I’ll never forget the excitement of the Red’s sweep of the 1990 World Series. I was a young freshman Engineering student at the University of Cincinnati. Although I didn’t have tickets to the winning game, I do remember people spilling out after the win onto Calhoun, McMillen, and Vine Streets, to celebrate at the university bars, many of which are now gone.
My cousin, Matt Woellert, at the time, was a roommate of ‘Nasty Boy’ Red’s Pitcher Randy Myers, who had been traded that year from the New York Mets. Matt had also played with the Mets, after his own star pitching career at Moeller High School, with another future Reds player, Barry Larkin, in the early 80s. The Red’s players hung out at Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront Restaurant and Las Brisas nightclub. As a result of that connection, Jeff Ruby named a dish after my cousin, a scalloped potato side dish called “Potatoes Woellert.” Although the dish never took off as a national icon like Eggs Benedict, it was pretty cool to have a family-named dish at a Jeff Ruby restaurant.
It got me thinking about other influences the Red’s had on Cincinnati food. The first thing that popped into my mind was the Big Red Smokey, made by our former locally owned Kahn’s Meats for the stadium. It was a smoked, spicy red mett that was served at the former Red’s Stadium, and is still available as a brand now owned by the Sara Lee Corporation. It was great char-grilled, hot on a bun with a heap of ketchup. It had that snap and spice that you wanted in a mett. At one time Kahn’s was the official hot dog of the Red’s. Many people remember the classic ad on the Red’s scoreboard of two umpires arguing if the Big Red Smokey was a hot dog or a sausage.
Then there was the Crosley Field Spicy Dusseldorf mustard made by Frank Tea & Spice Company. (see my blog in April 20, 2016, “Crosley Field’s Spice Mustard”). Don’t take the Dusseldorf out of our ball park mustard!
Because of Cincinnati’s large amount of pre-Prohibition breweries, we were one of the first teams to introduce beer concessions to their ballparks – only fitting of the first major league baseball team. Local Brewer John Hauck was owner of the Reds in the 1890s. It was then that he started making additional income, offering privileges or ‘concessions’ to vendors, in exchange for money for an exclusive contract. Of course, Hauck beer was the first of these concessions. Over the years fans guzzled Hauck, Schoenling, Brucks, Burger, Hudepohl, Christian Moerlein, Wiedemann, Bavarian brews at the ballpark.
In the 1870’s our local candy icon, Claus Doscher, made a caramel corn before he perfected our beloved candy canes, which he sold to the Cincinnati Redlegs at the Palace of the Fans stadium. This product predated the 1893 introduction of Cracker Jack. We should really be singing “Buy me some peanuts and Doscher Caramel Corn,” in our 7th inning stretch.
Flamboyant politician Gary Hermann, managed the concessions for the Red’s, after the Fleischmanns bought the team in 1902. Known as a big eater, and the ‘sausage eating champion of the world’, it was probably he that started the legacy of local sausage concession vendors at the Red’s ballparks.
Our city had a variety of former Red’s players who went into the restaurant business. Name recognition helps bring in customers, especially if the décor is sports themed. Eugene “Bubbles” Hargrave was one of the first. The former catcher and 1926 National League batting title winner, opened Bubbles Hargrave Café in Northside, in what is the Palm Building at Hoffner Park in the 1940s. He also worked at the Powell Valve Company, on Spring Grove Avenue, where my grandfather (also a baseball player and huge Reds fan) worked in his teenage years, in the early twenties.
Ted Kluszewski had several Big Klu steakhouses in the 1960s, after his career with the Red’s. Ted ripped off the shirt sleeves of his Red’s team jersey for more comfort and invented the sleeveless jersey. Among the chargrilled steaks, African lobster tails, and fried chicken, the menu also had a Cincinnati favorite – hot slaw.
Another famous Cincinnati Red’s catcher, Johnny Bench opened his Home Plate Restaurant in Northgate Mall and Johnny Bench’s Homestretch in Florence Mall in 1977. They offered a dish called ‘snails bourginnon’, whose misspelling of bourguignon was proliferated in their ads and menu. Funny that no one caught that, when at the time (and never since surpassed in any U.S. City), Cincinnati had three Michelin five star French restaurants!!
Pete Rose had a restaurant too, that competed with Home Plate in the 1970s. Although Bench’s restaurants were mostly steakhouses, Rose’s catered to the entire family and had a more diverse menu.
Today we’ve returned to our local craft brew roots at the stadium with the 85 foot long Reds Brewery District Bar, which serves 22 different beers at 60 taps. You can also get some other local iconic dishes: a Frisch’s Big Boy, Skyline 3ways and cheese coneys, Montgomery Inn Ribs, and even Graeter’s Ice Cream. The Reds have certainly contributed to our regional foods – if you can eat it in the stadium, you can eat it anywhere.