Eating Local at the Ballpark

AS A FAITHFUL Detroit Tigers fan, I have been known to purchase my share of ballpark food. It’s one of the only places I’ll let my kids eat cotton candy and one of the few places you’ll see me munching on a hot dog on a white bun. But as the editor of a local food magazine I am always interested in who produces the food we’re buying and where they are from. The more I researched, and the more I ate, I began to realize that one of the largest venues for Michigan foods is indeed Comerica Park.

Having a hot dog at the ballpark is almost obligatory. The most famous of all hot dogs, the Ball Park Frank, made its debut right here in Detroit. In 1957 the owner of the Tigers challenged local sausage makers to create the ideal ballpark hot dog. Hygrade Food Products Corp., a Detroit-based meatpacking company, answered the call and baseball history was made. Although Ball Park Franks are no longer made in Detroit, their tie to the Tigers remains.

The ideal vessel for the hot dog had already been in use at the park in the form of soft, white hot dog buns. Brown’s Bun Baking Company in Detroit has been baking buns for Tigers fans since the 1930s. The buns are also used for Winter’s sausage, the official sausage of the Detroit Tigers. This family-owned company was started in 1951 by a German immigrant and master sausage maker named Eugene Winter. His daughter, Rose Mary Wuerz, runs the company today.

Another Michigan company, Garden Fresh Gourmet, sells chips and fresh salsa in the ballpark. From humble beginnings in Ferndale, Jack and Annette Aronson have created a top-selling brand that is sold throughout the country. Not only has the company received awards for taste and freshness, Garden Fresh has also been recognized for its commitment to Michigan’s economy and to helping other small businesses.

Comerica even has local pizza makers. Little Caesars has six stands in the park. The well-known pizza franchise is owned by Ilitch Holdings, the same company that owns the Tigers. When Mike Ilitch, who once played shortstop for the Tiger’s farm system, purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992, his baseball dreams came true.

For the gourmand, the exclusive Tiger Club offers a scratch kitchen utilizing local produce when possible. Regional Executive Chef Mark Szubeczak’s enthusiasm for good food sets the stage for this upscale venue. The menu varies from game to game, but freshness and quality stay the same. A beautifully appointed cheese table features house-made bread and a rotating selection of cheeses—from Michigan and beyond—displayed on cutting boards in the shape of the Michigan mitten. Fresh smoothies and sushi are prepared in front of waiting fans.

A baseball game wouldn’t be complete without at least one or two snacks. My kids always go straight for the cotton candy and now that I found out the candy is spun on site, I can’t use “It’s not local” as a reason to say no. As a matter of fact, many of the snacks are from local companies. Nuts come from Germack Pistachio Company, located on Russell Street near Eastern Market. The popcorn comes from the Detroit Popcorn Company on Telegraph Road in Redford Township. And the exclusive Tiger Traxx ice cream comes from a 118-year-old creamery on the west side of the state.

Hudsonville Creamery introduced the limited edition Tiger Traxx to fans last year. Imagine vanilla ice cream infused with chocolate-covered pretzel baseballs and thick fudge swirls. According to Hudsonville sales and marketing lead Randy Stickney, the flavor was so popular with park-goers that the creamery was unable to keep up with the demand. This year Hudsonville has increased production and plans to offer the flavor at the park and at grocery stores until October or even November, “if the Tigers do what I expect them to do,” Stickney says.

Also debuting last year, was the Michigan craft beer stand near the standing-room-only section of the park. The stand features 26 local brews, 10 on draft and 16 in bottles. According to Bob Thormeier, general manager of Comerica’s concessionaire—Delaware North Companies—sales in that space went up 600% following the introduction of Michigan craft beers. The growing interest in Michigan specialty beers has created an entire generation of beer lovers who are faithful to their brands. Beer comes from local breweries including New Holland, Bells, Atwater, Motor City and Arbor Brewing. Thormeier points out that Michigan fans have supported the Tigers during good times and bad, so the Tigers simply want to give back.

While I enjoyed tours and tastings, the rest of my family shivered in the stands enduring high winds, sleet and temperatures below 40°. Within an inning of returning to my seat, I was too cold to dance during the seventh inning stretch. As I pulled my hood up over my Detroit Tigers baseball cap, I saw hail falling into my bag of Detroit Popcorn Company popcorn. I turned to my family and whined, “There’s no hail in baseball!”

But there sure is a lot of Michigan food in Comerica Park.


Published in edibleWOW magazine by Chris Hardman

 

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