Summer is coming, and soon it will be time for fun at the old ballpark, along with favorite ballpark foods: hot sausages, cold beer and...sushi?
"We get it from Pierce's across the street," says Vern Stenman, general manager of the Madison Mallards. How are sales? "Hit or miss."
Sushi is one of the distinctive food offerings at Warner Park, where opening day is May 29. Along with the park's outsized turkey drumsticks and 18 beers on tap, the sushi is a good example of Stenman's promotional philosophy in action.
That philosophy has made Mallards park a warm-weather success, and it goes something like this: Be creative and thoughtful about details - food, drink, music - and even people who aren't baseball fans will show up.
Moreover, like many food purveyors these days, the Mallards are thinking locally. That has long been true, thanks to the corn on the cob from Lodi and the beer from Great Dane and Capital Brewery. But it is truer still this season, because the concession stand behind first base has a new name - Maynard's, after mascot Maynard G. Mallard - and a new theme: Wisconsin-sourced fare.
Maynard's marquee dish will be a hamburger made of Wisconsin beef fresh from Stoddard's Country Grove meat market, in Cottage Grove. In its freshness the Maynard's burger will differ from the park's regular burger, which comes frozen and precooked. Also on the menu: local cheese curds and onion rings.
For the Mallards, local food is an earth-friendly initiative. "We sat down with some environmental consultants and talked about how to green up the ballpark," says Stenman. "We're not trying to be in your face and say, 'The Mallards go green.' That seems a little pretentious. But we can do some things more subtly, like Maynard's, to keep in that theme."
Maynard's joins another signature Mallards food concession, the smokehouse in the courtyard behind home plate. Added last year, the smokehouse produces brisket, pork butt and those big turkey legs.
The food at Warner Park may be inventive, but Stenman is quick to note that it is still ballpark grub. "Two, three years ago we introduced a healthy menu, and nobody bought it," he recalls. "We realized that when people are at the ballpark, the diet goes out the window."
Also thinking locally is Josie Pradella, founder of TerraSource Gourmet Chocolates. Her company, six months old, produces chocolates in the kitchen of Carl's Cakes on Cottage Grove Road - when, that is, Carl's is not producing cakes. Among the local ingredients she uses are maple syrup in a pecan caramel, and aronia and seaberries from Carandale Farms south of Madison.
Pradella is a founding member of the Dane County Buy Local initiative. "When we buy local, we strengthen our local economy," she says. "I support local growers, and I reduce the food miles my product is involved with."
Pradella's chocolates are organic, as well as vegan. "I wanted to have something diet-sensitive people could really enjoy, but people who love regular chocolate wouldn't know the difference," she notes. Needless to say, she uses dark, not milk, chocolate. Her 16-sweet lineup includes blackberry, coconut dream and brandied pear.
TerraSource chocolates are sold at Metcalfe's Sentry, A Room of One's Own, Bunky's and Carl's Cakes. Pradella also will sell her wares in spring and fall at the Sunday Northside Farmers Market, whose season kicked off May 4. Why the absence in summer? "I worry that in the heat of July and August, it would be too hot for my product," she says.
More beer here
The Union Corners development at Milwaukee Street and East Washington Avenue is on hold, and a grim moonscape there proves it. But one building project in the area is moving forward: The Malt House, a beer-focused bar going into the old Union House tavern's building at 2609 East Washington Ave. The Malt House will feature taps of craft beer from Belgium, Germany, England and other nations, as well as artisanal Wisconsin suds.
Proprietor Bill Rogers seeks a mellow vibe. "There's not a lot of taverns in our area here where you're not blasted out with too-loud music and TVs all over the place," says Rogers, who is president of the Great Taste of the Midwest beer fest. "I think we need a place where people can just talk to each other."
The Malt House joins Dexter's Pub, the new craft-beer-centric taproom on nearby North Street. "Between the two of us, we can make that neighborhood a destination for people in the city interested in beer," Rogers says.
Spring is here, and the rooftop bar at Sundance Cinemas is back. Its May 12 opening coincides with the first birthday of Robert Redford's movie house.... A new farmers' market in suburban Oregon is held Tuesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. in front of Bill's Food Center, 787 N. Main St.... Area FIBs take note: A new Library Mall food cart, FIB's, serves Chicago-style Italian beef and other FIB delicacies.