Beaumont Roughnecks
For the answer, check out the next Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show!
LET'S GET BACK TO OUR BUFFET
Team: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Ballpark: Blue Wahoos Stadium (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Eric Elger
I was in Pensacola for two games and prior to the second, I put out a call for a Designated Eater. Eric Elger, a Wisconsinite vacationing with his family, answered the call. He attended the game with his wife, Kim, and ended up putting on a Designated Eating clinic. His enthusiasm, combined with an artful spread laid out by chefs Travis Wilson and Eric Kroll, resulted in gastronomic memories to last a lifetime.
OK, let’s break it down. First we have the Shrimp BLT Po’ Boy, smothered in bacon jam, pico de gallo and the team’s Heater Sauce.
“Crunchy, and the sauce on top has a little spice,” Eric enthused, before becoming overwhelmed with emotion. “Delicious. I can’t believe … Oh, man. This thing’s amazing.”
Next up was a Cuban Sandwich, reimagined in taco form and featuring crispy ham and Dijon crema.
“[The Cuban] is my favorite sandwich to begin with,” said Eric, before taking a bite, having his preconceptions confirmed and declaring it “Very tasty.”
This was followed by Cracker Jack Chicken and Waffles, topped with maple honey mustard and flakes of Cracker Jack dust.
Eric took a hearty “combo bite” and then needed a moment to collect himself. “A pairing as old as time,” he said, going on to praise the “heat and sweet” flavor combination.
OK! Still going! Here’s the Bullpen Barbecue Burger: Two smashed patties, bacon, onion straws, “kickin’ bourbon” sauce and a pickle.
After smashing it all together, achieving just enough compression to take an all-encompassing bite, Eric said that this was nothing less than "an American classic."
Pineapple Dole Whip is also an American classic, which Eric and Kim enjoyed for dessert.
Eric took a bite, raised his arms to the sky and shouted “Wahoo!” That about sums it up, don’t you think?
Finally -- mercifully -- we move on to Biloxi.
Team: Biloxi Shuckers
Ballpark: MGM Park (Ballpark Guide)
Designated Eater: Jimmy Gautier
Biloxi Shuckers Designated Eater Jimmy Gautier is an MGM Park regular, and as such he already had a favorite food item: Jambalaya in a Helmet.
“It’s a Southern specialty and they fix it as good here as anybody,” said Jimmy. “You’ve got the chicken, the sausage, the rice. And it’s spicy.”
Jimmy attended this game with his daughter, Allison. (A picture of them can be found way at the top of this newsletter). After the jambalaya they sampled the Shuckers’ Homestand Special: Conecuh sausage topped with nacho cheese and bacon bits.
Conecuh is an Alabama-based sausage company, which Allison said is “always good.”
“The nacho cheese and bacon really sets it off,” she said of the Homestand Special. “I grew up on ballpark food. Love it.”
Closing it all out was the Pork BBQ Nachos, available at the Murky Waters BBQ cart.
Allison, a nachos aficionada, declared the nachos to be “just amazing.”
You, the reader, are also just amazing.
Thanks for reading this all the way to the end and, as always, feel free to get in touch at any time: firstname.lastname@example.org.