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Oct 19, 2017

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Grand-Slam Grub
by Tina Caputo
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.5


BALLPARK FOOD GOES UPSCALE


Remember when going to the ballpark meant stuffin’ yourself silly with low-grade snout dogs and washing ‘em down with tepid Bud Light? In those dark days, the best you could hope for was a dog that hadn’t spent the last six innings rolling around on that 7-Eleven-type hotdog-warming contraption.

Lucky for America’s taste buds, today’s stadium food is a whole new ballgame — and not just for the lucky bastards in the V.I.P. suites.

I recently experienced the glory of gourmet ballpark grub for myself when I scored tickets to a Giants game at SBC Park during opening week.

Sure, the usual hot dogs and domestic brewskis were there, but so were tasty Epicurean delights like sushi, 40-clove garlic chicken sandwiches, microbrew beers and even wine. The kind with a cork!

No kidding. I’m talkin’ four kinds of sushi (California rolls, salmon nigiri, teriyaki chicken rolls and shrimp nigiri); edamame; grilled lemon chicken sausages on sourdough rolls with sauteed peppers and onions; fresh crab and lobster rolls; shrimp cocktails; Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; and bowls o’ grilled Caribbean chicken layered with rice, black beans, fresh pineapple salsa and smoky-sweet BBQ sauce.


To wash it all down, I had my choice of 54 (yeah suckers, I said 54) different beers, including premium microbrews like Gordon Biersch, Sierra Nevada and Pyramid. Instead of pushing the usual grape-based swill (or no swill at all), a California wine bar stand offered a variety of vinos from respectable producers like Mondavi, Fetzer, Sterling, Kendall-Jackson, Kenwood and Sutter Home (gotta have that white zin for the visiting fans from Ohio). Though there wasn’t a single person in line at the wine bar, the woman behind the counter assured me that sales were brisk.

“This is the first year we’ve offered wine on the main level that didn’t come out of a box,” she said. “It’s been very successful so far.”

After finishing my glass of cabernet-syrah, I headed up to the Club Level to see how the other half lives. Up there, fans willing to fork over $45 for baseball tickets could order grilled portobello mushroom sandwiches, stir-fried garlic green beans, pueblo BBQ pork wrapped in homemade flat bread, chicken chorizo hash, freshly carved beef brisket sandwiches, marinated mozzarella and cherry tomato skewers with fresh basil, biscotti, scones and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

“I hate to say it, but this pork sandwich blows doors on hot dogs,” remarked Giants fan Buddy Brown. “I’d pay extra to sit on the Club Level just so I could eat this food.”

In addition to all the wines and microbrews offered on the Proletariat Level, fans with Club seating could belly up to stylish wood-trimmed bars and order Hess Collection wines and upscale spirits. As for the V.I.P. suites, you don’t even want to know what they were serving: seafood antipasto, cheese boards accompanied by artisan breads and crackers, gingered asparagus salad and whole roasted king salmon filets. Hooch-wise, the impressive selection included $75 bottles of Veuve Clicquot, seven kinds of chardonnay and various other varietal wines from producers like Sonoma Cutrer, Ferrari Carano, Byron, De Loach and Charles Krug.

After checking out all these upscale eats, I had to marvel at how much things have changed in the last decade. When I was kid, you had your choice of a hot dog with ketchup or a hot dog with mustard. Period. According to Tom McDonald, the Giants’ senior VP of consumer marketing, today’s fans want a little more variety.

“This is an important market with significant culinary expectations,” he said. “People expect to have general concessions and specialty items. To meet these needs, a general concessions company handles the regular fare, and a specialized catering company does the food at the Club and Suite Levels.”
Of course, San Franciscans aren’t the only ones enjoying this tasty trend. Ballparks all over the country are upgrading their concessions to meet the demands of discriminating fans.

“We have a wide variety of local menu items, which really reflect the flavor of each community,” said Elaine Richner of Volume Services America, food supplier for seven Major League ballparks, including SBC.

“Some unique menu items include fish tacos in San Diego, sushi stands at Seattle’s Safeco and Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Fields, and locally made BBQ and beef brisket in Seattle. Fans have come to expect a wider variety of offerings at the ballparks, and they look for locally popular brands.”

In addition to offering better food, many ballparks have upped their services with features like in-seat ordering. Yes, without even getting off your booty, you can order up some Gordon Biersch garlic fries and a glass of BV Coastal chardonnay, and it’ll be delivered to your seat in less than 20 minutes.

But even with all the great service and quality chow, items like hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and domestic beer still account for 75 percent of the nation’s ballpark food sales.

