April 25, 2012

The Taste Bud: Dog days of spring

During winter months, I sometimes find myself driving down Main Street or across one of our downtown bridges and gazing longingly at Slugger Field. It seems almost cruel that it stands there as a beckoning tease during a time when baseball is not being played. It almost makes me wish the city could fold up the stadium like a tent and pack it away for the winter to spare me the pain.

And during these drive-by musings, I typically find myself eagerly craving one of the park’s most wonderful treats: the Slugger Dog. You see, the Slugger Dog is special — it’s all beef, for one thing, not a blend of mystery meat like your average hot dog. It’s also nicely spiced to give it a unique flavor. At $4, they aren’t exactly filling, but there’s nothing quite like the distinctive flavor washed down by some cheap ballpark beer.

Now, I’ll admit that by Labor Day, having devoured countless Slugger Dogs over the course of the baseball season, my craving winds down and I will eventually enjoy other park specialties like a fried bologna sandwich, a smoked turkey leg or a cheeseburger. But when spring has sprung and opening day approaches, my taste buds are focused on the one and only Slugger.

And so, on opening day this year, I ate two. Granted, it was unprecedented, and I didn’t sleep so well that night, but it was totally worth it. Why? Because, as I mentioned, a Slugger Dog is no ordinary hot dog.

For starters, it always has a great ballpark around it, with live baseball going on. Let’s face it, there is no greater condiment for any type of food than a baseball game. You could almost put a dead rat on a bun with some mustard and onions at Slugger Field and enjoy it, you know?

But one of the unique treats of a Slugger Dog is that at the two kiosks in the park where you can procure them (on the main concourse), you can also enjoy premium condiments not available at the main condiment stations near the larger concessions windows.

Yes, you read that right. Don’t like yellow mustard? We’ve got your Gulden’s Spicy Brown, right here. And there are also chopped onions, pickle relish (the bright green stuff that looks nuclear), pickles, chopped tomatoes and pickled sport peppers. Mmm, sport peppers. You see what I’m driving at here? Buying a Slugger Dog and raiding the condiment station means you can build a Louisville version of a Chicago-style dog — sans the poppy seed bun, of course.

(This station also has ketchup, but to quote Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry: “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.” Just don’t.)

Oh, and there’s more. A Slugger Dog comes with grilled onions. Piles of them. Now, I usually skip those, because — mouth-watering as they may be — they are quite messy. Picture it: You take a bite, but don’t manage to bite clean through, say, two of the onions. These things tend to be several inches long, so when you pull your mouth away, onions begin falling everywhere, sticking to your chin, landing in your lap, and infringing on your personal freedom. Word to the wise: Don’t wear light-colored shorts or T-shirts when eating one of these things — it’s a fool’s errand.

The pile of grilled onions also tends to make it difficult to find room for the other condiments. I love the flavor, but I can’t bear to sacrifice the sport peppers, especially when I can easily get chopped onions that don’t attack my face and clothes every time I take a bite.

Of course, truth be told, a Slugger Dog tastes delicious absolutely plain. How do I know this? Because I have eaten them that way. Granted, it’s a bit drier, but the flavor of the meaty dog is surprisingly complex for ballpark food. Sometimes I will even leave one end of a Slugger Dog condiment-free just to enjoy one bite plain.

Stop looking at me that way.

Anyway, the new season has just begun, and my craving for Slugger Dogs is motoring full throttle. Try one. It’s going to be a fun summer.