Illustration by Jungyeon Roh
Pop culture experiences can be the genesis for philosophical reflection. As ball caps and foam fingers crowd in around me inside Miller Park, I think of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French navel-gazer who left a legacy of boring plays and musings on human freedom.
If Sartre were alive, I bet he’d have this to say (translated, of course, from French): Miller Park is the exemplar of human freedom.
And there is nothing but signs of freedom on this April weekday. Retirees, families, average working stiffs. They’re all making laps around the stadium, indulging in a footloose fancy free-ness. I can see it on their faces. But as they veer toward the seats, I’m looking frantically for concession stands. Unlike the average ticket holder, I’m not here to watch a game. As it turns out, I see (and eat) $120.25 worth of food, but not a glimpse of my seat.
I scale the stadium tiers for the magazine-related purposes of sampling the culinary wizardry within. In my heart, I believe the meaning behind this visit is deeper than the imprint the pork parfait leaves in my belly.
To prepare, I’ve squeezed into a 1980s Brewers pullover jersey that’s about as breathable as plastic wrap, and some loose-fitting pants. The pregame office conversation about spectator fashion focuses on the importance of pants that don’t constrict movement. Sweat pants. Pajama Jeans. (If you haven’t seen them, they’re a nifty find on Amazon.com.) And I have people with me. A small entourage of food Sherpas. Their identities aren’t important. They act as a front for my extreme food consumption. But if you’d ask them, they’d admit they’re as curious about the ballpark food and are ready to throw down.
Outside the stadium, the smell of kettle corn and sports carnage is in the air. A woman’s head bobs as she walks through the parking lot ahead of us. She wears what appears to be a blue visor. The top of her head looks like it’s crowned with brown porcupine quills dipped in blue ink, Brewers Blue.
Just inside the entrance, I grab a guest info guide and ponder where to begin. When I’d looked at the Miller Park section of Brewers.com beforehand, I hadn’t expected the breadth of food offerings. I consider the very real possibility that loose pants aren’t enough. I need a muumuu. Sausages, fries, nachos, roasted nuts – eh, nothing unexpected about that. But spaghetti in a meatball? A footlong brat stuffed with a hot dog and wrapped in bacon, schmeared with braised onions and kraut, stadium sauce and mustard and served in a pretzel bun? Might as well bring along a pocket angioplasty kit.
Our first stop is AJ Bombers, the Milwaukee burger joint that joined the concessions roster this season. It’s located on the Field Level at the Plaza Pavilion. The façade looks like it was ripped off an aluminum Airstream. From the abbreviated menu, we get the Milwaukee burger, a patty topped with a prosciutto-thin layer of Nueske’s bacon, Colby cheese and sautéed Schlitz onions. I open the packet of Newman’s Own blue cheese dressing and drizzle it over our Buffalo chicken egg rolls, which, sans the celery, duplicate the saucy experience of Buffalo wings.
Nice start. Next up is a beef brisket sandwich with coleslaw. Wish there’d been more sauce on the slab of meat, but c’est la vie. The fried cheese curds served in a paper canoe get points for presentation, not flavor. And the basic stadium sausages – Kosher hot dog, Polish, Italian, brat, and even the token soy dog (sampled for our vegetarian friends) – don’t hold a candle to the footlong specialty grilled hot dog in the pretzel bun (made at the same stand as previously mentioned “brat-dog-bacon” creation known as The Beast). I’d come back for that. I’d need the posse to help me finish it, but I’d vanquish that footlong again.
Between having our photos snapped with the Racing Sausages and checking the game score on the monitors, we draw a small, inebriated crowd to our table while we pick at the baseball-sized beef meatball stuffed with spaghetti and hosed down with marinara sauce, the pork parfait (a “sundae” of mashed potatoes and BBQ pork), and a mongo baked potato blanketed in chipotle chicken, jalapenos, cheese and sour cream. We wash those down with a plastic mini-baseball helmet of soft-serve ice cream.
It will come as no surprise that we leave Miller Park with a labored gait. To Sartre, I say: True freedom is elastic-waist pants and a stadium of conquered concessions stands.