Our favorite subject, other than baseball itself, is food, as anyone who’s read any of our blogs will know. We do spend a great deal of time sampling local—and not so local—fare, both at that ball park and on the road. And our trip to Florida was no exception.
First, you need to know that a great many people from the Cincinnati region have retired/relocated to the area between Clearwater and Naples and have brought the local Cincy favorite fare with them. So we were delighted to be able to indulge in the food from our youth. (We haven’t lived in the Cincinnati region for 38 years.) When we weren’t enjoying the unusual ball park food, we were in search of Skyline Chili restaurants and pints of Graeter’s ice cream from Publix grocery stores.
Cincinnati-style chili is unique and it seems people either love it or hate it. For those of us raised on the stuff, it’s an addiction. And it can’t be found in many places outside of Ohio. This delicious meal consists of a layer of spaghetti, topped with a chili sauce based on a Greek-style dish. The sauce is tomato-based, made of boiled hamburger and either chocolate or cinnamon, depending on the brand. (There are about 260 chili parlors in Cincinnati, each with its own variation of the original sauce.) The next layer is of pinto beans, then a layer of onions, all topped with thin-shred mild cheddar cheese. If you order all these layers, you’re having a 5-way; one less layer is a 4-way; two less layers is a 3-way down to just chili and spaghetti, a 2-way. We found a Skyline in Clearwater, one in Ft. Myers and one in Naples (although we didn’t travel that far south). We were lucky enough to imbibe in our favorite meal three times while on this trip, loving every morsel of it!
Likewise, we also had the opportunity to delight in our favorite ice cream, Graeter’s. It’s made of something like 27% milk-fat and begins to melt as soon as it touches the bowl or a spoon, leaving a lovely tasteful coating on your tongue. A few years ago, Oprah announced on her show that it’s her favorite ice cream and their website crashed that afternoon due to the overload of orders. Yes, it’s that good!
Beyond our hometown foods, though, was the unique ball park fare that we came across. Since several of the games we attended were Gulf Coast League (one of the instructional leagues), there were no concessions at all. (We were lucky if there were bathrooms of some sort!) And other games often only had the bare necessities of ball park food—hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, pop and beer. However, we did come across a few very interesting, and often quite tasty, food treats. The Port Charlotte Stone Crabs had crab cake sandwiches that were yummy and fantastic French fries (coated and crispy!). They also sold a passable Cuban sandwich. Of course, being great aficionados of Cuban sandwiches, we did spend much of our time in Florida looking for a bad one; this one was fine.
In Dunedin, the Blue Jays actually had food trucks (all the rage everywhere now) in their parking lot outside the gates. Here we could get hot food—Mexican, BBQ, Asian, and “fried everything.” The samples we had (the BBQ and the Mexican) were quite good. Inside the park, the concessions only sold non-heated items, peanuts, candy, ice cream, etc., and drinks. They didn’t want to compete with the trucks.
At the Threshers stadium in Clearwater, the food wasn’t noteworthy, but they had a “Beers of the World” stand that truly was beers of the world. They had so many choices, it would be difficult for any beer fan to choose what they’d like.
By far, the most unique food we had was at the Ft. Myers Miracles park. Specifically, they had two sandwiches that are absolutely worth trying if you’re in the neighborhood. First, the Carolina dog would please most all BBQ fans with a hankering for a whole meal on a bun. The sandwich consisted of a hot dog smothered in pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw. At first, Ginny was skeptical of having her whole meal at once, but a couple of bites convinced her it was a worthy choice. However, the coup de grace was most definitely the Richard Simmons burger. Just the name made us curious. Was this an ounce of such lean ground steak that it would be paper dry? Or a chicken breast the size of a walnut? Oh no. The name is sarcasm at its best (or worst, depending on your outlook). The sandwich was layered with a hamburger patty, a chicken breast, a sausage (split in half), bacon and cheese slices between each layer. The diameter was a normal size for a burger, but was about five inches tall. We had to eat it from around the sides in hunks because we couldn’t get our mouths open wide enough for the thing! While it was very messy, it was quite the tasty adventure. Who knew all that meat at once could taste that good? On top of serving these great sandwiches, the park offered an all-you-can-eat deal for just $10. It’s certainly worth it. But bring your appetite and your stretch pants!