Opening Day at Comerica Park is just around the corner, which means the Detroit Tigers hosted their annual “What’s New” showcase Friday at the MotorCity Casino Tiger Club within the park.
What’s not too new is the Tigers themselves, who are gearing up for another year of their ongoing rebuild under first-time president of baseball operations Scott Harris. It’s going to be asking a lot to expect the Tigers to get hot this season. But judging by the extensive sampling of new food items unveiled Friday, fans can definitely expect plenty of heat from the food at Comerica.
Before we get to the food, the Tigers have plenty of other new stuff this season, including “313 Value Games” for all Tuesday home games that feature $19 lower-level tickets, $3 water and fountain drinks, $1 chips and $3 hot dogs.
The first 15,000 fans at every Saturday game will receive a giveaway item. My favorite is the Miggy Milestones Bobblehead that celebrates his 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, set to be given out June 10 against Arizona. My runner-up is the Javier Báez sunglasses giveaway May 13 against Seattle. (Don’t worry, I’m way too classy to make a joke about the sunglasses preventing you from seeing sliders.)
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Now for the food. I’m writing this nearly two hours after I took my last bite, I’ve had two glasses of water and a cup of coffee, and I can still taste the spice on my tongue. As I look at my notes, I keep seeing the word “spice” and “hot” scribbled throughout.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you can handle heat. I’m not ready to go on “Hot Ones” anytime soon, but I like Mexican and Thai food and I regularly use Tabasco, Cholula and Sriracha. So I left Friday’s tasting wondering how much heat Detroiters are ready to handle at the ballpark.
I’m not saying the heat crossed the line or would have prevented me from ordering any of the items. I’m just saying be aware of what you order and make sure you have a beverage, or two, on hand if you seek the heat.
The Tigers should be commended for partnering with small businesses in Detroit such as Bert’s Marketplace, Breadless, Green Dot Stables, Taqueria El Rey, the Lobster Food Truck and Yum Village. They’ll all have a presence at the park, and several of their offerings were featured Friday.
“There are a lot of new market offerings and a lot of flavors,” executive chef Mark Szubeczak told my pal Sue Selasky, the Free Press’ tireless food writer. “I think the fans are going to be happy.”
OK, enough with the babbling. What’s up with the food?
Well, there were several hits, one grand slam and a few strikeouts. This year, in honor of Miguel Cabrera’s final season, I’ll rate the items I tasted on a scale of 1-4 Miggys.
Sonoran hot dog
Taqueria El Rey offers a porkapalooza with a bacon-wrapped hot dog that’s topped with beans, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and jalapeno salsa. It’s the craziest new offering at the park this year and it sounds like a lot — maybe too much. But it all blends beautifully by balancing the pork’s saltiness with the jalapeno’s spice and the sweetness of the pico’s tomato. Verdict: Four Miggys.
Unfortunately, Taqueria El Rey also offered one of my biggest disappointments with its chorizo taco and its steak taco. I’m not a taco snob, but the chorizo was too dry and salty, and the steak lacked flavor. Not sure how a taqueria messes up tacos. Verdict: One Miggy.
This was the biggest surprise, and I wouldn’t have tried it if not for Sue’s recommendation. It’s a dish that has been around awhile, but I’ve never tried it: French fries topped with marinated chicken, garlic sauce, romaine lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and hummus. It’s almost like a Mediterranean poutine. Its flavors complement each other and it’s very filling. Sue put it best when she said, “It’s like a meal.” Verdict: Three Miggys.
Bacon cheeseburger slider
It can be lazy and a little dangerous to offer such a familiar American classic. But Green Dot Stables hit this one out of the park. I’m an unapologetic burger snob — I devoured Stacy Perman’s excellent 2010 book about In-N-Out that serves as a guidepost for what every burger restaurant should be — so you can believe me when I tell you the meaty, juicy patty and the right proportions of American cheese, bacon, Topor’s pickles and grilled onions were perfection. Verdict: Four Miggys.
A fellow reporter suggested this gluten-free chicken wrap from Breadless, and I’m glad he did. I rarely go for wraps, but this one throws the kitchen sink at you and hit’s the bullseye. It has roasted chicken, bacon, truffle buttermilk ranch, Buffalo hot sauce, white cheddar, tomatoes, cucumbers (yes, I’m tired of typing now), sweet pickles and arugula wrapped in Swiss chard. All that, and it checks in at 380 calories. I’d order this in a heartbeat. Verdict: Three Miggys.
Chicken and biscuits
You get two pieces of spicy, well-crisped fried chicken with Fat Rooster marinade served with two biscuits dipped in honey butter. The chicken is awesome; watch the spice as it builds. But the biscuits were too dry and pulled the dish down, despite the otherwise wonderful chicken. Verdict: Two Miggys.
Bert’s Marketplace offered a spicy red hot sausage topped with grilled onion, and pork ribs. Both had a nice, spicy tang. Sue recommended Green Dot’s kale salad with quinoa, shallots and a lemon vinaigrette, and Breadless’ gluten-free spicy chickpea sandwich. Verdict: Three Miggys for each.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.