BALTIMORE - Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby had this piece of advice for Adam Jones: “Don’t lose or you’ll hear it from the clubhouse.” After that pronouncement, the 2016 edition of the CareFirst Fan Challenge, hosted by MASN, got underway.
As in previous years, Jones asked fans to share their own dishes on Instagram or Twitter and picked the winner to go against him in the head-to-head matchup at Dempsey’s Brew Pub & Restaurant on Wednesday afternoon. Jones selected Kevin and Elizabeth Irish, the owners of the Federal Hill restaurant The Local Fry, as his challengers.
Why ballpark food? Jones said simply, “It’s one of my favorite things.” Of the many dishes submitted, he liked the fancy french fries from The Local Fry the best. The menu of The Local Fry, located at 21 E. Cross St., includes a wide variety of specialty toppings for their fresh-cut fries, including the winning submissions, the Buffalo chicken fries and the Bulgogi fries.
The Irish husband-and-wife team had the idea for The Local Fry as a specialty fry shop because they wanted to do something with fries that’s “better than ketchup,” and so they came up with a menu full of french fry-centric entrees.
Past years of the fan challenge have seen a barbecue challenge, where Jones, assisted by Jumbotron BBQ star Kirby, was victorious, and even in the inaugural event, a cake decorating competition, which did not go so well for Jones.
Ever the jokester, Jones cracked wise for the assembled media while he was preparing his chosen dish of carne asada fries. Asked by MASN’s Jim Hunter if Jones would miss Kirby’s assistance from previous years, he deadpanned, “I’ve been a winner for most of my life.”
Jones used his experience with local taco shops from San Diego, which he said was the “ain’t nothing fancy” food he grew up on, as the influence in creating his dish. The finished product, which he cracked was really just “a mountain of a lot of calories,” piled the carne asada meat, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and hot sauce on top of the fries just so.
The Irish duo served one of their menu items, the Bulgogi fries, which comes with sauteed carrots and onions, crema, scallions, and toasted sesame seeds.
Waiting to critique the dishes and pick a winner was a panel of three judges. Chef Bryce Taylor, a 13-year-old from Baltimore who has competed on Food Network’s Chopped Junior, had high standards, wanting to see something that showcased not only taste but also presentation and creativity.
Chef Chad Gauss of the Hampden restaurant The Food Market agreed, and also emphasized the importance of the texture so as not to take away from the crispness of the fries.
Last but certainly not least was the third judge, “Chef” Zach Britton, the Orioles two-time All-Star closer. Asked what he would be looking for as he judged the dishes, Britton replied, “Whatever tastes good.”
The regular chefs on the panel took a liking to Jones’ dish immediately. Gauss was drawn to the taste right away, noting that, if it wasn’t for the difference in presentation between the two dishes, he might not have been able to tell which was made by chefs and which was made by Jones.
What Gauss liked in particular was the way it was all “rightfully wrong” which he elaborated upon to say that the meat, which some might have said was overcooked, actually brought out a “jerk-like flavor” that was good.
Taylor compared Jones’ carne asada fries to being like a taco with fries instead of a tortilla - a positive, in his view.
Britton, who joked that he “took it into account” when reminded that he has to spend hours each day in the clubhouse with Jones, was also a fan of what Jones presented in the fry-off. “Everything he had was stuff I like to eat,” Britton said. It’s really that easy.
No surprise that as the decisions rolled in, it turned out to be a unanimous victory for Jones and the San Diego taco shop-inspired carne asada fries, the first, said Hunter, in the history of the fan challenge.
Although Jones was a fan of his carne asada fries, he was not about to eat a bunch of them with a game still to come on Wednesday night. Something as heavy as that would not be the right thing to eat to leave him in shape to play a game, he said. As a post-game snack, though, they would be just right. The rest of the clubhouse probably should not expect Jones to make them tonight, however.