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Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Baseball game food options used to be limited to peanuts & crackerjacks, hotdogs & (generic) beer. Today, visitors to Nationals Park or Camden Yards can find salads & crabcakes, “half-smokes” & micro-brews. Major league teams are trying to create unique fan experiences by offering fare with local character. We explore the evolution of the stadium experience.
- Margaret Engel Co-author, “Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America” and “Food Finds: America’s Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them”
- Dave Peterson Executive Chef, Nationals Park
- Tim Carman Food Writer, The Washington Post
Where’s The Best Stadium Food?
Margaret Engel and Bruce Adams, authors of Fodor’s “Baseball Vacations,” offer their picks for best baseball stadium food across the country.
Byerly’s wild rice and chicken soup at Target Field, Minneapolis, MN
Beef on ‘weck at North AmeriCare Park, Buffalo, NY
Walleye sandwich at Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MN
Pork roll at Mercer County Waterfront Park, Trenton, NJ.
Al Lopez Cuban sandwich at Legends Field, Tampa, FL.
Pork sandwich at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids, IA
Broiled pork chops at Sec Taylor Stadium, Des Moines, IA
Roasted corn at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium, San Antonio, TX and All Sports Stadium, Oklahoma City, OK
Abalone steak at Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CA
Fish tacos at Petco Park, San Diego, CA
Kool Jerk Calypso Chicken at Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MN
Barbecued turkey legs at Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CA
Boog’s Place in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
Amana brats with Rock Island’s Boetje mustard at John O’Donnell Stadium, Davenport, IA
Loganberry juice at College Stadium, Jamestown, NY
Made-to-order espresso at Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, WA
Fresh orangeade at Sec Taylor Stadium, Des Moines, IA
Family-sized banana splits with Ehrler’s ice cream at Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY.
California’s It’s-It bars at Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, WA
Freshly popped white corn, packed in brown bags at Damaschke Field, Oneonta, NY
Uncle Teddy’s hand-twisted cinnamon pretzels, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
Sushi and Cobb salad at Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim, CA
Yoshinoya chicken bowl at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
Fruit and veggie trays at the Epicenter, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Grayson-flavored waters at Historic Engel Stadium, Chattanooga, TN
Chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick at Joe Martin Stadium, Bellingham, WA
Jala bumpers (deep fried jalapeno peppers with cheese) at Sky Sox Stadium, Colorado Springs, CO
Best Food To Eat Alone
40-clove garlic chicken sandwich at AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Cuban pork sandwich, Miami Marlins Park
Gold-N-Good Sugar and Spice Mini-Donuts sold hot in bags outside Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MN
Weirdest Items Sold At Food Stand
Disappearing ink, wacky glasses and headache powder at the ice cream stand at Ray Winder Field, Little Rock, AR
Vendors delivering hot funnel cakes at Tim McCarver Stadium, Memphis, TN
Caramelized almonds at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, some people used to think of baseball stadiums as culinary wastelands, home to boiled hot dogs, light beer, peanuts and cracker jacks. Then again, some people get a perverse thrill from downing a steamed gray dog in a soggy bun.
MR. MARC FISHEREither way, a ballgame came with a strong case of heartburn. But visit the concourses of Nationals Park or Camden Yards these days, and you're presented with a much wider world of food and drink options -- half-smokes, crab cakes, shawarma, microbrews. You might even be tempted by Washington's new StrasBurger, an homage to pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg, that weighs in at eight pounds and feeds eight, a mound of beef.
MR. MARC FISHERStadiums across the country are beginning to think local. They're offering fare that reflects local food culture. You can get abalone steaks in San Francisco and fish tacos in San Diego and Washington. They're also offering healthier options -- the StrasBurger notwithstanding. We're exploring tonight -- today the culinary highlights and lowlights of the ballpark experience.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd joining us, Tim Carman is food writer for The Washington Post, and Peggy Engel is co-author of "Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America." She's also written a book called "Food Finds," about America's best local foods. And, Tim Carman, baseball stadiums used to be culinary wastelands. At least in some of the higher end parts of the higher-end stadiums, we're seeing a real shift. But is it really changing the ballpark experience?
