A spike in cases of the munchies seems to be hitting all over the state this week for some reason, and the Albuquerque Isotopes may have just what you’re looking for.
As the city’s professional baseball team readies for its first home stand of the season next week, the popular Triple-A franchise unveiled on Wednesday a few new food items fans will be able to sink their teeth into.
Sure, fans can still get their fix of traditional Isotopes Park favorites like barbecue nachos in a helmet, Dion’s pizza, cold beer, hot dogs and funnel cake. But how about a 2-pound “I-Chee-Wa-Wa” pulled pork and green chile sandwich or swapping out that traditional sausage link with alligator meat, elk or even a special rattlesnake/rabbit sausage?
The annual unveiling of new ballpark dishes across the country sometimes trends toward off-the-wall, attention grabbing items that turn into a big swing and a miss with fans. But the Isotopes offered up three items Wednesday they are confident will have lasting power and be a hit with fans.
“The culinary experience coming to a ball game is one of the most important things and one of the most special things about coming to a baseball game, probably more so than any other sport, right?” said Isotopes Vice President and General Manager John Traub. “You’re sitting in the ballpark for X number of hours, eating and just consuming the atmosphere. It’s just part of, it’s just part of the experience.
“Our food and beverage experience here, our concessions experience here, as far as I’m concerned has been unequaled in any venue throughout the entire country.”
The rookie offerings
Tasked with continuing that standard, Albuquerque native Jim Griego is the new executive chef at Isotopes Park, working for concessions partner Spectra Food Services.
The three new items Griego introduced for the coming season include (price points have not yet been set for any of the new dishes):
• I-Chee-Wa-Wa BBQ Sandwich
Ingredients: 1 pound spicy pulled pork, 1/2 pound diced Hatch green chile, creamy jalapeño nacho cheese, topped with a crispy chile relleno all housed in a soft bun.
Says the chef: “I’d love to see the person that can pick this baby up and eat it. … It’s a signature dish of mine. I have been thinking about this for many, many years to come out here and do that. It’s probably the best pulled pork sandwich you’ll ever eat.”
The sandwich is available at the Pecos River Cafe and Santa Fe Trail concession behind sections 114-116.
• Green Chile Philly
Ingredients: A New Mexico take on a Philly cheesesteak with beef, grilled peppers and onions, and diced Hatch green chile, all smothered in a creamy white queso in a soft hoagie roll.
Says the chef: “That Hatch green chile gives us that New Mexico flavor. We’re all out for that.”
This sandwich can be purchased in the food cart near section 102.
• Wild West Sausage
Ingredients: In a twist on the classic Chicago dog, the Isotopes are trying out four specialty sausage offerings including alligator, elk, duck and a rabbit and rattlesnake sausage, all in a poppy seed bun with the classic condiments like mustard, diced onions, bright pickle relish, a tomato slice, a dill pickle spear, peppers and celery salt.
Says the chef: “I was born and raised in New Mexico. There’s a ton of hunters here. Everybody loves hunting, everybody loves bringing home their prey and whatever they killed. So I decided to come up with a wild west sausage cart.”
These sausage items can be found at the food cart near section 107.
Chile and the new guy
Griego was nominated in 2019 for NM Restaurant Association Chef of the Year and has served as executive chef at Presbyterian Hospital, been a recipe developer for Social Apron and worked as culinary manager at Bonefish and PF Chang’s.
Bringing his New Mexico roots into this job was important to Griego, who grew up scarfing down hot dogs at Dukes games.
So did the fact that the Isotopes are the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies lead to any silly suggestions about using Colorado green chile in his new dishes?
“No,” Griego said quickly. “… Nobody talked me into trying to use green chile from Colorado, and I don’t know if I actually would. I’d have a hard time calling myself a New Mexican.”
As for his three new dishes – two with green chile playing leading roles in the recipe – Griego had this thought:
“I think green chile,” Griego explained of his I-Chee-Wa-Wa pulled pork sandwich and the Green Chile Philly unveiled Wednesday, “a lot of people don’t understand how close the palate flavor of green chile to spicy barbecue is. And then you need to kind of have a cleanser. And that’s kind of what that creamy cheese is for.”
The new ballpark dishes at Isotopes Park and across the country are sometimes just for headlines, but sometimes they become local favorites. Sometimes the chef hits ’em out of the park; sometimes it’s a big swing and a miss.
As for Griego, picking a favorite of the new dishes was easy.
“Come on. I-Chee-Wa-Wa. How many times have we said that in our lifetime living in New Mexico?” Griego said. “Nothing’s better than a pound of pulled pork … topped with green chile and nacho cheese. That would be my favorite.
“But the most interesting one would be the rabbit and rattlesnake (sausage). We’ve all seen ’em. We all walk around here. And so now you get to eat one.”