Opening Day Ballpark Brouhaha

Nothing spells out Americana more than baseball, unless you are adding outdoor grilling, hotdogs and cold beer to the mix. Combine all these together with the opening day of baseball and you might very well have the makings of an arrestable offense.

This is what made the late morning jaunt to the Ballpark at Arlington on Monday of this week so enjoyable. The promise of the first-of-the-season game along with the sell-out crowd that included just over 50,000 of my closest friends, all who were hungry and very thirsty.

Monday morning I was able to get a hall pass from the office and high-tailed it to the ballpark. I thought I was going to be early. The game started at 1:05 and I was at the park by 11:00 where I found most of the parking had been taken and the mob was at its frothy peak.

I managed to find a spot, and was able to attend a little happening at the Coors Light venue just outside the park with a sweet invite from a friend over at Clear Channel. I quickly ramped up on a few complimentary wings from the Hooter's girls and a few beers and considered myself at even keel with the crowd. This set the stage for a parking lot adventure and enabled me to come up with this week's Toque challenge.

In honor of the opening day of baseball, we break the traditional Toque to Toque mold to answer a tough question. Which is better, the tailgate cook's ample homespun spread or the ballpark super spiffy dining options?

We are changing the rules for the challenge just for this week. Where as we would normally toque down on one particular dish, today we will award the prize and bragging rights to the collective flavor of either the cooks inside or outside the park. In other words, Pros versus the Bros.

Who will take today's honors in the Toque to Toque Ballpark Brouhaha?

Before Roger Staubach tossed out the first pitch, I managed to tap into some barbecue and burgers outside the park. Scanning the horizon, I witnessed the proud tradition of bumper grills, large format smokers, and even a few of the baby kettle Weber's sending smoke signals hearkening to my sense of smell which was by then on overtime, and kicking into high gear.

Making my way into the depths of parking lot D, I was met with a difficult challenge. There was literally a sea of smoke lifting the skyline and thousands of ball caps of beer hoisting fans enjoying the early morning breeze. I first met with super-fan Jake Collum who was smoldering a various sundry of meats including brats, hotdogs and ribs. The smoke was thick as Jake choked out that "the dogs inside the park are pretty good, but I think mine are a bit better. And more economical for sure."

I sampled and moved on.

Arlington filmmaker Brian Hollingworth was cooking up various animal parts as well. Brian pointed out that his beers cost him about a buck apiece and the Rangers charge about 9 dollars. This is not exactly true, the beer this year is a bit cheaper than years past, and you can get 16 ounces for $5.00. Perhaps a nod to the recession.

The largest tailgaters in lot D were represented by Dallas Trane Heating and Air Conditioning, as they entertained 225 people that included clients and employees. Ribs, brisket, chicken, sausage, baked beans and potato salad that was catered by Trane employee Todd Gilmore and his overabundant smoker sturdily propped up on an attached trailer and with all the tools necessary to run his show that featured beef as its shining star.

Todd shared his ribs and tender brisket, but not the secretly held recipes. He did offer that "the difference between what we can do out here tailgating compared to what they offer inside [the ballpark] is fresh taste and quality."

Todd's ribs were particularly tender with an amazing amount of smoke, as was his brisket.

Although I was made an offer to stay and enjoy good conversation and beer, the game was about to begin and I had to check out the competition.

Inside the stadium I met with hoards of people and lines that I am sure pleased the new owner, Chuck Greenburg. The longer lines seemed to be at the beer concessions, but there were still plenty of hot dog and nacho fans. The crowd stretched the length of the concourse at the more than 100 food stands littered through out the park.

Long lines did not deter Kim Stallings from Fort Worth who passed me with a Chicago style dog that was larger than her head.

"I am embarrassed, we just ate outside at the tailgate party but I saw these dogs and had to try one," laughed the svelte Stallings. "Just look at the beast, I am going to share this with three other friends."

The dog did look delicious, and she shared a bit with me. It was good, and only took her 20 minutes to snag from the vendor.

Once again making my way through the masses I met with others who were partaking in both tailgate and interior ballpark food. Shelby Marcus from Arlington added her wisdom, "I don't like to cook, this is one reason why I come to games. It is easy. Besides, isn't it tradition to eat hot dogs and peanuts at the games?"

Easy would be sitting in the Upper Home Run Grill seats. For a mere $34 you get a seat, and all the chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, and soft drinks you can down during the game in an air conditioned setting. I will be sure to mention this to the genius behind Dude Food.

The food at the ballpark has come a long way since the Rangers first started selling nachos back in 1977. However, there is just one winner in this Toque battle. For their ingenious use of utensils in conditions that would reduce the Health Department to tears, the due diligence paid to their friends, neighbors and employees, for welcoming staggering guests professing to be doing a scientific study on tailgating, and for their freshly prepared food, and cheaper beer we award today's Toque to Toque Ballpark Brouhaha to the thousands of revelers claiming they have the best barbecue in lot D.

Congratulations to all the tailgaters. And while you were doing the dishes in the parking lot, the Rangers won the opening day game against the Toronto Blue Jays 5 to 4.

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Steven Doyle