Fully loaded hot dog in one hand, sugar-dusted fried dough in the other, one of my guests leaned over to me between innings at a recent Portland Sea Dogs home game. He wore a look of bemusement. “So, what exactly is this?” he asked.

He might have been referring to the game of musical chairs happening just south of first base at Hadlock Field – where in the final round of the children’s competition for a seat on inflatable red gummy bears, a tutu-sporting little girl won by savagely body-checking her competition. The crowd went wild.

Or perhaps he meant the odd spectacle of a little boy attempting to win a case of bottled water by outpacing Slugger, the team’s mascot, as they rounded the bases to Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s innuendo-riddled “Love Missile F1-11.” Rather an unexpected song to play as a child runs from an adult in a furry dog costume.

“We’re a baseball team, but we’re in the entertainment business,” Chris Cameron, the Sea Dogs’ vice president of communications and fan experience, told me. “Whether it’s a dad teaching his kid how to keep score or racing the mascot around the bases, those are memories that will last a lifetime.”

As it turns out, my friend’s original question was about food. “Is this lunch?” he wanted to know. “A snack maybe?” It’s a good question. At two o’clock in the afternoon, it could be either. More importantly, can the ballpark food at Hadlock Field constitute a meal that’s an upgrade from fast food?

When I asked Cameron and Mike Scorza, director of food service, about how they think about stadium concessions, both replied that they consider them suitable for an afternoon snack or a quick dinner at an evening game – but definitely a category above fast food.

I think the answer is a bit more complicated.

Outside the stadium’s footprint, just behind the left-field grandstand, sits the Shipyard Grill, where nearly everything you’d consider to be a healthier option lives: from turkey burgers to salads, chicken Caesar wraps to veggie burgers. It feels sequestered from the rest of the stadium, but if a complete meal is your goal, you’ll want to make a stop here, perhaps augmenting your choices with one of the many greasy, sugary items from the indoor concessions.

With a meal in mind, I recently tasted 15 of the Portland Sea Dogs’ ballpark offerings, including two of Hadlock Field’s newest dishes. My hope is that when you head to a game – whether you’re there to see baseball or to be entertained by the bizarre and frequently hilarious between-innings promos – you’ll know what to order (and what to avoid). Consider me your pinch hitter for the season.

HOME RUNS

Shipyard Bluepaw Blueberry Wheat Pale Ale ($7). As part of the Sea Dogs’ partnership with Shipyard Brewing, several of the brewery’s products are on tap at their eponymous outdoor grill-stall. Among the best is this coppery, grain-and-malt-forward ale with a distinct, yet natural-tasting blueberry flavor. Tart enough to stand up to fattier foods (and you won’t have to go far to find those), this is a beer with enough body to drink on its own, as well.

Blended mushroom burger ($7). Adventurous an eater as I am, the inner-ground-beef purist in me still believes in the sanctity of the 80/20 blend. But Applegate’s Great Organic Blend Burger has me rethinking my entire belief system. The preformed patties combine organic, grass-fed beef and a superfine blitz of organic mushrooms. The result is an intensely umami-rich burger that stays juicy, even when it is overcooked on the grill (as mine was). As a bonus, the patties are about a third less caloric and only half as greasy as regular burgers. Save those calories for later – you’ll need them.

BASE HITS

Helmet full of fries with a hot dog at Hadlock Field. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Hot dog ($3.50). When a woman seated one bleacher down from me saw that her friend had brought a cardboard box containing four of Hadlock Field’s snappy, garlicky Kayem Fenway Franks, each snuggled into a sweet, white bun, she put her hands up in surrender. “Please stop buying those!” she cried, exasperated. “I eat them and don’t even notice I’m doing it.” I empathized. Mine disappeared in three mustardy bites. So much for pacing myself.

French fries ($3.50). Nearly as addictive as the ballpark hot dog, these crinkle-cut fries might be distributor-sourced (and basically fast food), but they get one tricky thing right: the salt. After a deep dunk in bubbling soybean oil, the fries are dusted with a finely ground, nearly pulverized, salt that sticks stubbornly to their still-glistening exterior. A little overfried, but perfectly respectable.

