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The Taco Stand: Love at first bite

I know my Polish sausage. I come from a town with more skis than Spirit Mountain, so I know a good kielbasa when I see one. So when Duluth Huskies baseball owner Michael Rosenzweig invited me to Wade Stadium to try the Huskies' new four-cheese Po...

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.comMicheal Rosenzweig reacts after tasting a Klements four-cheese Polish sausage for the first time recently at Wade Stadium.
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Micheal Rosenzweig reacts after tasting a Klements four-cheese Polish sausage for the first time recently at Wade Stadium.

I know my Polish sausage. I come from a town with more skis than Spirit Mountain, so I know a good kielbasa when I see one.

So when Duluth Huskies baseball owner Michael Rosenzweig invited me to Wade Stadium to try the Huskies' new four-cheese Polish sausage, the only question I had was when.

But as a matter of parliamentary procedure, knowing there might be company protocol to follow when eating free food, I thought about getting the OK from my boss first.

I could just picture it, him kicking back in his chair with a stern look and saying, "So let me get this straight: You want to leave the office so you can go out to the ballpark and wolf down free four-cheese Polish sausages? Well, who the hell doesn't!?!"

Instead, I opted just to do it.

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So last week I headed out to the ol' ballpark, finding Rosenzweig buried in the deep recesses of that West Duluth catacomb known as Wade Stadium.

"Are we still on?" I asked.

"Wait for the photographer," he said.

Photographers are always late.

The last week of May is always hectic as the Huskies make final preparations for the upcoming Northwoods League season. Interns and summer workers milled about as the first players arrived. High school teams played out on the field. With a fog rolling in and 50-degree conditions, you'd think this was the Huskies' home opener.

Rosenzweig took me to the Wade Stadium kitchen and showed off the ballpark's new $5,000 beer cooler, replacing the old battlewagon believed to have been at the stadium since its earliest days (legend has it that the stadium was built around it). I heard a shout. It was our photographer, Clint Austin, arriving on the scene (I could have had two dogs done by then).

Rosenzweig took out a frozen packet of Klement's four-cheese smoked sausage. He hadn't tried them yet, either, holding off so we could all experience the joy of the first time together.

The Huskies prepare more than 10,000 hot dogs in a season, and they've got brats, but Rosenzweig didn't remember the last time Wade Stadium had Polish sausage. Long overdue. Polish sausage is a hot dog on steroids. End of comparison.

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The new Polish will cost $4.25, same as the brat. They've also added a footlong chili cheese dog for $6.50, while dropping the baked potatoes.

Rosenzweig would serve as grillmaster on this day. He got his love of cooking from his mother, Susie, and as he described in detail the art of making quality brisket, he began cooking four sausages.

Rosenzweig knows the value of fresh ingredients, even if it costs a little more; some of the fare at Wade Stadium comes from nearby Whole Foods Co-op.

"People say, 'You ran out, you ran out,' " Rosenzweig said. "Well, then you know it's fresh. Anything we do is weekly or daily."

That smokey sausage smell began filling up my senses, like a night in a barbecue. Rosenzweig slow-cooked four sausages, using a little water on them. He tested one sausage with a knife to make sure it was done, but the others were intact, with no splitting of the skin to allow all that wonderful juice and cheese to escape. I let Rosenzweig have the first bite. He is, after all, the owner.

"Very good," he said. "You're going to like this. Isn't that good?"

It was good. Rosenzweig let them cool off just enough to not burn the roof of your mouth.

"That's what you have to practice, so you don't have to go to emergency room," Rosenzweig joked.

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It was one of the juicier Polish dogs I've had, the cheese serving as the perfect complement.

"Does anyone like a Polish without cheese?" I asked. "I'd say there is something wrong with them, but that's just me. Maybe if you were lactose intolerant."

Austin, who had been shooting away, finally put his camera down.

"OK, I've got to get in here now," he said, grabbing a Polish and taking his first bite. "Wow, that is good. You did this perfect, Mike."

We each had one smoked sausage, with Austin and I splitting the fourth one.

Austin liked his Polish with raw onions. Personally, when smoked sausage is good like that, I don't really want anything on it ... don't cover it, discover it. But for the purposes of this story I tried Silver Spring's Beer 'n Brat Horseradish Mustard available at Wade Stadium. It's an excellent mustard and certainly not too hot (and I put a lot on).

Just then, Bent Paddle happened to bring over a growler of the Huskies' new beer, Wade Wit, for sampling ... score! (I promise, I didn't plan it this way, but should have).

For those who like Leinie's Summer Shandy, this is your beer, and to think it's Bent Paddle's first crack at a wit beer is impressive. It's definitely a triple if not a home run. I'll have to try more samples to decide.

I can see it now ...

A nice day at Wade Stadium (OK, I know ... just play along), a baseball game, a cheering crowd, kicking back, under the sun, with a four-cheese Polish in one hand and an ice cold Wade Wit in the other. Heaven can wait.

My hands smelled like smoked Polish sausage afterward, and still do, as I haven't washed them for a week, savoring the smell. It helps me avoid writer's block as whenever I stumble, I pause, smell them, and find inspiration, to keep typing, and keep eating.

My only regret, as I told Rosenzweig, was that he only cooked four of them.

I'm no Kobayashi, the renowned Japanese hot dog destroyer, but I think I could have had six. It's a good thing Wade Stadium isn't required to list calories.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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