Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Pass the mustard

Cincinnati's love for mustard cannot be denied. After being separated from the good, specially made hometown stuff for 33 years, people in the Queen City will be reunited with their beloved condiment at Great American Ball Park.

"We're trying to find our own mustard, something that's unique to the new ballpark," said Joe Sims.

He's the general manager of Sportservice, the stadium's concessionaire.

Joe would like to have the mustard at every hot dog stand in the ballpark in time for Opening Day. He wants "to get everything finalized in the next two weeks."

But there's just one catch.

Joe calls it "the great mustard dilemma."

Nothing he's tasted cuts the mustard.

Tough act to follow

Joe has high standards. He wants "the perfect mustard."

The Reds had it. Eons ago.

When the team played at Crosley Field, fans dabbed their dogs with mustard made in town just for the ballpark by the now-defunct Frank Tea and Spice Co.

The mustard was brown, spicy and hot. It came in one flavor: Delicious.

Flecked with spices and packing a potent kick thanks to Frank's RedHot Hot Sauce, the mustard stuck with you.

It stayed on the hot dog and clung to the thin wax paper wrapped around the tender bun.

Its taste and aroma lingered on your fingers long after the game was over.

You forgot who won or lost, but one whiff of that mustard and you remembered your day at the ballpark, being taught how to keep score by your dad, being shown how to root for the home team by your mom, fetching a pink lemonade for your little sister.

That special scent made you want to come back soon, to see another game and have one more hot dog. It was the mustard that memories are made of.

Great American mustard

When the Reds moved to Riverfront Stadium, the good stuff didn't move with them. For 33 seasons, Reds fans endured mustard mediocrity.

The bland bowl offered two varieties. French's yellow mustard mirrored the color of poster paint. Gulden's brown mustard carried a certain tang. But it's widely available. It doesn't say "Cincinnati."

The mustard Joe's looking for will say "Great American Ball Park" on the label and will be slathered on dogs at the Reds' new stadium as well as sold in stores.

Sportservice does that in Milwaukee. The Brewers' Secret Stadium Sauce, Joe told me, is bottled and sold "at markets around Milwaukee."

Joe has been sampling mustards since September 2001. That's when I wrote a column calling for the Reds to have a hometown mustard worthy of their new home. And sell it in stores to market the ballpark.

"Since then," he said, "I've had guys from all over the country call me about their mustard. Everybody has `the best.' But it all tastes the same. Mass-produced. Nothing special."

Joe plans to keep searching for that special something.

"I'm no fan of mustard," he admitted. "But I have a vested interest in making this ballpark right."

That interest extends beyond his job and encompasses hometown pride.

Joe grew up in Evanston, went to Woodward High School. For 21 years, he worked at Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field. He started there right out of high school.

He knows ballparks. He knows his condiments. He knows this town.

He knows Cincinnati loves mustard. On hot dogs. At the ballpark.

But not just any mustard. It must be the best. Nothing else will do for a love that can't be denied.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.

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