Park Belly Future

I can just picture the Restaura meeting, when the nachos came up for discussion:

Executive #1: "Who's going to buy something so lousy, so tasteless? I wouldn't eat them for free."

Executive #2: "Our profit margin is $5.49."
Executive #1: "Hey, get your nachos, nachos here."
The steak sandwich ($5.25) is another embarrassment. You'd have better luck chewing on the flank of a live cow. The meat is inedible--dry, tough, fatty. The chicken sandwich ($4.75), a small slab of grilled breast, is a marginal improvement.

Two sandwiches stand out, if anything can be said to stand out in this pathetic crowd. The cheesesteak sandwich ($4.75) features shaved, grilled meat that's lean and reasonably tasty. It's helped by a pile of grilled green pepper. You can help it even more by spooning on some diced onion at the condiment counter. And the turkey burger ($4.50) also works, a one-third-pound patty that was crisply grilled. Add ketchup and pickle relish for a flavor boost.

Three other items deserve a wide berth. Chicken tenders with fries ($5) may be okay after they've just come out of a vat of bubbling oil. But once they're placed under the tanning lamps, forget it: The chicken gets rubbery, and the fries become limp and greasy. The corn dog ($3.50), coated with a sweet, leathery cornmeal batter, tastes like it was left over from the State Fair. And the Jamaican beef patty ($3.50) turns out to be a turnover stuffed with ground beef and a bucket of salt. If there were any Jamaican spices present, I couldn't detect them.

At each game, I tried to order the Garden Burger, a vegetarian option. But despite being listed on the menu, it never showed up at the concession stand. Who can blame it?

There is an alternative to Restaura and the chain fare. Look for the kiosks offering packaged goods from Fielders Choice.

You won't find any bargains here. But at least you'll make it to the seventh-inning stretch without cramping.

Mixed veggies with spinach dip ($6) make for first-rate munching. You get a good-size portion of crunchy broccoli, cauliflower and carrot, teamed with a creamy, dill-infused spinach dip dotted with water chestnuts. (Don't want the dip? You can get a veggie bag for three bucks.) A decent bean dip with chips ($5) is a great improvement over concession-stand nachos.

Who goes to the ballpark to eat fruit? Well, I would. Fielders Choice puts out containers of grapes, watermelon, mango, orange, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and papaya, as well as mixed-fruit combinations (all $4). You can even get, Wimbledon-style, strawberries and whipped cream. If this all sounds too healthful, try the chocolate pudding ($2.50), thick, sweet and substantial.

What about traditional ballpark snacks? They're all here, and at prices that would make even a movie-theater operator blush.

Want to buy some peanuts and Crackerjack, as the song suggests? If you get the large sizes, you won't see much change from a sawbuck. Large cotton candy runs $5.50. And a large package of sunflower seeds, a not-so-big soft pretzel and a big bucket of popcorn will set you back $4.50 each.

A note on the popcorn: Don't buy it at the concession stands, where you get prepopped popcorn that arrives at the stadium packed in huge plastic bags. That corn was probably popped about the time Abner Doubleday came up with the infield-fly rule. Instead, go to the kiosks where you see the corn popped before your eyes. The price is the same, and the quality far superior.

Take me out to the ball game? Any time. The ballpark is magnificent, and the team makes up in effort what it lacks in talent. Even the parking hasn't been bad.

But take me out to eat at the ball game? No, thanks. When you step up to these plates, you're bound to strike out.

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