If there's one thing that I learned during my time with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, it's that peanut butter on a burger is a polarizing topic.
Peanut butter is the divisive half of the Richmond Flying Squirrels' PB&J Burger, one of many intriguing options at the team's home of The Diamond. We'll get to the PB&J Burger in a moment. But first, to set the scene, this is The Diamond.
This, too is The Diamond. The Diamond contains multitudes.
Inside The Diamond, on the night of May 6, I met a man named Joe Tutino. Joe was the evening's Designated Eater, recruited to consume the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Joe Tutino, wearing a Lowell jersey and Frisco cap at a game in Richmond.
As you may or may not know, I select my Designated Eaters on the strength of their email applications. Joe's email was strong in and of itself, but what sealed the deal is that I received an unsolicited reference letter from his friend Brian Quigley. Here's an excerpt:
Joe's appetite -- for both questionable food and obscure baseball knowledge -- is insatiable. He delights in finding a bit of leftover peppers and onions in his full, well-oiled beard hours after consuming a heavily loaded sausage. And more times than I care to count, I have seen him single-handedly polish off a whole pizza or side of ribs, only to follow it up with a sincere "Ooh, don't mind if I do" when brownies or cookies are offered up as dessert. A 2012 graduate of The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, Joe was a history major who knows as much about small town baseball as he does about the Civil War. If I need to know who the hitting coach of the Lowell Spinners in 2003, I don't turn to Google; I text Joe. It was Randy Phillips, by the way.
As Brian's email mentions, Joe is a graduate of Holy Cross. He grew up in the town of Taunton, Massachusetts, which was founded in 1637. Joe, an ardent student of both baseball and history, remarked that "Christy Mathewson played in the Minors there in 1905 or something." Upon a further Google review, I learned that Mathewson actually played there in 1899, his first professional season. Joe was close enough.
Joe currently lives in Washington, D.C., doing communications work for individuals on the Democrat side of the donkey-elephant divide. In addition to having a passion for politics, Joe is also an ardent student of baseball, history and, when applicable, the intersection thereof. A Civil War buff, Joe had visited the battle sites of Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill before making it to The Diamond for that evening's Flying Squirrels game.
A self-described "carpetbagging Yankee," Joe was totally psyched to be a Designated Eater because, as he put it, "I'm gigantic and can put a lot away."
We began with a truly unique Richmond Flying Squirrels specialty: Mac and Cheese Brisket Balls.
These fried balls are drizzled with moonshine barbecue sauce and placed atop a bed of Squirrely Fries. Here's what they look like on the inside.
Joe and I, accompanied by always-helpful Flying Squirrels broadcaster Trey Wilson, made our way to a scenic group area in right field overlooking the home bullpen. It was there that Joe had his Mac and Cheese Brisket Ball epiphany.
"I'm sold on this. Richmond has a lot of museums and historic sites but this might be my new number one," said Joe. "The marriage of barbecue sauce, mac and cheese and French fries, that's the holy trinity of ballpark food. The brisket was very tender, very juicy. I just wish there was a little more. The mac and cheese was super-creamy."
Up next for Joe was a "Bacon Me Crazy" hot dog, procured from the "Dog House" stand located on the concourse behind home plate. This dog is topped with bacon strips, bacon bits and bacon jam.
Joe called this the "Lehigh Valley IronPig of hot dogs," going on to observe that it was "sweet and salty with a quality hot dog underneath."
Finally, we moved on to the aforementioned PB&J Burger. Jelly and bacon is on the top side of the burger, while the bottom side is peanut butter.
The picture at the top of this post, featuring the peanut butter side, immediately drew a strong reaction on Twitter. Some respondents said the peanut butter tastes excellent and that you shouldn't knock it until you've tried it. Other considered it a crime against humanity and tagged the FBI.
Joe ranked this as his least favorite item of the night, but it's all relative.
"It's like a middle school lunch, like Mom got a little crazy and threw it all together," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if this is the Dippin' Dots of the 2010s. The food of the future. I wish the burger had a little more flavor, but the peanut butter and jelly really boosts it all."
And that was it for Joe, who performed at the high level that his friend Brian knew he was capable of. Joe is now a proud member of one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball. Joe is now a Designated Eater.
I remained in Richmond for June 7th's Flying Squirrels game as. Seeking another perspective on the PB&J Burger, I put out an impromptu Twitter call for another Designated Eater. The person who answered the call was Designated Eater Emeritus Jason Tritle, who previously held the position when I visited the Bowie Baysox last season. It was fate, as Jason and his family just happened to be at this particular Flying Squirrels game.
"I didn't want to like it, because it feels like a gimmick," concluded Jason. "But it's salty-sweet. It's got that umami flavor. Absolutely, I'd do it again."
Even More Bonus Coverage!
Later that evening, Flying Squirrels food and beverage manager Tom Pritzl approached me and said he's trying to raise the profile of The Diamond's Four Brothers Bistro concession stand. Four Brothers Bistro is a gyro, burger and sub restauraunt with four Richmond-area locations; this is their first season in which they're also selling their food at the ballpark.
I told Tom that I'd be happy to feature their food, but that I'd need him to be the one that eats it. Here's the result:
And with that, I am officially out of material. In closing, I'd simply like to point out that the Flying Squirrels' Nut Racers are not edible.