Sunday, March 30, 2003

Food stuff

Ballpark's signature sandwich: Fried bologna


Back in January, I outlined my ideas on what concession foods the new Great American Ball Park should sell to distinguish it from other parks, to prove Cincinnati is not just another bland Midwestern town. I suggested concessionaires offer authentic Cincinnati treats - fried cod on rye, crispy-fried chicken legs with a side of sweet-and-sour German potato salad and spicy Vidalia onion sausage rolls.

Ambitious, clever ideas, I thought. Even Graeter's black raspberry chip ice cream sounded like a winner until several readers pointed out that Carl Lindner, who's majority owner of the Reds and whose brother owns United Dairy Farmers, probably wouldn't promote Graeter's.

Here are some variations on the FB (fried bologna) sandwich, real and imagined:
• West Virginia: bologna fried in margarine, served on untoasted white bread with Miracle Whip and sliced tomato.
• Buffalo: melted American cheese, fried onions and green bell peppers on soft roll.
• Cincinnati: limburger, sliced raw onion and spicy mustard on dark rye.
• Reuben: sauerkraut, melted Swiss and thousand island dressing on rye.
• Club: bacon, American cheese, tomato and lettuce on sourdough.
• French: sauteed mushrooms, Gruyere and remoulade on baguette.
• Soulful: smoked bologna with spicy barbecue sauce on cornbread bun.
• Italian: garlic bologna with roasted red peppers, provolone, arugula and pesto on ciabatta
• Tex-Mex: shredded iceberg lettuce, salsa, black beans and cheddar in tortilla.
• Hippy Dippy: sprouts, sliced avocado and balsamic vinaigrette on whole wheat.
• Kosher: beef bologna with horseradish sauce on onion roll.
• Chef's salad: chunked bologna, lettuce, cucumber, radishes, Swiss and cheddar with ranch dressing in pita pocket.
Oh well, didn't matter. On opening day, fans will order from a new ballpark menu, conceived by the Reds' contract food service, Sportservice, that looks a lot like the old one, with every manner of hot dogs, smoked sausages, pizza and other tried-and-trues. Nothing too daring, except for something called "sub in a cup" and "peanut butter and jelly pretzels." Yum. And I'll stick my neck out and predict the weirdly trendy deep-fried Twinkies, which are so last year, won't survive until the All-Star break.

On the positive side, the ball park will debut a bone-in pork chop sandwich. This is encouraging not only because it's different and risky, but because a pork chop sandwich reflects Cincinnati's rich pork-producing heritage.

The humble fried bologna sandwich (most would properly call it "baloney") also jumps out as a bold new menu item. I'm guessing more people than would care to admit grew up eating this fried variety meat on bread. It's a fatty, salty chunk of childhood memories for some of us. And although we haven't seen FB sandwiches on local stadium menus, they have been popular for years at at least one other sports venue, the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., home to the National Hockey League's Sabres.

In Buffalo, they fry thick cuts of bologna on a flat-top grill and serve the lunch meat on soft bread rolls with fried green bell peppers, tender onions and melted American cheese. (Obviously, if you're hankering for a baloney sandwich, health is not a priority.)

"The baloney should be a little crisp and brown on the edges," advises Pete Wierchowski, HSBC commissary manager. "The Canadians (fans) even like it burned a little."

Those wacky Canadians.

A few years ago, there was a legendary baloney sandwich-maker at the Buffalo arena named "Baloney Jim," who notched the edges of the meat so it turned up like helicopter rotor blades when it was fried. Fans flocked to the late Baloney Jim's concession stand just to buy his sandwiches, Wierchowski says.

At Great American Ball Park, they'll serve the fried baloney sandwiches (which cost $7 with fries, amazingly the same as pork chop, chicken and steak burger sandwiches) with grilled onions and choice of cheese on a kaiser roll. Doesn't sound bad.

Who knows. Maybe there's a sandwich-maker at the park with an adventurous spirit, one who aspires to Baloney Jim's prowess. Maybe he or she will add another creative touch and give Reds' fans a FB sandwich of their own.

If you couldn't get a ticket to Monday's game, you can stay at home and watch or listen to the game, and make your own fried baloney sandwich. (And save $7.)

Here's how: Coat a pan with vegetable oil spray (or, if your arteries are up to it, use melted margarine or vegetable oil). Fry a thick slice of bologna until crispy on both sides. Serve on bread of choice with mayonnaise, mustard or other condiment. Cheese is optional.


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