Getcher red hots ... with truffle aioli and fennel kraut?
Jay Denham: Photo by Nicole Pullen Park Place chef Jay Denham is taking over for Anoosh Shariat, and he has implemented a new “ball park menu” that may be a preview of changes to come.We went to the Bats game the other night and enjoyed the best ballpark repast I’ve ever had: A succulent hot dog, a classy fish taco and an order of sizzling fries with a little special something.This may seem high praise, considering my frequent rants about the mostly lackluster, overpriced fare served up at Slugger Field. But that may be because this ballpark dinner didn’t come from the ballpark’s concession stands. We dined before the game at Park Place on Main, which with its sibling Browning’s occupies the renovated 19th century industrial building that houses the city’s lovable Slugger Field.Browning’s, with its brewpub ambience, affordable menu and casual style, has always been a good place to grab a beer and a burger (or even something a little more fancy) before or after the game, although it boggles credulity that its excellent beers aren’t sold inside the stadium. Park Place, on the other hand, is upscale and elegant, a place that I associate more with an indulgent dinner that extends over a leisurely evening than a quick pre-game bite. Until now, that is. Park Place recently rolled out a fun, appetizing and very tongue-in-cheek “ball park menu,” timed for pre-game enjoyment (whether the Bats are playing at home or not) from 5-7 p.m. through season’s end around Labor Day. This move likely signals more changes to come as Chef Anoosh Shariat backs out of Park Place to take on independent consultancy and Chef de Cuisine Jay Denham (formerly at the Marriott’s Blu and, in the past, an Oakroom sous chef) moves in to replace him. In the coming months, look for cosmetic changes in Park Place’s clubby, steakhouse decor and a more affordable, perhaps more regional-American menu.It’s fair to guess that the ballpark menu offers a preview, albeit with a dash of “Casey at the Bat.” A short list of nine appetizer-size treats plus a couple of desserts, it ranges in price from $7 (for the desserts) to $15 for a corn dog with ketchup. That’s a lobster corn dog, served with apricot ketchup. Other goodies include nachos ($9), with goat cheese queso, tomato and avocado replacing the traditional fluorescent-yellow “cheez”; Sloppy Joes ($12) made with bison short ribs in lieu of the standard cheap burger beef; and popcorn — popcorn calamari, that is, with a tasteful roasted garlic aioli for dipping.Although Park Place’s atmosphere is just upscale enough to suggest dressy attire, a quick telephone check in advance brought assurances that ballpark dress isn’t out of line for the early dinner, and I didn’t feel at all shunned in my shorts, golf shirt and Crocs.Beer goes with ballpark food, of course, and I was delighted to find that Browning’s beers are now available in Park Place. A pint of Browning’s Pilsner, crisp and golden and gently hoppy, was a fine choice with the dinner, a vast improvement over the insipid industrial beer served in the stadium, and at $5, only half-a-buck more for a pint than ballpark Bud Light.Ballpark dishes, as mentioned, come in appetizer sizes and are served on square white china plates.The fish taco ($14) is built like a real taqueria model, a lightly toasted corn tortilla gently bent into a U shape to cradle a combination of salmon and blue snapper bites, a couple of shrimp and two large bay scallops, garnished with aromatic fresh cilantro and served with a fresh, slightly piquant pico de gallo.The duck hot dog ($13) was a dark, juicy and deeply flavored duck sausage served on a grilled lobster-roll bun and topped with crisp, thin-sliced raw fennel “kraut” lightly pickled in a tart marinade. The combination of flavors and textures hit a home run on my palate. It was served with small crocks of stone-ground mustard and fruity apricot “ketchup.”Herb fries ($9) looked and tasted great, sizzling and crispy on the outside, mealy within, dusted with minced herbs and garnished with shredded fresh ginger that contributes an Asian flavor. Truffle aioli added haunting nuances that mere mayo can’t match.It’s much better than ballpark fare, and more expensive, too: A three-dish dinner for two, with a pint of beer, racked up $43.46 plus a $10 tip. That’s still a mighty light toll for Park Place.Competent waitstaff handled the pre-game pacing very well. We were able to get in and out, without feeling rushed, in a bit under an hour, getting us to our seats in plenty of time to catch the first pitch at 7:05 p.m.Park Place on MainSlugger Field401 E. Main St.515-0173Butterburger better?Some pals with roots in Wisconsin (let’s not call them “cheeseheads”) were all but agog with delight when the Culver’s Butterburger chain came to town early this year, and I have to confess that the very idea of a butterburger intrigued me, too. Butter ... burger ... fat cooked in fat! What’s not to like?It’s a pretty little fast-food place, too, a sizable cottage in blue and white, neat as a pin, with little square-paned windows that give it a sort of corporate faux-Colonial style. The signature Deluxe Butterburger was thin and irregularly handformed, not unlike the burgers my mother used to make when we were young. It had a good beefy flavor but was too thin to make rare or juicy, and if there was any butter in it, I sure couldn’t tell by tasting it. The “deluxe” model came with a thin layer of bland yellow cheese, iceberg lettuce and pale tomato and pickle chips, perched on a large, boring white bun that dwarfed the burger.A side of “cheese curds,” a Wisconsin specialty, proved to be balls of bland cheese, breaded and greasily fried. Frozen custard was the hit of the meal, properly creamy and smooth, although the chocolate flavor was very mild, more like cocoa than dark chocolate. Hmm ... Butterburger, breaded-and-fried cheese and rich custard ... I don’t think I should get my cholesterol checked today. My wife’s choice, the Wisconsin Swiss Melt, was an even thinner burger topped with a paper-thin slice of bland white cheese and a ration of limp, greasy fried onions, grilled on rye until the rye was crunchy (and greasy, too). It came with limp and uninteresting fries.With two soft drinks, all this came to $19.06, a bit spendy for a fast-food burger. I’d certainly choose it over Mickey D’s or Burger King, but it’s not worth a return trip to its suburban locale for me. Next time I want a burger, I’ll get the real thing at Granville Inn or maybe W.W. Cousin’s.Culver’s of Louisville4630 Hurstbourne Pkwy.671-2001(There’s also a Culver’s in Corydon, Ind., at 240 Federal Drive, 812-738-6464.) NibblesMelting Pot fundraiser benefits autism programThe second annual Four STAR Autism Dinner will be Monday, Aug. 20, at The Melting Pot, 2045 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. Proceeds will benefit the Systematic Treatment of Autism and Related Disorders, a program for children with autism and their families. STAR is a program of the Weisskopf Child Evaluation Center, a division of the University of Louisville School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. Tickets are $65 per person, which includes gratuity. For more information or for reservations, which are required, call 491-3125. Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org