The things I do for this job. The boss told me I had to get out of our palatial, windowless office near the printing press and go to Thursday’s Chicago Cubs-San Francisco Giants Cactus League opener at HoHoKam Stadium.
They’ve got a whole new menu at the park, he said. Try a few things and let our readers know what’s good and what isn’t.
OK, if you insist.
So, armed with a massive Tribune expense account — $25 — and a cast-iron stomach from too many Chinese buffets and late-night press box meals, I headed to HoHoKam to conduct my taste test.
I would have worn a disguise like most food critics, but, frankly, I couldn’t find a fake nose big enough to fit over my own schnozz.
Anyway, as I parked my 1999 Nissan Sentra — it’s paid off and gets good gas mileage, so quit snickering — and walked inside HoHoKam, I noticed the menu wasn’t the only thing that had changed.
A 16x10 mural celebrating the Cubs’ history — there’s history to celebrate? — dominates a wall inside the main entrance. There’s a new Cubbie Hole memorabilia shop where you can buy nine, count ’em, nine different Cubs caps.
The scoreboard in left field received a $500,000 upgrade and two new auxiliary scoreboards were added.
But I wasn’t there to admire the stadium upgrades. I was there to eat.
Now, HoHoKam hasn’t exactly been a culinary festival the past few years. The menu consisted primarily of hot dogs, soda, beer and nachos.
“It was quite limited,” stadium manager Dave Dunn said.
Limited? Those are the four basic food groups of a sportswriter.
But it seemed the folks at Ovation Food Services wanted to give fans more options. So they injected the menu with steroids.
There’s the Salt River Cantina, offering beef, chicken or veggie burritos, soft shell tacos, a taco salad or quesadillas.
The tacos and burritos I can handle. But taco salad at a ballpark? What’s next, quiche?
I moved on.
The Patterson Cactus Grill, named after Cactus League founder Dwight Patterson, sells baseball comfort food, like the Italian Sausage Sandwich and the Black Angus Burger. But the Dobson Ranch Cheesesteak confused me. Are we now naming foods after neighborhoods? If that’s the case, I can’t wait for the Red Mountain Ranch garlic fries. Or the Las Sendas club sandwich.
I was going to try the White Veggie Pizza at Pizzaiolo, but it’s white and it has vegetables. Next.
That’s when I saw it. Hot Dog Nation. The perfect name for a ballpark concession stand.
I started planning the meal out in my mind. A hot dog, some peanuts, a cold beer. What could be better on a gorgeous March afternoon?
Then I saw the menu, and my head started spinning. I mean, I can choose between a hot dog, a bratwurst and a polish sausage, but Hot Dog Nation has more wieners than the National Dachshund Races.
Did I want the Chi Town Dog, with onions, mustard, sport peppers (huh?), sweet relish and tomatoes?
Or how about the Cincy Chili Sky Dog, with chili, cheese and onions?
Great. I go to a baseball game and a geography lesson breaks out.
After considering the Arizona Fajitas Dog — salsa, guacamole, onions and peppers — and wondering what taste buds deprived soul in New York would actually order the NYC Reuben Dog — sauerkraut, cheese and Thousand Island dressing — I stuck the $25 back in my pocket, walked out the door, and thought of a song.
Buy me some Dobson Ranch Cheesesteak and taco salad, I don’t care if I ever get back.
Oh, what I’d give for a box of Cracker Jacks.
Listen to Scott Bordow every Monday at 1:05 p.m. on The Fan AM 1060 with Bob Kemp