From fan nomination to majority rule to Midwest League stomachs, the West Michigan Whitecaps gobbled up Ballpark Digest’s Best New Food Item of 2017 with their Beercheese Poutine — a tribute to the team’s unique and popular crowdsourcing approach to concession items.
“It’s exciting!,” said Mickey Graham, the Whitecaps Director of Marketing and Media Relations. “Ballpark Digest is one of the premier sports news organizations and for them to recognize us and this delicious treat is an honor.”
For the past eight seasons, one year after the massive Fifth Third Burger was unleashed in 2009, the Class-A Detroit Tigers affiliate has combined food innovation with the democratic process. Over 23,000 votes were cast in the inaugural concession campaign of 2010, leading to co-champions: the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich, a sausage patty served under onions, peppers, pizza sauce and cheese, and the Declaration of Indigestion, a foot-long hot dog covered by a Philly cheese steak (“Tremendously good,” remembered Graham; “Very unhealthy, but tremendously tasty”).
Chicks with Sticks, a dish featuring sliced carrots and celery with hummus, triumphed in 2011, the first year that fan recipes were sought. 2012 brought victory for the Westside Po’ Boy, a loaded kielbasa, followed by the Baco in 2013, a taco in a bacon shell. Deep-fry a hot dog, put it on a stick, and surround it with potato chips in place of a bun and you would have 2014’s winner, the Auger Dogger.
In 2015, things took a culinary turn with Hot-to-Tot, buffalo chicken and bleu cheese slathered over tater tots. The dish was a hit, lasting beyond its rookie season. 2016’s winner was Dutch Love – a “delicious combination of turkey pot roast, gravy, cheese curds and French fries wrapped up in a pita.” “There was a time when big overblown food was all the rage,” Graham said. “Now it’s more about the taste and quality than the novelty of it.”
Beercheese Poutine, nominated by Muskegon native Rusty Morningstar, features “a delicious combination of pulled pork, bbq sauce, beer cheese and green onions over waffle fries.”
“It was so good,” said Graham, “that even if it wasn’t on the Fan Vote winner list, several people on the staff said they were going to walk around the ballpark, find all the ingredients and make it themselves.”
In order to reach the Fifth Third Ballpark concession stands, Morningstar’s brainchild had to survive stiff competition. The Whitecaps receive hundreds of nominations for their Fan Food Vote, topping out, according to Graham, at about 500 nominations one year.
“Sometimes they don’t understand the operational end of things. If there’s a submission with a quarter-teaspoon, a pretty detailed recipe, that’s not something we can pull off,” Graham said. “The items look pretty tasty. Some of our folks take the recipes home and try them. But it’s the ballpark. It has to be somewhat quickly made and out the door. People don’t want to wait ten or fifteen minutes for an item.”
In the end, Beercheese Poutine broke into the top ten, where it nosed out such finalists as: a donut sandwich of whipped cream and strawberries (the “Cy Youngdae”), deep-fried bubble gum, french fries covered in chocolate and strawberry sauce, a pineapple bowl filled with rice and Teriyaki chicken, a corndog hugged by onion rings, a mac ‘n cheese hot dog, a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a sandwich of fried spam and mac ‘n cheese (the “Alan Spammell”), and a deep-fried sushi roll.
The Whitecaps have already made the decision: Regardless of next season’s Food Vote champion, Beercheese Poutine is sticking around for 2018.
There was one other food item that attracted plenty of attention in 2017, and we have decided to recognize it with an honorable mention.
This year, the Seattle Mariners introduced toasted grasshoppers to their menu at Safeco Field. At a ballpark long known for its unique food items, the toasted grasshoppers became a hit with fans, selling out before first pitch on numerous occasions.
Image courtesy West Michigan Whitecaps.
2017 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Best New Concessions Experience: Miller Park
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): Great Dane Duck Blind
Executive of the Year: Ryan Keur
Best New Logo/Branding: Down East Wood Ducks
Best Ballpark Renovation (MiLB): Fluor Field, Greenville Drive
Broadcasters: Howard Kellman and Mick Gillespie
Ballpark of the Year: SunTrust Park, Atlanta Braves