In da Clubhouse

By Joe Torok

Restaurant takes ballpark cuisine beyond hot dogs

Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the — uh, upscale dining crowd? That’s the plan for The Clubhouse, an instadium bar and restaurant opened last summer at Oldsmobile Park, said Nick Grueser, assistant general manager of the Lansing Lugnuts. "It’s still got the ballpark, down-home feel, but then it’s got the elegance of a nice, high-end restaurant,” Grueser said.

Suite holders have full access to The Clubhouse, but, on a limited basis, the general public is welcome, too, so the blue-collar feel should never evaporate completely. "You might have a CEO sitting next to a 19-year old fan, so it’s a good mix of people," Gruesser said.

Prime rib sliced fresh off the bone at a carving station (available as part of a buffet), salmon with tortellini, obscenely rich chocolate cake and much more awaits the baseball fan with a palate more accustomed to hors d’oeuvres and vodka martinis than Ball Park Franks and Miller Lite. Menu items range from $6-$25.

Brett Telder, director of food and beverages for the Lugnuts, came to the franchise late last year and has built a new food service team, one he said focuses on great food and great service. "We’re doing fresh seasonal items and we’re also trying to use local farmers," he said.

Desserts especially will feature seasonal fruits, Telder said, from strawberry shortcake to blueberry cobbler. And fresh cucumber-feta or strawberry salads might go down a little easier for some while watching a ballgame than the typical batch of chili-cheese fries.

A highlight for chocolate fans will surely be the extravagant chocolate cake designed by Telder. "It’s just so maddening, any chocolate lover will go out of their mind," he said. "It’s decadent, dark chocolate (that) meets white chocolate tuxedo with a silk ganache on top. Without a tall glass of milk, you’re probably not going to get through it."

Telder is also molding a new generation of kitchen experts, including executive chef Jenny Smart, who will manage the kitchen from dawn till dusk on game days. "She’s the most talented chef I’ve seen in years," Telder said of the 24-yead old Smart. "I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d want to run the kitchen."

In addition to the reinvigorated kitchen for suite dwellers, the ballpark is also offering a “food stimulus plan.” Based on today’s economic uncertainties, the club hopes a proactive pricing approach will keep concessions flowing. The wildly popular Thirsty Thursday, when all sodas and beers are $2, returns, but other days have sprouted for the value-minded.

The Lugnuts hope cheap hot dogs will turn Oldsmobile Park into a destination on Tuesdays, when wieners will sell for $1 apiece. On Sundays, kids 12 and younger will receive a voucher for one free hot dog and soda. And every day, concessionaires will offer value meals — for example, along with a hot dog, fans can add chips and a soda for a reduced price.

Keeping fans happy and coming back is what it’s all about in the short summer window of baseball season. "When the doors are open, and you hear the sounds of the ballgame and you see everyone having a good time, I just get electrified," Telder said.

Clubhouse tickets are $17.50 (does not include meals or drinks) and can be purchased one week before the game by single ticket buyers. Season ticket holders can upgrade to the Clubhouse any time throughout the season. (517) 485- 4500, ext. 276.