One of the quintessential summer pastimes in the US is baseball season. Many folks will tell you that baseball is boring. I disagree… after all, how many sports can you fail 7 out of 10 times and still be considered one of the all time greats?
That’s beside the point, though.
The highlight for me is going to the ballpark. I was raised during the concrete monstrosity era (Veteran’s Stadium – Philadelphia) and it wasn’t a great atmosphere. Granted, the Vet was such a dump that you could take bets on how many rats you might see. However, in 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards sent shockwaves through the baseball industry, combining old-time architecture and atmosphere with modern conveniences. One of the more pleasant additions to the ballpark food offerings was the advent of Boog’s BBQ. The combination of solid BBQ with the geniality of Oriole fan favorite John “Boog” Powell was (pardon the reference) a true home run.
Boog is the true definition of a fan favorite, not to mention a helluva ballplayer. Two World Series rings, 1970 AL Most Valuable Player, 303 career home runs. Maybe not Cooperstown, but a true Orioles Hall of Famer.
To this day, Boog can be found outside his namesake stand, signing autographs, taking photos and greeting fans. But he isn’t just a figurehead. The recipes are his, the sauces, the spice mixes, all developed in a test kitchen, and if they didn’t meet his standards, they started over.
The concept was such a hit that 25 years later, fans still line up for sandwiches and a few words with the former slugger. Last season, my wife arrived at the ballpark in a brand new Powell jersey. Boog wished her a happy new year (Hey, it was opening day) and graciously signed the jersey, which she proudly wears when we attend an Orioles game. It’s not just the fans who clamor for a taste, though. Each game there are probably 10 sandwiches sent to the visiting clubhouse, not to mention the umpiring crew. Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones once asked for a turkey sandwich, to which Boog bellowed, “You can’t hit no damn home runs on no turkey. I’m gonna give you some beef!” Even Maryland Governor Larry Hogan likes his Boog’s.
Of course, success breeds imitators. In Philadelphia, Greg “Bull” Luzinski peddles passable BBQ. In Pittsburgh, former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen does the honors. In San Francisco, it’s Orlando Cepeda. But Boog is truly the original, and a true gentleman. While a humble autograph request might earn you a growl from the Bull, Boog greets you like a long-lost friend.
And the food is excellent. His pork is sliced, not pulled, in a very flavorful juice. The beef is top notch. The turkey is out of this world. These are served on a doughy roll, that actually detracts from the meaty goodness. I’ve actually been known to grab a fork and eat the meat sans roll. It’s THAT good. The rubs complement the meats well, and the sauces are just the right blend of tangy and sweet. The weakest entry might be the baked beans, but that doesn’t mean they are terrible, just pedestrian. The mac and cheese is not terrible, but it is overpriced, even for ballpark fare. Across the board, it’s a far cry from the simple hot dogs and fries that we grew up on.
So, if you find yourself in Baltimore to watch a baseball game, head to the Eutaw Street promenade, pop into line, say hi to Boog and get some of the best ballpark BBQ available. You won’t regret any of it… except maybe the on-field product this season. But know that even as the Orioles rebuild, Boog will be there with a smile and a story for the folks who stop by.