The Faces Behind Friday Nights: The Grilling Gourmets

Photo | Phil Fabrizio Grilling Gourmets Eric Minkoff and Pace Prentice spice things up at the Cougar Dome.

Photo | Phil Fabrizio
Grilling Gourmets Eric Minkoff and Pace Prentice spice things up at the Cougar Dome.

DISCLAIMER: This article will not even attempt to be objective. I love the grilled food at the Cougar Dome. I look forward to my Friday night kielbasa loaded with peppers and onions. My toughest choice of the week is whether to get the chicken sandwich or the steak sandwich on the nights they have it. And my wife enjoys it as much as I do. I get her a hamburger on Friday nights and she stays for the whole game. She’s a cheap date. Why do you think I married her?

The legend may have started a couple of years ago when a local sportscaster happened to be at the Cougar Dome on a night when the Grilling Gourmets were offering their specialty steak sandwiches.
“Those guys at Quince Orchard have the best food in the area,” he said in almost reverential tones. “They’ve got steak!”

The best food in the area. That’s what the grillers like to hear.

“Absolutely!” said Pace Prentice, the man the other grillers call “the top dog,” as he pulled kielbasa from a simmering pot of peppers and onions and placed them on the grill. “They come from all over the county to get ours.”

What Prentice and his team offer is not only quality, but variety. You can get a hamburger and a hot dog at most games in the area on a Friday night. But QO’s Grilling Gourmets go way beyond the basics. In addition to the kielbasa, they turn out grilled marinated chicken breast sandwiches. And on some nights — some magical nights — they offer steak.

“You really got to come here for the steak,” urged Prentice, a former chef “in a younger life,” who says he loves to cook. He’s had four kids go through QO and his youngest graduated last year, “but I’m still hanging out,” he said, as calls of “kielbasa loaded!” and “four cheeseburgers!” swirled around him.

The grillers thrive on the organized chaos of the grilling hut and love the camaraderie. Eric Minkoff, in his fourth year as a griller, said it’s all about “having fun and getting to see all the people come up and the visitors.” Peter Kantor, in his third year, said he likes helping out the school: “That’s what it’s all about.” Bill Hardy started as a water boy, worked his way up to wrapper and now is the hot dog guy. Hardy likes raising money for the school.

From their perch near the north end zone, the grillers get to see at least some of the game action when they’re not busy cooking. And the smoke and the appetizing aromas may do more than just contribute to the Friday Night Lights atmosphere of the Cougar Dome. “We’re the reason the team keeps winning,” Minkoff claimed, because after the game the extras go to the team.

The grillers also get another reward. Prentice prepared a special peach cobbler and ice cream around halftime for the crew. “You know how Red Auerbach used to bring out his victory cigar?” said Marty Horan, whose two daughters have both graduated from QO but still helps out. “We’ve got Pace putting out his victory cobbler.”

So on a Friday night, come out to QO for dinner. Try the chicken, the kielbasa, the burger, the dog and, if you’re lucky, the steak. Extend your compliments to the chefs. And while you’re there, you may even want to stay for the game.