On a summer day at Portland's Hadlock Field, baseball isn't always the main attraction. There's the lure of the Trash Monsters, who patrol the stands enticing youngsters to dispose of their soda cups properly. There's the siren song of Slugger, the amiable mascot. And then there are the Sea Dog Biscuits, the hockey puck-sized chocolate chip cookies encasing a big glob of creamy vanilla ice cream that zing through the air into the stands.
One out of every four people at the ballpark buys one. When players from the Boston Red Sox are in town, rehabbing from a torn achilles or a broken finger, they request them by name. And one year, when ESPN came up, they featured the biscuits instead of the game.
"It is a phenomenon," says Matt Drivas, the former director of food service for Hadlock Field. "Once you have one you always want another one. They are that good."
Shain's of Maine came out with the ice-cream sandwiches in 1994 when Hadlock Field was still under construction. Inspired by the team's name, owner Jeff Shain decided to name the tasty treats "biscuits." At the time, no one knew how successful the minor league Portland Sea Dogs (the AA division of the Boston Red Sox) would become - or that their namesake treats would become a phenomenon in their own right.
Even the park's celebrity visitors can't resist the vendors who roam the stands barking, "Sea Dog Biscuits, get your Sea Dog Biscuits heeeeyaaa!" Barbara Bush was at a game a few years ago and raised her hands to catch a couple. The first biscuit hit the former first lady in the chest. The second came flying after. Mrs. Bush was uninjured, but the incident made the biscuits even more famous.
Every year, five workers at Shain's Sanford company make the treats - all two hundred thousand of them - by hand. Using a small, hand-held pump, two fill the cookies, which are ordered from a commercial bakery, with ice cream. Two top them. And one runs them to the thirty-five-degrees-below-zero freezer where they are layered in trays beside racks of tubs holding some of the 110 other flavors Shain's of Maine concocts from Double Fudge Brownie to Mocha Macadamia and Frozen Pudding. Last year they cranked out roughly 750,000 gallons of the sweet stuff, not to mention a few hundred thousand Sea Dog Biscuits.
Jeff Shain has been in the ice-cream business for decades, and the food biz for longer than that. He invents most of the recipes himself (although he'll make anything a customer wants if they order at least three quart-size tubs), tossing this and that into the stainless-steal vats that churn away in the basement of his year-round ice-cream shop.
"Every year we go to this little festival down south and compete for the most unusual ice-cream flavor," he says. "I've made ice cream with beer and pretzels, hot dogs and baked beans, even jalapeno, cheddar cheese, and salsa. We've won seven years in a row. No one dares compete with us."
Most customers never taste those exotic combos, but they do gobble up the biscuits. Increasingly, groceries and convenience stores across Maine are stocking the ice-cream sandwiches in their freezer cases. And if you happen to be heading down Main Street in Sanford, you can buy them right from the '50's-d`cor ice-cream parlor where they're made. But, of course, the best place to enjoy them is at a ballgame on a hot July day and the Dogs whooping the tar out of the Trenton Thunder. That's the AA squad of the New York Yankees, needless to say.
IF YOU GO
Shain's of Maine is located at 1491 Main St. in Sanford. It is open year-round, from 11 A.M. to 9 P.M. Monday through Friday and 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. Saturday through Sunday. 207-324-1449. Hadlock Field is located on Park Ave. in Portland.