“We use extensive surveys to gauge fans’ cravings in an effort to fine-tune stadium menus each season,” said Tim Donegan of Sportservice, which supplies seven Major League ball venues. “But when people go to a ballpark, part of the tradition is getting a hot dog, some peanuts and an ice-cold beverage. While we try to be creative with the menu, the bottom line for fans is that they enjoy the traditional fare.”

As for this fan, I say bring on the sushi and sauvignon blanc. And keep it comin’.


THE WINE X GUIDE TO GOURMET EATS AT THE COUNTRY'S TASTIEST BALLPARKS
Anaheim Angels
Shredded-beef tamales.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Find the “Fielder’s Choice” farmers’ market or slurp down a smoothie. For a little less sobriety, try the Sonora and Fat Tire microbrews.

Atlanta Braves
Why brave a hot dog when there’s grilled chicken, veggie wraps, fruit and cheese plates, and fresh fruit smoothies? The park also features an upscale wine bar on the Lexus Level, with bison burgers straight from bison raised on Ted Turner’s ranch.

Baltimore Orioles
Pick up BBQ chicken sandwiches, BBQ chicken wraps, smoothies, fresh fruit salads and veggie wraps. Wash it all down with Talus semillon-chardonnay, Talus cabernet or any of 13 microbrew beers like Clipper City IPA and Wild Goose Porter.

Boston Red Sox
Sox fiends crave California rolls, grilled chicken sandwiches, and Hilltop steak and turkey tip sandwiches.

Chicago White Sox
Dine on grilled chicken breast sandwiches, veggie burgers, Italian beef sandwiches, chicken gyros, steak pitas and fresh fruit.

Cincinnati Reds
They’re playing in a new ballpark this season, so they’ve gone a little crazy at the concessions, adding smoked salmon, grilled lamb, veggie dogs and chicken rice rolls.

Cleveland Indians
Chicken fajita salads, veggie burgers, fruit salads, grilled chicken breast and salmon sandwiches and fried shrimp baskets compete for fans’ affections with the classic Cleveland treat — pierogies.

Colorado Rockies
Skip the Rocky Mountain oysters and go for New York strip steak sandwiches, veggie wraps, buffalo burgers, buffalo hot dogs and Chinese chicken salad. The park also boasts the first microbrewery inside a U.S. sporting facility.

Detroit Tigers
Bavarian cream churros — yum!

Florida Marlins
Cuban sandwiches (crusty bread toasted with boiled ham, roast pork, salami, Swiss cheese and pickles) and high-octane Cuban coffee to wash it down.

Houston Astros
Beeline for breast of chicken sandwiches, crab cakes (when the Giants are in town), fish tacos (when San Diego is the visiting team), fresh fruit juices, Vendange wines (chardonnay, zinfandel and cabernet) and local microbrews like Fat Tire and St. Arnold’s.
Kansas City Royals
Even if the Royals are cellar-dwellers, you can chow down on some authentic KC barbecue.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Chow down on chicken sausages, grilled chicken sandwiches and veggie sandwiches.

Milwaukee Brewers
Snack on shrimp quesadillas, grilled chicken sandwiches, hand-carved turkey breast hoagies, grilled chicken Caesar salads, BBQ chicken/pork sandwiches, grilled portobello mushroom sandwiches, grilled chicken wraps and bison burgers.

New York Mets
Savor succulent sushi, grilled chicken sandwiches and chicken Caesar salads, then wash it all down with Glen Ellen wines and Red Hook beer.

New York Yankees
The pin-stripers are pretty traditional, but potato knishes are a nice nosh.

Oakland A’s
Get ready for roasted chicken, international sausages, fresh fruit smoothies, herbal teas and 15 different premium beers, including brands like Pyramid, Red Hook and Sierra Nevada.

Philadelphia Phillies
Forgo the cheese steaks and go for grilled chicken sandwiches, grilled zucchini, Cajun fried turkey breast, Rita’s Italian Water Ices and fruit juices.

San Diego Padres
Legend says this was the first Major League ballpark to serve sushi. If you prefer your seafood cooked, go for the tasty fish tacos.

Seattle Mariners
Go fishing for gourmet grub like sushi, salmon burgers, panini sandwiches and Caesar salads.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Florida fans favor sushi, fresh shrimp and lobster rolls. Wash that good grub down with Monterey Vineyard and Sutter Home wines, or microbrews like Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam.

Texas Rangers
Whoop it up with Southwestern chicken Caesar salads, turkey wraps, chicken and beef fajitas, and frozen daiquiris.

Toronto Blue Jays
The sky’s the limit with grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken Caesar salads and pasta salads.

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