Say what you will about baseball’s new age of analytics, but the Great American Pastime is still a game steeped in nostalgia, and that extends to the fans in the stands. They’ve been eating hot dogs since European immigrants started peddling these easily held meals-in-a-bun at East Coast stadiums in the 1890s. Baseball’s stars have been fans, too. The Great Bambino routinely downed four hot dogs as a between-innings snack in the 1920s and ’30s on his way to that 714-homer mark, giving rise to the saying, “Babe Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer.”
Here in the Bay Area, many of today’s top sausage makers set up shop long before the San Francisco Giants arrived in 1958 and the Oakland A’s in 1968 — and descendants of those first butchers are carrying on the tradition. It’s a rich history that includes an Italian sausage maker whose recipe dates to 1908, Bavarian sausage makers who have been in San Francisco since 1926 and an East Bay frank favorite with Armenian roots that got its start in the 1930s.
So if you’re watching the game at home, you can pay tribute to the culinary roots of the game while rooting for your team. Here’s a guide to some of the classics:
Caspers Famous Hot Dogs
San Leandro’s SPAR Sausage Co. is better known as the place that makes Caspers Famous Hot Dogs for East Bay restaurants and legions of home customers. These old-school, hickory-smoked dogs deliver that distinctive snap when you take your first bite. The signature recipe comes from two Armenian immigrant families who opened their first eatery in 1934. In 1989, they established the SPAR facility (named for the founders’ first initials: Stephen, Paul, Ardam and Rose) to keep the sausage-making all in the family.
Where to buy: Besides grocery and specialty markets (Safeway, Lucky, Raley’s, Nob Hill, SaveMart, Diablo Foods), customers also may purchase the Caspers dogs, Polish sausages, hot links and chicken and all-beef franks at 688 Williams St. in San Leandro, but phone ahead for hours, 510-614-8100. www.sparsausage.com
Chiaramonte’s Deli & Sausages
Talk about a time-tested recipe. Chiaramonte’s in San Jose has been making Italian sausages since way back when “Tinker to Evers to Chance” was the game’s fierce double-play threat. Butcher Salvatore Chiaramonte brought the recipe with him from Sicily and opened the shop in 1908. Over the years the original recipe — made in small batches from pork butt, with no additives — has spawned Hot and Garlic versions, and now, owner Lou Chiaramonte Sr. says, an Extra Hot version with jalapeños. He serves them in the shop with peppers, onions and sauce, but he enjoys a mustard-laced ballpark sausage, too.
Where to buy: Only at the original shop where the sausages are made, 609 N. 13th St. in San Jose, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 408-295-0943; http://orderchiaramontesdeliandsausages.com
Evergood Sausage Co.
From Germany’s Bavarian region came Jacob Rauscher and family, who started making Old-World sausages in a San Francisco smokehouse in 1926. They were later joined by the Harlan Miller and George Ehrlich families. Today, their sports-centric descendants — president Don Miller coached baseball at Campolindo High in Moraga for years — fuel the fans of both the Giants and the A’s. At Oracle Park, Evergood supplies the popular Hot Link Sausage, the cult-favorite Pineapple Sausage and the Polish Kielbasa, which is served grilled and covered with peppers, onions and kraut.
Where to buy: Costco, Lunardi’s, Zanotto’s, Safeway, Nob Hill, Lucky, Raley’s, Nob Hill and other retailers. Find the full list at www.evergoodfoods.com.
New York Style Sausage Co.
The largest maker of fresh Italian sausage on the West Coast, this Sunnyvale company recently celebrated its 70th year in business. The founding year of 1951 was a good one for the Giants, then still in New York, what with Bobby Thomson hitting the Shot Heard Round the World and Willie Mays taking Rookie of the Year honors. Patriarch Frank D’Ambrosio’s recipe is today’s Mild Italian Sausage, and it’s joined by Sweet, Hot, Calabrese, Basil & Garlic, Vino & Formaggio, Garlic & Romano Cheese and Louisiana style sausages, plus a line of Beer Bratwurst that includes one made with Gordon Biersch’s locally brewed Märzen beer.
Where to buy: Andronico’s, Safeway, Costco, Raley’s, Target, Walmart, Winco, Grocery Outlet, FoodMaxx, Nugget and many more. Find the full list at www.newyorkstylesausage.com.
Silva Sausage Co.
Also keeping it all in the family: the Silva Sausage operation, founded in San Jose and now based in Gilroy. Manuel Martins immigrated to the States from Portugal, by way of Argentina, and started making classic Portuguese linguica in 1967. Italian sausage and Spanish-style chorizo were later added to the lineup. Today, with Fernando and Rick Martins at the helm, fans can find their sausages at San Jose Giants, San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks games. At home, you may want to think outside the box (batter’s or otherwise) and try one of Silva’s newer varieties like the Bourbon, Bacon & Black Pepper smoked sausage.
Where to buy: Whole Foods, Safeway, Costco, Food4Less, Walmart and others. Find the full list at www.silvasausage.com.
Move over, Cracker Jack. Now there’s Ballpark Brittle
As much as we love the seventh-inning song, we’ve moved beyond peanuts and Cracker Jack since trying the sweet-and-savory A Day at the Ballpark Brittle from Sweetdragon Baking Co. of San Jose. Creative candy-maker Hway-ling Hsu was exploring a peanut-and-pretzel combination, but pretzels made her think of beer. So that went in the batch. And then someone in the commissary kitchen suggested adding a touch of mustard. Home run!
Where to buy: Sweetdragon’s window is open for walk-up sales from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 898 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. Find a list of other retailers or have the treat shipped to you at https://sweetdragonbaking.com.