On an episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien back in the 1990s, veteran baseball commentator Bob Costas declared that Milwaukee offered the best stadium food in all of Major League Baseball at old (and now long gone) County Stadium.
Now, some 20 years later, a mix of indulgent,accessible food and upscale ingredients keep the title at the new home of the Brewers, Miller Park. There are more beautiful parks (such as the home of San Francisco Giants on the Bay) and more historic venues in Boston and downtown Los Angeles. But, you’ll ear nowhere better in the Major Leagues than MKE.
Even though Wisconsin climbed its way out of the “Most Obese State in the Union” title a few years ago, folks around those parts know how to cook and how to eat. They share an affinity with the South for genuine comfort food, and that tradition fills Miller Park with a combination of classic and inventive baseball meals.
The Miller Park atmosphere has an unfair advantage over many venues even before the first pitch is thrown. Legend has it the tradition of tailgating — pre-game grilling and beer bashes in the stadium parking lot — began in Green Bay, about 120 miles north of Brewer territory. Packer fans facing three hours in bitter winter cold would load up on fire-roasted meat and a little bottled football cheer out of the backs of their family station wagons before kickoff.
Tailgating became a staple of Milwaukee baseball while the World Champion Braves were in town before making the mistake of leaving for Atlanta. It’s such an essential element of the Brewers’ identity that team ownership refused to build Miller Park as a downtown stadium partly because vast, open air parking lots were needed for the tailgating masses.
At game time, the fact that many Brewer fans head to their seats already full of brats, dogs and beer doesn’t mean they won’t work up an appetite for more professional faire come the third inning or so.We start with hotdogs because no single food is as closely paired with baseball – unless you count peanuts and Cracker Jacks. But, honestly, when was the last time you hate Cracker Jacks at a game?
It matters where your hot dogs come from in the world of baseball food. For example, it’s a great night out to see an Angels game in the amiable, gang-free confines of The Big A in Anaheim. But, their hot dogs are fast food offerings from Wienerschnitzel. There’s nothing morally wrong with a fast food hot dog inside your car or walking down a city street, but they don’t fit at an MLB game. Whoever set that deal up should be breaking rocks on a chain gang. A ballpark dog must be made by hands that give a damn.
Hot dogs also must be made from proper meats — beef, pork, veal (…yes, veal…Little baby cows. The younger, the better…And, they died alone and afraid…). Now, an occasional lip or anus might find its way into the mix, but you can eat the whole pig and most of a cow, so mark those ingredients down as character building.
Miller Park’s hot dogs, bratwurst, Italian and Polish sausages come from Klement’s, a local company established in 1956. In addition to making the best sausage in the big leagues, Klement's is also the sponsor of the oft-imitated, rarely matched Sausage Races that mark the sixth inning of every Brewers home game. You know sausage is a big part of a team and city’s culture when its major in-game stadium attraction includes five ethnically diverse, be-suited food products sprinting around foul territory.
You can also sniff out tasty offerings from Usinger’s, Milwaukee’s oldest sausage maker (1880) While Klement’s handles the bulk of the action, Usinger’s provides a few gourmet intestine-cased chunks of wonderment.
Miller Park grills all of its hot dogs and sausages. No one can boil a decent wiener. You might as well ask your chef to suck on a hot dog, slap it on a bun and serve the results. Heat and fire prepare meat for consumption — not hot water.While LA baseball fans rave about the foot long Dodger Dogs, those scrawny entries would be crushed by the Miller Park Two-Foot-Long Hot Dog. The meat alone weighs the better part of three pounds before you had in the chili, cheese, onions and jalapeños. Once cut into segments, the dog should feed seven or eight (…or, if we’re honest, a couple Milwaukeeans). But, I kid the Beer Capital of the World.
The Brewers’ guests can top off their buns with the traditional ketchup or mustard — but they have the bonus choice of Special Stadium Sauce (a holdover from County Stadium). The mystery condiment defies analysis. It’s not just ketchup and BBQ sauce mixed. It’s not. So, get that idea right out of your head.
If a fan evolves past the traditional hot dog or brat, Miller Park features countless concession stands and themed food stops throughout its multi-level concourses. There’s a TGI Fridays open year round out in left field with views of the game. Fans can grab Italian, Mexican and German food fit for the Great American Past-time. There’s even a Hot Cheese Stand serving a mix of grilled cheeses, chess smothered brisket sandwiches, etc. I supposed we shouldn’t be too surprised by its presence, considering the home base.
The most endearing snack at Miller Park might be the BBQ Parfait available behind home plate on the main concourse. You know they’re dedicated when a citizenry even puts meat in their deserts. In fairness, this parfait is a main course with layers of pulled pork in a savory BBQ sauce alternated with layers of fine whipped Idaho mashed potatoes. And you get all of that with a spoon and a traditional sundae cup — a surprisingly efficient meat delivery vehicle.
Throughout the cathedrals making up Major League Baseball, every park has some snack or entrée that sets it apart form the rest. Every venue is bound to have a speciality. But, no park in the bigs can match the overall attention to variety and attention to sensory details found at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
Oh, and did I mention they serve beer, too?