The distinctive “ping” of a baseball meeting a metal bat signals the start of a two-and-a-half-week lovefest in June known as the College World Series. Omahans will once again enjoy a front-row seat to this rite of summer, just as they have since 1950.
They will watch RVs filled with Louisiana State University fans stream into town, whether or not the purple-and-gold team makes it to The Show; they will listen to showtunes warbling out of the classic 1947 Hammond organ at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the CWS; and they will help consume an ungodly amount of hot dogs.
“Hot dogs go hand-in-hand with baseball. They’re near and dear to people’s hearts,” Tyler Humphrey says. He should know. As executive chef at TD Ameritrade, Humphrey and his team spend months planning, creating, and taste-testing new entries into the ballpark’s cuisine—offerings fit for a five-star restaurant, from calzones to cake. But he knows ahead of time what to order in bulk.
“We can put many different food options out there, but when you look at your top-three sellers, hot dogs will be right there in the mix, if not at the top,” he says.
The Americanization of a German and Austrian food staple began in ballparks 120 years ago. Historians, including Ken Burns in his definitive documentary Baseball, single out British immigrant and veteran concessionaire Harry Stevens for discovering the perfect stadium fare.
One cold spring day in 1901 at the old Polo Grounds, home of the New York (baseball) Giants, Stevens realized the ice cream wasn’t selling. He sent out for German “dachshund sausages,” boiled them, slipped them into rolls, and had his hawkers go into the stands shouting, “Get ’em while they’re hot!”
The current $2.4 billion-a-year American hot dog industry owes a tip of the cap to ballparks big and small, and Omaha adds to the kitty.
Last year, CWS fans ate nearly 50,000 of the park’s all-beef franks. The total number does not include sales of the hot dog’s pork-based cousins, sausage and bratwurst.
As for toppings, the basics still rule.
“We do a quarter-pound hot dog called the 10th Street Classic, which is pretty popular here. But it’s simple—just caramelized onions, green sweet relish, and yellow mustard,” Humphrey says. “In the end, that’s how I’m going to have [my hot dog].”
Simplicity doesn’t keep the chef and his culinary crew from having fun and mixing things up. They present four or five new “loaded” dog options every season. The unveiling of the 2018 CWS menu occurs a week before the first pitch.
Past loaded favorites include Humphrey’s ode to his small-town Iowa roots, the Hawg Dog. “Iowa is known for pork, so we loaded the hot dog with pulled pork, candied bacon, and spicy pork rinds,” he says. “We’ve come so very far from chili and cheese sauce.”
But in Omaha, land of the Runza and home of the Reuben, do hot dogs make it to first base outside the ballpark?
“Absolutely,” says Kelly Keegan, restaurant owner and president of the Omaha Food Truck Association. In 2012, the Omaha native put his money where his taste buds are and bought the Chicago Dawg House, located in Midtown Crossing. This mecca for Chicago foodies leads a list of favorite local dog joints.
TOP DOGS IN THE METRO
Chicago Dawg House
3157 Farnam St.
Owner Kelly Keegan gets his hot dogs from Chicago, so little wonder the Traditional Style Hot Dawg is the biggest seller in this Cubs-themed restaurant. The all-beef dawg comes on a steamed poppy seed bun with tomato, pickle spear, neon green relish, onions, yellow mustard, sport peppers, and celery salt. In Chicago, putting ketchup on a hot dog will get your tie clipped. But Keegan insists, “I’m not a purist.”
B&B Classic Dogs
1020 Lincoln Road (Bellevue)
The arcade draws the kids, the wine and beer attract Offutt Air Force Base personnel, and a Disney World of toppings (including peanut butter and bacon or marshmallow sauce) brings in the masses. Every year, B&B employees dream up a loaded dog recipe for each team in the CWS. May the best team, and dog, win.
B&G Tasty Foods
7900 W. Dodge Road
In the same location since 1953 and retaining its ’50s charm, B&G bills itself as the “Home of the Loose Meat Sandwich.” But the hot dogs, chili dogs, foot longs, and veggie dogs sell like hot cakes. Wash them down with the Shake of the Week.
1611 Farnam St.
Block 16 owner Paul Urban credits his wife, Jessica, for creating the blockbuster Crab Rangoon Dog. They wrap a wonton around an Imperial Wagyu frank, fry it, slather Crab Rangoon cheese mix on a toasted sourdough roll, and add sweet chili sauce, Sriracha, and scallion. “It blew up. Everybody loves it,” Urban says.
BEER ‘N’ BRATS
Barchen Beer Garden
6209 Maple St.
Bless the Germans for perfecting the confluence of salt and suds. At this authentic beer garden in Benson, diners can feast over a wooden board filled with eight different sausages, brats, and pretzel buns. Ask manager Andrew Miller for the correct pronunciation of Barchen.
Blatt Beer & Table
Three locations in Omaha:
North Downtown, 610 N. 12th St. (402.718.8822)
Shops of Legacy, 2835 S. 170th Plaza (402.697.7802)
Flagship Commons, 10000 California St. (402.932.9993)
The Omaha-based bar and restaurant started south of TD Ameritrade Park in 2012 and takes its name from now-demolished Rosenblatt Stadium, the longtime home of the CWS in South Omaha. The concept, with three locations in town, has even expanded to Dallas, Texas. The magazine Men’s Journal named Blatt’s Vegan Currywurst among its list of “10 Awesomely Innovative Hot Dogs.” The namesake-inspired Blattwurst features a jalapeño Polish sausage or beer-braised bratwurst.
Vis Major Brewing Co.
3501 Center St.
While co-owner Tom Clements brews in the back of this new craft beer destination in the Hanscom Park neighborhood, his wife, Lindsey, takes care of the front of the house, serving up Polish sausage and beer-braised brats. Try the Buffalo, Philly, or Vietnamese Banh Mi brats and then grab some Truffle Popcorn.
Fauxmaha Hot Dogs
Locations Vary (updated on Facebook)
Mick Ridgway’s vegan dog experiment has hit the jackpot. His hot dog cart has morphed into a truck and the 27-year-old bounces around town with his handmade, plant-based offerings. Toppings include pickled carrots, cilantro, and fresh mint. Locations posted on Facebook (@fauxmahahotdogs).
422 S. 11th St.
The Carrot Dog lives on at M’s Pub, the iconic Old Market restaurant recently risen from the ashes after a devastating fire. Marinated well over 24 hours, the carrot assumes the consistency—and grill marks—of a hot dog, but contains less guilt.
This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.