Ballpark food…done right
(Guest post by The Boyfriend)
I love baseball.
I attended my first Major League game when I was eight, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been known to plan entire vacations based largely on whether the destination city’s team(s) would be in town while I was there. This includes minor league teams, as well. In fact, some of my favorite baseball experiences have been in the countless minor league parks I’ve visited across the country during the past twenty-five years. To date, I have visited thirteen Major League parks in eleven cities. I’m a Reds fan, and I’ve been a season-package buyer for years.
There is no other sport like baseball. No two ballparks are alike; no two have the same field dimensions. Each park gives fans a unique experience. Baseball is a game steeped in history and tradition, yet modern ballparks–particularly so many of the “retro” parks built during the past dozen years or so–have updated and expanded the ballpark experience for modern fans while continuing to recognize and honor the game’s illustrious past.
My favorite part of live professional baseball (next to the actual baseball, of course) is the food. Ballpark food can be the best junk food on the planet (along with the food at big-city street festivals and at county and state fairs…but that’s another post for another time). Granted, ballpark food–particularly on the Major League level–can be extremely pricey, but if the food is good, I don’t mind so much.
Many ballparks throughout the country–both Major League and minor league–have re-thought the traditional ballpark food paradigm. You know…hot dogs, soda, beer, pizza slices, Cracker Jack, peanuts, etc. Many parks now offer food choices as wide-ranging as sushi, crab cake sandwiches, baby back ribs, clam chowder, jerk chicken, and Cuban sandwiches.
When Julie and I were searching for a destination for a final out-of-town weekend getaway for the summer, we considered several cities reachable by car in four or five hours.
We chose Pittsburgh. I had been there on two previous occasions and had enjoyed each trip immensely. One of the driving forces behind the selection: The Pirates were in town. And Pittsburgh’s PNC Park had been rated earlier this year by Forbes.com as the third-best Major League park in the country in terms of overall fan experience.
Food was one of five criteria that Forbes used in determining its rankings.
We Pricelined a hotel for the trip and landed at the Renaissance, a beautiful and comfortable old hotel a mere seven-minute stroll across the Roberto Clemente (6th St.) Bridge from PNC Park.
A mixture of mouthwatering aromas wafted all the way across the Allegheny River as game time approached. After going through the turnstiles, Julie and I walked the full inside perimeter of the park before we took our seats. We wanted to see what our food choices were. (Also, I just like exploring ballparks.)
We were almost overwhelmed by the food options.
In addition to a full-fledged food court and assorted food and drink stands around the ballpark, there are at least two full-service restaurants in the park. We found gyros. Barbecue. A Primanti Brothers sandwich stand. (Julie is working on an upcoming review of Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh institution.) Fresh char-grilled burgers.
We even found two kiosks where one could get fresh-grilled Reuben and Rachel sandwiches (a Rachel sandwich is a variation on the Reuben…usually with pastrami replacing corned beef and coleslaw replacing sauerkraut)…
We decided to start the game with a couple of beers and some Kettle Korn. We opted for a mixture of cheese corn and caramel corn in the same bag. The corn was fresh-made and hot. Very tasty. (Ed. Note: Some of the best caramel corn and cheese popcorn I’ve ever had. Remember Walnut Street Popcorn? That good.)
As the game progressed, we debated food options. Every few minutes, other fans sitting around us would return to their seats with trays full of goodies. Sometimes, we inquired about their selections. Everybody seemed to have favorites, and everybody seemed pleased with the quality of the food.
We both wanted something that we couldn’t get back home at Great American Ballpark.
Julie decided on pierogies (Ed. Note: If only because they are a quintessential Pittsburgh/Ytown/Cleveland sort of delicacy), a sort of eastern European ravioli…mashed potatoes and cheese inside a dumpling, in this case, and from the pierogi maker Mrs. T. Sides of onions sauteed in butter and a dollop of sour cream completed the selection. They were incredibly rich and done well… (Ed. Note: That is Hannah of the Racing Pierogies. You can tell she’s a girl because of the earrings.)
I opted for chili cheese fries. Both the chili and the cheese were obviously from a can. OK, but nothing special. But the fries themselves were fresh cut and perfectly cooked. And there was a veritable mountain of them…more than enough to feed two people. Given a second shot at them, I might have opted for nothing more than salt and ketchup. The fries were that good…
If we had tickets for another ten games, we wouldn’t have exhausted all of the food options.
Earlier in the summer, we had a very similar experience at the new Nationals Park in Washington, DC.
As was the case at PNC Park, Nationals Park is a beautiful facility that offers fans lots of food choices, including both traditional and non-traditional ballpark fare. Julie had a delicious barbecued beef short rib the size of her forearm called the Rough Rider from Teddy’s Barbecue (as in Teddy Roosevelt…everything has a Presidential theme…get it?), and I had meaty kosher hot dog (prepared under Rabbinical oversight)…
With both visits on our mind as we were exiting PNC Park, Julie and I discussed the question that will serve as the basis for part two of this post tomorrow: Why can’t we have this in Cincinnati?