TRAVERSE CITY — A hot dog always tastes better at the ball park.
“I don’t know what it is, but it does,” Traverse City Pit Spitters general manager Mickey Graham said. “It always tastes better.”
Graham and the Pit Spitters aren’t just hiding behind the ever-popular baseball-goers favorite. They’ve corralled a stable of Michigan food vendors to provide the fare at all 36 Pit Spitters home game in hopes that the menu will attract just as many fans to the newly christened Pit Spitters Park as the baseball team itself.
Ice cream — including the team’s own signature flavor (Pit Spitters Swirl) — from Moomers and potato chips from Great Lakes Chips, both in Traverse City. Hamburgers, brats, the aforementioned hot dogs and other meats from Tolman’s Meats in Hudsonville. And brewed beverages from Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire.
Those are just a few of the native vendors that stack up toward the Pit Spitters’ goal of 10 local food vendors.
“We wanted to bring new food here,” Graham said. “We wanted to upgrade the concession stands and equipment. We spent a good majority of our capital putting it into the concession stands. Fans, when they come out, will see that difference. New ovens, new deep fryers and new ice cream freezers. That allows us to have a wider variety of food items and to serve people quicker.
“Food is a big part of the ball park. There is baseball and fireworks and a mascot, but food is probably top two or three items when you talk to people about going to the ball park.”
As the Pit Spitters continue to build their brand and their fan base, community relations played its own role in helping shape the menu. Favorite foods and recognizable Michigan products will garner appreciation from the base, and so will the inclusion of one menu item actually created by one particular fan and selected by the others.
Stacy Hovorka (Muskegon, Mich.) won the Fan Food Contest with her Triple Crown Nachos submission. The $8 specialty item consists of a bed of Nacho Cheese Doritos, piled with warm queso and shredded cheese, cherry barbecue sauce, sour cream and pulled pork.
Graham said it was difficult to sort through hundreds of contest submissions. Some were easily eliminated because of complex recipes or prep time, but enough tasty choices remained to tempt fan voters.
“If someone sends in a recipe with a quarter cup of this and a teaspoon of that — it may taste great — we can’t do it,” Graham said. “It has to be portable. You have to be able to eat it in the stands. How quick it is. Can we make it?
“Ultimately fans will have their say in what gets sold here or not, but it’s great to get the community and fans involved and have an item that they picked.”
Graham admitted he was a bit surprised at how delicious he found the Triple Crown Nachos.
“The Triple Crown Nachos are unbelievably good,” he said. “I’m here 36 games. I can’t eat those every night or I’m gonna have to buy some new pants. The food is something we’re really proud to have as a high quality concessions operation. We think the fans are gonna like it.”
The overall menu is fairly robust.
Fans can also choose from chicken fries, foot long corn dogs, soft Bavarian pretzels with cheese, a TC cherry burger, gyros, mini cheesecakes from the Underground Cheesecake Factory, Dippin’ Dots, peanuts, cherry caramel corn and more.
Plenty of beverages options are available as well. Pepsi products will be served for those under the legal drinking age. And for those 21 and over, a variety of Michigan and domestic beer options are available. A few of the craft beer options this season will be Short’s Local’s Light, Bell’s Two Hearted, Petoskey Brewing Horny Monk, Founders Centennial IPA, Bell’s Oberon and Mitten Triple Crown Brown.
Soft Bavarian Pretzel w/Cheese, 4.5 Stars
Top notch pretzel that is light and fluffy but has the pleasant pretzel crust covered with the salt you are craving (there will never be enough on mine). The combination of a soft, warm treat with melty cheese is always a good choice at the ballpark.
Brett A. Sommers, Caramel Corn5 Stars
I’m an all-day carnivore anyway, so while a ball park dog or gyro would be good, I often pass on the meat products. My attention always turns to the salty, the sweet or both. In this case, pass me a bag of the caramel corn. It’s another Michigan-based product that never fails to deliver another handful to your mouth.
James Cook, Triple Crown Nachos4 Stars
To make something good, how about starting with nothing that’s bad?
The Triple Crown Nachos consist of Doritos (instead of plain tortilla chips), queso, shredded cheese, pulled pork, cherry barbecue sauce and sour cream.
OK, so sour cream is just gross, but you can largely spoon that off.
The rest? Delish.