Mud Hens debut new foods, concourse face-liftWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fans entering the concourse at Fifth Third Field this season will notice some major changes as all eight concessions venues have new names, new signs and renovated facades.
The goal of the face-lift was to evoke the feel of a downtown streetscape, said Craig Nelson, president of A Cut Above Catering, the official catering group of Fifth Third Field.
“The whole concept originated with asking how can we upgrade all our dining stations and make it feel like you’re walking down this downtown street, trying to choose where to have dinner or where to get dessert,” Nelson said.
To achieve that effect, the large signs hanging in the middle of the concourse were replaced by smaller signs on the sides, Nelson said.
“The original signs are probably 12-14 feet wide and hung in the middle, so if you came out of the seating bowl and you wanted to look right or left that’s all you saw,” Nelson said. “Now you can look all the way down and you’ll see the different restaurant signage and you’ll be able to identify where you want to go.”
The new names for the concourse-level eateries are Farr Out Funnels, Mudzarella’s Little Italy, Suds & Wieners, Gilhooley’s Sports Bar & Grill, Hen & Hound Eatery & Pub, El Burrito Misterio, Fr?zhen and Pub 315.
“I’m really excited about it,” Nelson said. “Each one has its own brand, its own unique storefront. It’s really neat the way it turned out.”
Gilhooley’s was named after late broadcaster Frank Gilhooley. Farr Out Funnels references Toledo native Jamie Farr, who often wore Mud Hens and Toledo apparel while appearing on “M*A*S*H.”
“He’s done as much as anyone to put the team on the map,” said Rod Frysinger, president of Lesniewicz Associates in Perrysburg, which designed the new look. “They ran it past him and he was happy as could be to lend his name to it.”
Hen & Hound, whose new look debuted last April, was the first venue to be updated.
Renaming and rebranding all of the concourse eateries was planned, but originally Hen & Hound was going to be the only venue to get a new facade, Frysinger said.
“They really saw an increase in sales there and said, ‘Wow, maybe we should do this for all of them,’” he said. “They realized, yes, the names and new logos helped, but adding that extra effort of the facades takes it to the next level.”
The BirdCage Bar & Grill, located on the club level, also opened last season with the renovation of the media broadcast area. The venue, which offers table service, features a newly remodeled bar, three new 60-inch television monitors and a view of the media broadcast area where fans can watch the pregame show live. Reservations are available.
“A lot of this renovation we’ve been doing over the course of a couple seasons, but we’re just now coming to conclusion on a lot of it,” Nelson said. “And there are still going to be more things added. We’re always trying to refresh things and keep moving new things in even throughout the year.”
Several other local companies also played roles in the upgrade. Rudolph|Libbe managed the project, Lakeside did the restaurant construction and Harmon Signs provided the sign work, according to a news release from the Mud Hens.
Every season the Mud Hens try to introduce 10-15 new food items to keep options fresh, said
Casual Dining Manager Corey Pleasant, who oversees the concourse-level restaurants.
“We’re always looking at adding new items. We try to get a lot of feedback from our fans over the season to get their ideas,” said Pleasant, who said his favorite part of the job is interacting with guests and “putting a smile on people’s faces by way of food.”
This season’s new offerings will include the Sudzie Wiener, a beer brat topped with sautéed onions in a fresh sausage roll, and Sweet Chili Chicken Chunks.
“We used to have chicken chunks a few years ago,” Nelson said. “People asked for them over the last few years so we brought them back.”
Corn dogs are a ballpark staple, but mini corn dogs, known as Mini Hounds, will be added this year.
“They’ll be more like an appetizer, easy for people to eat and share,” Nelson said. “That’s what we’re all about when you come to the game. We want people to be able to share food with each other, try different tastes and have fun.”
A Cajun burger — a one-third pound grilled Black Angus beef burger topped with housemade Cajun seasoning, bacon, pepper jack cheese and signature chipotle ranch on a fresh kaiser bun — is another new addition along with Cajun fries.
A chicken quesadilla was also added and chefs are experimenting with a steak quesadilla that could come later this season, Nelson said.
For dessert, new offerings will include deep fried chocolate chip cookie Dough tossed in powered sugar and the Fr?zhen Flurry, featuring M&M’s or Oreo cookie pieces blended with Toft’s vanilla ice cream.
Toft’s will debut two new ice cream flavors: Mud Hens Sea Salt Slam, featuring salty caramel variegate swirled in vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered peanuts, and Peanut Butter Pretzel, featuring chocolate variegate swirled in peanut butter ice cream with chocolate-covered pretzel bits.
New funnel cake flavors include Farr Out Funnel Cake (topped with vanilla ice cream, fudge, whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts and a cherry on top), Apple Pie Funnel Cake (topped with cinnamon apples and whipped cream), Cookies & Cream Funnel Cake (topped with Oreo cookie pieces layered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce) and the Strawberry Shortcake Funnel Cake (topped with strawberries and whipped cream).
For fans looking for ballpark fare on the healthier side, there’s
a new caprese salad, featuring fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil tossed in signature balsamic dressing, or a turkey
club wrap featuring fresh sliced turkey, crispy strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo rolled in a tortilla and served with sticks of celery.
New options at The BirdCage include green beans with wasabi ranch, a Reuben panini, summer salad, homemade chips and dip, fried portabella mushrooms with wasabi ranch sliders and turkey, bacon and Swiss panini.
All the most popular dishes will remain on the menu, Nelson said.
Suds & Weiners, for example, which resembles a 1950s diner, was named after beer and hotdogs, two of the most popular baseball concessions items, Nelson said.
An average of 200,000 hot dogs is sold at Fifth Third Field each year, he said.
Inspiration for new food items comes from anywhere, including fan comments and employee experiences, said Executive Chef Dusten Brown, who is starting his first season with the Mud Hens.
The Grand Rapids, Ohio, native has worked mainly in the hotel industry, including the Bellagio in Las Vegas and Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons. He oversees the club- and suite-level kitchens as well as the picnics.
“My dad and everybody’s always been big into baseball and I grew up watching and going to games, so it’s kind of fun actually being able to work at the stadium and being a part of it,” Brown said. “I’m excited about getting into the season and seeing if everybody likes the new food.”
“We’re extremely excited about Opening Day and our fans seeing the new [look of the] ballpark,” Pleasant said. “We’re excited about the new baseball season and can’t wait until April 11.”
Check out a gallery of photos of the new food dishes and other Mud Hens photos here.