Few people know the ins and outs of the sprawling Pacific Coast League better than Salt Lake Bees broadcaster Steve Klauke, especially when it comes to knowing where to eat when visiting each of the Triple-A circuit's 16 cities.
Klauke, a Chicago native, moved to Salt Lake in 1991 to work on the Utah Jazz's pregame, halftime and postgame shows. In 1993, it was announced that the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers would be relocating to Salt Lake. Klauke, and the station he worked for, took an immediate interest.
"The last weekend of the 1993 season I came up with the idea, and management liked it, to go up to Portland and broadcast the last two games of the regular season," said Klauke, speaking in his Smith's Ballpark broadcast booth prior to a Bees game last month. "That way, the fans here could get a feel for the team and we could show the ownership that we were serious about wanting the broadcast rights. And it worked."
Klauke has been a Salt Lake baseball institution ever since. He is now in his 24th season with the Bees, who were originally known as the Buzz, calling over 3,400 games during that span. Since 2001, the team has served as the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"I've seen a lot, but the funny thing is that I've seen things this year that I hadn't seen in the previous 23 years," said Klauke. "We had a walk-off balk. We had a walk-off inside the park home run. We had a pitcher thrown out before the game even started because he wouldn't move his chair in the bullpen. We had a pitcher, Troy Scribner , who was in the set position with a runner on second and one out and a 50-60 mile an hour gust of wind blew him off the mound for a balk.
"People ask me, 'How can you keep doing it? What makes you so excited to come to the ballpark every day?' I say, 'Because I never know what I'm going to see.'"
He also never knows just what he's going to eat, as a curious spirit fuels Klauke outside of the ballpark as well. Over the last eight seasons he's visited 161 restaurants that have been featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and the vast majority of these establishments have been located in, or near, one of the Pacific Coast League's 16 locales. Klauke, channeling his inner Guy Fieri, has chronicled many of these culinary adventures on his "Triple-D in Triple-A" blog.
2017 Road Trip
"First of all, when I travel for whatever reason, I prefer to eat local than chain. Nothing against the chains, I just like the local cuisine. But then local can be iffy, too," said Klauke, a self-described "picky foodie." "I started watching [Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives] by accident, and loved it. I thought, 'You know, these would be some neat places to check out if they're in any of the cities I go to. So I went to the [Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives] website and found a couple, went to those and thought, 'This could be fun.'"
Klauke's "Triple-D in Triple-A" explorations started in earnest in 2010. He said one of his "rules" is to always order an item that was featured on the show. This rule has served him well, as outside of a bone-laden deep-fried carp served at Joe Tess's Place in Omaha, Klauke's "Triple-D" restaurant experiences are almost inevitably positive. When asked to name some of his favorites, he offered up a series of impromptu reviews that included the following:
Clockwise, from top left: Bananas Foster Cake at the Old Coffeepot; breakfast platter at Paul's Coffee Shop; ricotta cheese pancakes at Amato's; "sauceless" pizza at the Golden Bear
Amato's (Omaha, Nebraska): "Amato's is an Italian deli, where they make their own ricotta cheese…. They actually put it in their blueberry pancake batter. And it is so good that you don't need butter on it or anything."
The Southern Kitchen (Tacoma, Washington): "Good old-fashioned soul food, from fried chicken and fried catfish to chicken fried steak. And instead of toast with your breakfast, they give you -- it's almost like a pancake -- a corn cake. I took our manager [Keith Johnson] there to lunch on our last road trip."
Golden Bear (Sacramento, California): "They have a pizza that doesn't have any sauce. The idea of sauce is that they sauté onions and then they put sausage on and cook it. When it's done they put cole slaw on top of it. So it was a little bit different, but it was good."
Paul's Coffee Shop (Fountain Valley, California): "If you get the old military breakfast of cream chipped beef on toast, they serve it to you military-style on an old metal military tray. But anything else you order, you get a regular plate."
The Old Coffeepot (New Orleans, Louisiana): "They have great jambalaya, and when the jambalaya was over I called the waiter over and said, 'I've got some good news and some bad news.' He says, 'OK, give it to me straight, what's the bad news?' 'My doctor says I really shouldn't eat dessert anymore.' 'OK, what's the good news?' 'I don't see my doctor anywhere. Get me the bananas foster cake.'"
As long as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives keeps airing, Klauke will have new places to explore. (He's still waiting for the show to feature restaurants located in the Pacific Coast League markets of Fresno and El Paso.) Klauke has also had ample opportunity to venture beyond PCL markets, visiting "Triple-D" locations while vacationing with family, attending Spring Training games and calling Weber State basketball and football games during the baseball offseason. And like baseball itself, his culinary explorations continually offer the opportunity for new and unexpected experiences.
"That's one of the fun things about this," said Klauke. "I don't think I'll run out of places to visit anytime soon."