How do you know you’ve just eaten the best stadium food ever?
Have you ever taken a bite of freedom?
Have you ever heard the Vienna Boys Choir singing in your head while you chewed ballpark food?
When was the last time you bit into something and your teeth cheered?
Well, that happened to me on May 21, 2012, on a baseball trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards with several buddies. Six of us went to Nationals Park in Washington D.C. over that weekend, stayed over into Monday, and then watched the Red Sox and Orioles in Baltimore. It was the 20th anniversary of the inaugural season of Camden Yards, and they had some new food items to celebrate it.
‘I Guarantee You’ll Like It’
Walking up Eutaw Street, which runs between right field and the Warehouse at Camden Yards, we weren’t exactly hungry. We had eaten dinner about an hour or so earlier, and we had begun cycling beers through our bladders. We even passed up Boog’s BBQ, right after I grabbed a quick pic with Hall-of-Fame 1B Boog Powell.
I tell you that to show you we weren’t famished and our incredible hunger did not trick us into thinking this treat I’m about to tell you about was better than it really was.
As we slowly walked around Eutaw Street, we happened upon a small booth sponsored by Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. I walked up to it to check out the beer can chickens they were displaying. As I got closer, I saw a big plank of meat that was hauntingly familiar.
It was like when you meet someone and you both know you’ve met before, but neither of you can name the time or place.
Hello, huge slab of bacon on a stick. Nice to meet you.
I later realized, like baconéjà vu, I had met this glistening piece of pork in a dream when I was 7 years old. (I woke up with phantom meat sweats that night.)
I asked the weathered man behind the grill, who was busy grilling these thick slabs of bacon and dipping them into a vat of a sticky dark brown liquid, “What … is … this?”
“It’s Bacon-on-a-Stick!” he responded with a shocked voice, like I had asked him what year it was or who the “current’ President was.
I said, “Is it good or is it all hype?”
He laughed for a second, took a step back, then said, “Oh, it’s good. I guarantee you’ll like it. Taste this –“ and then he dipped a plastic spoon into the syrupy liquid and handed it to me.
The spoon was covered in a thin brown peppered syrup that was slowly dripping off. I put it in my mouth and I immediately forgot how to blink. A smoky, sweet maple explosion in my mouth had just occurred.
I said, “How much gimme one!” I hadn’t even allowed him to respond as to the price. It could have been $90. But it was just $5, so I bought a round of bacon-on-a-sticks for the group. In all honesty, I had hoped every one of my friends said no thanks, so I could stack them up like bacon mattresses and eat them myself … My precious …
The Best Stadium Food Ever
We each got a little paper boat with a sheet of wax paper underneath a slab of bacon, skewered with a wooden stick, slathered with viscous brown syrup. We all gathered around a couple wooden barrels standing on their ends, and we dug in.
My first bite had some crunchy bacon meat, along with the soft, salty texture of the bacon fat. The juices instantly ran into my beard, and I didn’t care. The smoky maple flavor covered the inside of my mouth instantly and we all grunted and moaned in harmony.
You had to eat the bacon-on-a-stick over your paper boat, or else you would be wearing the juices down your shirt … and random men would try to bite you. (Single women should think about dabbing this syrup behind their ears.)
I don’t remember tasting any whiskey flavor, but if Jack Daniels is making these delicacies, I imagine it’s in there. I have since bought some of their barbecue sauces from the grocery store, and I’ve been very happy with the results!
I think it was Joey that said, “This is the best food we’ve had on this entire trip.” And to a man, we all agreed. It was certainly the best stadium food I ever had. Ballpark food, in general, is known to be expensive and flavorless because you are a captive audience that’s unable to run out to another restaurant. Although, I have to add, the new Marlins Park might have the best food in all Major League ballparks.
While we were discussing how this chunk of smoked flesh just changed our lives, the bacon-on-a-stick guy came over to ask if he was a liar. We told Cecil (I like to think that’s his name, just because he was missing a few teeth and I would like his name to have a couple hard “s” sounds in it), “This is amazing!” “Thank you!” “You were totally right!” “Will you marry me?” I forget who said the last one.
Cecil laughed and was happy we were happy, and then he delivered a bunch of extra little cups of syrup for each of us.
Tresky reached for a cup of the syrup near my paper boat, and I instinctively growled at him, with a mouthful of pork belly. The caveman came out in me, I couldn’t help it. For the next five minutes, no one really spoke, but the sound of lions tearing apart a gazelle (dipped in syrup!) became our soundtrack.
The bacon was a thick slab, like maybe a little less than a half-inch thick. It wasn’t crispy, but it wasn’t gummy either. It was relatively easy to rip apart with your teeth, unlike if you were eating a pork chop with your hands, but it wasn’t soft like pound cake either.
It was MAN food.
I could see guys tearing into this before storming the beach at Normandy or in a saloon before a gunfight or at a salon before getting their back hair waxed.
Perfection, Thy Name is Bacon-on-a-Stick
Once we were done, we all discussed how they must have cooked this appetizer to the angels. It was obviously smoked, and but was it was just grilled afterward? Some thought maybe it was boiled (or poached) in the syrup, but I don’t see it. I still don’t know how to explain it.
“I’m going to have another later,” Joey said.
While I certainly wanted to have another, I didn’t want to tempt fate. I left my extra set of heart paddles at home, and I could hear my arteries squeaking, like when liquid is forced through a small pipe. I envisioned my heart valves squishing out blood like a water hose when you put your thumb on the end. So I passed on seconds … but not before I openly wept.
So if you plan a trip to Baltimore, make sure you head on over to Camden Yards for bacon-on-a-stick. Apparently, they used to serve these treats sticking out of bottles full of National Bohemian beer. We didn’t get that treatment for some reason, but I can imagine that those two paired really well together.
Looks like I’ll have to start planning a return trip.