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Ballpark Eats @ SBC Park

A Roundup

After the long trek into SBC Park for a Giants game, most fans are ready to dig into whatever the park has to offer, even as they wince at the corporate venue prices. As the recent baseball season commenced, we had a great time hunting down the go-to vendors at the bayside ballpark.

Has there ever been a food more closely associated with a sport than the hot dog and baseball? Peanuts and Cracker Jacks you say? Well, the Babe didn't become the Sultan of Swat by sinking his teeth into nuts and candy corn. We figured the longest line inside the entire park ought to be a good indication of where the best franks can be found.

Chicago Red Hot has an authentic take on the kind of hot dog you might find at Wrigley Field. Sauerkraut, onions and mustard are pretty standard condiment choices, but add a relish that glows with enough neon light for a night game, plus pickles, tomatoes, hot peppers and celery salt, and this is a dog a South-Sider would ahhh...relish (couldn't resist). Hearty, flavorful and juicy, the dog gets its crispy-casing snap from frying -- no bland boiling here. Bring more napkins than you think you'll need; this is one overworked bun.

If the crowd-pleasing dog is too standard and indulgent for you, how about a little Latin light-heartedness? Beyond left center field and the Coke bottle slide is where Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda has knocked another one out at Orlando's Caribbean BBQ with the signature Cha Cha Bowl ($7.95). Large chunks of lean chicken marinated in a mild chili marinade and grilled to tender perfection lead the lineup in this healthy and hearty dish. As you make your way around the bowl, you discover a nice variety of flavorful ingredients: black beans and rice, julienne of zucchini and carrots, and depending on your own heat index, 4 kinds of toppings to choose from at the nearby salsa stand: BBQ, chipotle, hot jalapeno and hotter habanero.

There's only one Orlando's location at SBC, but even if you're clear across the park, the walk is long but well worth it. Next game we'll try their baby bull tri-tip sandwich and their much-hailed Caesar salad ($7.95), although the temptation of a fine dining sit-down at the ballpark's Acme Chophouse for grass-fed steaks and organic, local cuisine has been known to override the best-laid plans.

You could close your eyes and still find your way to the many Gilroy Garlic Fry stands at SBC Park. Although we spotted some baskets with fries that looked somewhat undercooked and greasy, our sampling arrived with a great golden hue and a crisp spud crunch. There's enough minced garlic to keep the vampires and small children away, though a healthy dose of parsley offsets some of the punch of this heavy-hitter. These fries are not for the timid; a palate cleanser of Altoids and Listerine may be the only way to keep the garlic in the park and not be thrown out at home.

The next thing we scored was the Philly Cheese steak at John J. McGraw's Derby Grill, a respectable version that may not exactly play on Broad Street, but was meaty & flavorful enough to satisfy. Lean steak (sliced, not shaved), fried onions and green peppers made for a solid lead-off. The poured on melted cheese however left a little bit of a processed aftertaste, though a Philly brother would probably tell us that's how they do it back home. Maybe not worthy of extra bases, but more like a solid single up the middle for us steak lovers. Double it up with a Bayside brew, either Anchor Steam or Gordon Birsch Marzen.

Closer to the local cuisine was the crabmeat sandwich from Fresh Catch: an over-stuffed portion of deliciously fresh crabmeat inside a sourdough roll. The mix had a good balance of Dungeness crab, mayo and seasonings with just the right consistency, neither soggy nor dry. It could have used a little more salt & pepper for sure (to be fair almost every dish we try needs more salt & pepper), and the sourdough was a bit too big and strong for the delicate crab flavors inside. Now, disparaging remarks about the beloved sourdough in S.F. is akin to knocking the chowder from where I'm from, so let's just move on to the delectable Cod sandwich that takes me back to the days on the Cape.

The fresh cod filet was perfectly fried to order and must have been swimming that morning, since the texture was meaty, tender and tasty. Fresh Catch doesn't skimp on the portions either. Our toasted roll could not contain either end of this Ruthian-sized white fish. If you add a healthy wallop of tartar sauce, squeeze on some lemon juice, and close your eyes, those gulls you hear circling could be in Cape Cod and not McCovey Cove.

To close this one out, let's go with the sweet and salty kettle corn, or peanuts and Cracker Jacks for you old school, flannel uniform types. A Ben & Jerry's ice cream bar or the "how did we ever like this stuff" cotton candy will put a blue-mouthed smile on any little leaguer's face. A great game deserves good food and there's plenty to be found at SBC Park.

Written in collaboration with Laurel Timms