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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Miller Park's Menu Goes High End

Miller Park
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Two words are almost guaranteed to make Miller Park Executive Chef John DiMartini cringe: fast food. Since taking over the park’s kitchens, he’s pushed back against the perception that stadium food has to be junk food by continually updating the ballpark’s menus with specialties prepared fresh on site. At a new taco stand making its debut this season, for instance, the meat is cooked to order with plenty of flash and spectacle, then topped with house-made salsa verde or tomatillo sauces and fresh lime. Nobody will mistake it for Taco Bell.

DiMartini knows there’s a demand for this kind of higher-quality food, even if it takes a touch longer to serve than the bratwursts and hot dogs that will always remain the ballpark’s bread and butter. Since debuting in 2011, fans have lined up at the stadium’s carvery stands for smoked brisket and turkey, all of which is smoked on site. “People are willing to wait a bit longer for it, because they’re watching the chefs carve the meat fresh rather than just waiting in line to get a hot dog,” DiMartini says. “People want those big sandwiches; they see all that meat on the bun and they just need one of their own.” The numbers back him up. Last year the stadium served more than 30,000 pounds of brisket alone.

The stadium’s carvery stands also offer Italian roasted pork, topped with broccoli raab, cabbage slaw and roasted garlic aoli, and rotating options that last year included lime- and cilantro-marinated mahi mahi tacos. Ten years ago the idea of eating mahi mahi at a baseball game would have been unthinkable, but now DiMartini regularly fields questions about when he’s bringing those tacos back (he promises they’ll return at some point this season).

This year Miller Park is bringing that carvery mentality to a new gourmet foot-long sausage station as well. Its menu will feature a pork sausage rubbed in Cajun seasoning that is blackened and then served with relish, cheddar cheese and creole sauce, along with rotating specialty sausages. For the stadium’s opening series, that specialty was a chicken sausage topped with spinach, feta, roasted garlic and a touch of red pepper aoli. All sausages are served on pretzel buns.

Of course, not everything at the stadium is crafted with foodies in mind. One special sausage almost certain to return this year is a gut buster aptly titled “The Beast”: a bratwurst stuffed with a hot dog and wrapped in bacon. Unrepentant junk food fiends can also find Dorito nachos: cheese sauce, brisket, pico de gallo, fresh-chopped chives and sour cream over Cool Ranch Doritos, all served right in the bag. And the stadium’s Field Level will host this season’s biggest culinary oddity, an indulgence called a burger on a stick.

“We take a mixture of creamy cream cheese, cheddar cheese and pickle relish. Then we mold that on a stick and wrap seasoned ground beef around it, then coat it in panko crumbs and deep fry it,” DiMartini says. “So basically it looks like a corn dog, but it’s a burger on a stick, and we serve that with fresh homemade chips and we’re good to go.”