Like a baseball drilled into the stands, look out for a John Schumacher epiphany. He’ll have baseball fans clamoring for his latest vision faster than they can say “beer milkshake.” At least that’s the idea.
If you go
What: Charleston RiverDogs home opener against the Augusta GreenJackets.When: 7:05 p.m. ThursdayWhere: Riley Park, 360 Fishburne St.Tickets: Prices start at $9.More info: Visit www.riverdogs.com for advance purchase and more options.
Bizarre as they sound, beer milkshakes are very real and quite drinkable, providing one has an open food mind. Three flavors (chocolate, vanilla-caramel and strawberry) will be trotted out for the first time Thursday night when the Charleston RiverDogs open their 2013 home stand at Riley Park.
Those and a new beef patty with a hint of Elvis: The Peanut Butter & Pepper Jelly Jalapeno Bacon Burger. Somehow its flavors work, too, with the heat of the jalapeno and smokiness of the bacon tempering the sweetness of the PB&J. The taste is a tad reminiscent of an Asian satay.
Just to keep things interesting, and with a nod to healthier palates, Schumacher and company are planning a local Veggie Taco. With a base of black beans and corn, other additions could change weekly, depending on what is being picked at the nearby Medical University of South Carolina Urban Farm. The RiverDogs and MUSC are unlikely allies in the new food venture that Schumacher says “allows people to have a choice.”
Tinkering with the menu is nothing new for Schumacher, the mad scientist of baseball concessions.
He is the food and beverage director for the Goldklang Group, which includes the RiverDogs and three other teams. He also is the guru who dreamed up the Pig-on-a-Stick, a footlong bacon-wrapped corndog. And the Pickle Dog: two pickle halves hollowed with a melon baller like a dugout canoe, serving as the “bun” for a hot dog and coleslaw.
State fairs and other sporting events in the offseason are among the sources of inspiration for Schumacher. (He admits he probably hasn’t seen an actual game in 20 years because he’s too busy taking food photos wherever he goes.)
In the case of the beer milkshakes, he read somewhere about the Red Robin burger chain introducing a Samuel Adams shake last fall. “I immediately printed the article out,” says Schumacher, who keeps an encyclopedia-thick folder of ideas. “Right away I knew we were going to do this.”
This is no pedestrian Budweiser — they chose robust and complex brews for a reason. A local Palmetto Espresso Porter was paired with the chocolate shake, Guinness for the vanilla-caramel and Sweetwater 420 for the strawberry.
“It’s more of a dessert,” Schumacher says. “We don’t actually use a full beer. Our trick was trying to figure out the proportion.”
Schumacher says he and his staff, including RiverDogs food and beverage director Josh Shea, “were all over the place with the first recipes.”
In the end, they settled on a formula of 7 ounces of beer, 7 ounces of Breyers ice cream and 1 tablespoon of malted milk powder, which acts as a binder and flavoring agent.
“It has the flavor of the beer without the carbonation; you don’t have that strong alcohol flavor,” Schumacher says. “It’s kinda fun. It almost extracts the true flavor of the beer. It almost isolates the flavor of the beer ... the grains.”
The burger, meanwhile, was rooted in the desire to do something with Americas’s iconic PB&J sandwich. They turned to Sysco Food Service in Columbia and asked the chef to come up with some burger ideas.
And ideas they got: a PB&J-and-banana burger and a PB&J burger with blue cheese. But none hit the mark. “All the flavors were fighting with each other,” says Schumacher.
With the sweetness of the peanut butter and jelly, they decided some sort of “kick” was needed for balance.
Then, “We remembered the jalapeno bacon,” Schumacher says.
Made by Hormel, it is sold only to food service operators, not at retail. Besides, he says, “bacon is still at the top of the list in food trends.”
It turned out to be the perfect matchup, Schumacher says, providing a little bit of spice but not over-the-top heat. “It kind of has that umami flavor,” he muses.
New to the menu
Shea, 30, came to the RiverDogs in February after a stint working at Tidewater Catering. The Culinary Institute of Charleston graduate jumped right in the vetting process and test kitchen tryouts with Schumacher.
“I love inventing new food ideas,” Shea says, so he and Schumacher “are like two peas in a pod.”
It was Shea’s fondness for Sweetwater 420 that pushed them to keep looking for a way to make the hoppy brew work in a shake. “We finally found the right recipe,” he says.
But there’s more in the new RiverDogs food lineup. The former Nacho House has been converted to a taco house dubbed “Waco Taco.” (Don’t fret, nacho aficionados, the Kitchen Sink version still is available).
Leading the new taco parade is the relatively tame Charlie T(aco) Dog, which includes a soft and hard taco with a hot dog, mustard barbecue sauce and coleslaw.
But the bar is being raised on the taco stand as well. People will see two pots planted with herbs next to the condiment window — so feel free to pinch off some leaves and sprinkle over your taco, “like a self-serve herbal pot,” says Schumacher. “It’s like the perfect build your own.”
No matter, hot dogs rule at The Joe. The park goes through 100,000 a year, Schumacher reports. Your basic, no-frills dog is still the king with the fans, who spend on average $7.50 for food when they come to a game.
As for signature dogs, the most popular among them is the RiverDog, introduced in 2004. It’s dressed with a mustard-based barbecue sauce, slaw and the crowning Southern touch, a pickled okra.
Do they worry whether the new menu will be well-received?
“You always get a little nervous. You want to see a great reaction to your food,” Shea says.
But in Charleston, he thinks the big food culture has made his job a little easier.
“It seems to me that people (here) love trying the out-of-the-ordinary.”
The Palmetto Espresso Porter chocolate milkshake served at the RiverDogs.×
The Sweetwater 420 strawberry milkshake served at the RiverDogs games.×
The double taco dog, called the Charlie T(aco) Dog, has mustard barbecue sauce and coleslaw.×
Beer goes directly from the bottle into the blender for the milkshakes.×
The makings of a vanilla-caramel Guinness milkshake served at the RiverDogs.×
The RiverDogs PB&J and bacon burger.×