Lobster roll ($14). When a Shipyard Grill employee handed me my foil-wrapped lobster roll, I couldn’t believe its heft. Then I opened it and discovered that most of the substantial mass came from a double-wide grilled bun – each side of the split was nearly an inch thick. Despite the carb overload, mine contained plenty of lightly dressed lobster (picked at Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor). For visiting fans and summer tourists, it’s a decent enough introduction to our state’s most famous sandwich. Locals, on the other hand, might want to hold out.

Muddy Sea Dog Biscuit ($3.50). Hadlock Field’s biggest seller is the Sea Dog Biscuit, a packaged frozen confection conceived of and manufactured by Shain’s of Maine Ice Cream in Sanford. Whether you opt for the original, made from two underbaked chocolate chip cookies and a scoop of Liquid-Paper-white vanilla ice cream sandwiched inside, or the Muddy Biscuit, a chocolate-enrobed version, this treat is exactly what you’ll want on a blistering day in a stadium with no shade.

Cheeseburger ($5). This sandwich is precisely what you think it is, and it’s about as good as you imagine. Tasty-N-Tender patties provide a surprisingly light, no-frills dose of meat, and the squidgy white, untoasted buns offer just enough absorbing power to keep your lap dry. Indoors and out (at the Shipyard Grill), the kitchens tend to overcook the patties, so be forewarned.

WALKS

Dog bowl nachos ($12). On the good side of the tally-card are crunchy, red-and-gold tortilla chips and your choice of toppings: pickled jalapenos; sour cream; even a peppery, cumin-spiced vegetarian chili. On the other side of the balance sheet are flavor-free guacamole and bland, watery salsa. Overall, it’s an adequate snack, as long as you can stomach eating out of a souvenir dog-food bowl.

Steak & cheese sub ($8). Packaging makes all the difference here. Had this savory cheesesteak sandwich been served in anything other than a tightly wrapped foil log, it would have been a solid single or double. But when anything this moist is rolled and compressed, it becomes a sticky, gluey mess.

Garden salad ($7.75). One of my guests took one look at the clamshell of romaine, cucumber and red pepper, pointed at the dried-out carrot slices and dubbed it, “Depressingly healthy. It’s like something you’d buy at an airport because you can’t eat another bag of Cheese-Its.”

FOUL BALLS

Pepperoni pizza slice ($3.50). With a thick, cracker-like base, saccharine tomato sauce and uncannily stringy cheese, this slice reminded me of the arcade and bowling-alley pizzas of my childhood: greasy, filling and functional. Not much

The new Lobster popcorn at Hadlock Field. Bizarre in conception and execution, according to our critic. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

more.

Lobster popcorn ($14). Imagine adding dried-out nuggets of lobster meat to a palm-sized souvenir helmetful of chewy,yellow, “butter”-coated popcorn, the kind you might find at a movie theater. And because nobody wants to pick up lobster meat with their fingers, picture serving your popcorn with a fork. This quickly stale dish sounds bizarre in both conception and execution because it is.

STRIKE-OUTS

Popcorn chicken ($4.75). Loiter too long under the dangling element of a heat lamp, and you too will wind up parched and shriveled, just like my portion of deep-fried, heavily breaded chicken breast nuggets.

Fried Dough ($4.25) and Fried Dough Burger ($36). I’ve grouped these two dishes because they share the same problematic component: a double-fried disc of dough sourced from Fabulous Fry Breads. On its own, coated with a flurry of powdered sugar, the frybread has a tight, dry crumb and a marauding overtone of something chemical – possibly azodicarbonamide, a dough conditioner used in prefried and prefrozen dough. That unpleasant top-note comes through even when the same fried dough (minus the sugar) is deployed as the “bun” on one of Hadlock Field’s newest sandwiches, the Fried Dough Burger.

While waiting in line at the Shipyard Grill, I overheard two 20-somethings debating whether to order one. Quite sensibly, they were unsure if they’d be able to finish two frybreads, eight hamburger patties, bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato. I offered to go in on it with them.

Plastic forks and knives at the ready, we took up positions at a picnic table nearby, debating how to begin eating the architecturally unstable stunt burger in front of us. I managed to dislodge a few pieces without upsetting the comically large mound of meat, then left the rest for my new friends to wrangle. Fifteen minutes later, when I spotted them in the stands, one came over to show me his sauce-stained shirt, “Good call, man,” he said with a laugh. “You got out just in time!”

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]

Twitter: AndrewRossME