MR. TIM CARMANI think that's probably a personal decision. I -- from what I've seen, people still love the classics at ballparks. I mean, yeah, you can get a much better eating experience at ballparks. And ballparks and food service companies, like ARAMARK and Centerplate, they've worked pretty hard at trying to pair up with, like, well-known chefs and restaurant groups to improve the product.
MR. TIM CARMANBut you go to the ballpark, I mean, I think, the culinary weight of history pulls you towards that hot dog and beer and pretzels and peanuts, although you can get a Shake Shack burger which is often what I get when I go to Nats Park.
FISHERAnd what you also find there is a very long queue, which is part of the Shake Shack experience, I guess.
CARMANIt is, but it goes fast. You know, it's surprising how fast they've got their systems down. They've got that down to an art form because they've pared down that menu so fast, and they can crank that stuff out, not that I'm trying to plug Shake Shack. But...
FISHERSure. We want to hear what baseball stadium or football stadium has the best food options that you've found. Also, are we entering a golden age in stadium food? And does this new focus on entertainment and high-end food change that experience of watching the ballgame for us? You can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at kojo, K-O-J-O, @wamu.org.
FISHERAnd, Peggy Engel, you have traveled every back road of the country in search of not only great baseball and classic stadiums but some of the best road food as well. And, tell us, in your experience, is this food revolution -- is there a food revolution in baseball stadiums, and is it a marketing ploy? Or is it really improving what you can eat at the ballpark?
MS. MARGARET ENGELIt really is improving. It is so much better than it used to be because the smart stadiums are bringing in the best in their local towns and getting the actual restaurants in. In fact, in Miami, the new Marlins Park has brought in this really tiny dive of a sandwich shop that makes this terrific Cuban pork sandwich. And they've given it space in the stadium. And the more big stadiums that do that, I think the happier the customers are because then you get to really get a flavor of the community, as well as, you know, eat a terrific pork sandwich for $5.
FISHERAnd, you know, those -- we're seeing, just as at Nationals Park, there's a Ben's Chili Bowl operation -- that's been there since the opening of the park -- there are these local brands. You mentioned the one in Miami. There's the -- you know, this may have started with Boog Powell's Barbecue in Baltimore at Camden Yards. But at one stadium after another, either there's a formal ballplayer or a local brand that's being showcased.
FISHERIn your experience at the park, Peggy, are these local brands, do they stand up to the much larger scale of serving a stadium filled with thousands of people when these were often small businesses that maybe had one storefront?
ENGELYes. They do stand out because they have to work to the scale of the ballparks. I've been at the opening day of most of the Major League ballparks in the last 10 years, and they're all crazy. And no one can get the food out fast enough, and they run out of in the fourth inning. But they learn. And places like up in upstate New York, in Jamestown, N.Y., they serve loganberry juice. And it's just everywhere throughout the ballpark because that's the local drink.
ENGELAnd so I think anybody who travels there gets the experience. Of course, AT&T Park in San Francisco is the best, hands down. They just got in early with all sorts of local restaurants. And that's -- you can get your 40 garlic cloves chicken sandwich, and then, please, sit about four sections away from me. But, yes, I think they can scale up, and they've shown that they can do it.
FISHERWe have a link to Peggy's favorite list of great food at ballparks on our website at kojoshow.org, so you can take a look at that. But, Peggy, is there -- tell us what is the absolute best thing you've found at a ballpark so far.
ENGELWell, I think in this last year I went to the new Target Field in Minneapolis, when it opened two years ago, I guess. And Byerly's wild rice and chicken soup, you wouldn't expect to find that at a ballpark. But ballparks can get cold a lot of times, and you want soup. In fact, Orioles Park has had crab soup on occasion. So that, I think, is one of my favorites, but I have to say the abalone steak in San Jose, Calif. was pretty fabulous.
ENGELAnd I love unusual drinks, and the orangeade, which was actually handmade not some watered down orange substitute, at -- in Des Moines is pretty spectacular at Sec Taylor Stadium.
FISHERI have this image of vendors coming down the aisle offering sushi and, you know, handing out pieces. But it's -- I guess these are still things you have to go up and ask for at the counter.
ENGELWell, sushi is around in most -- I'd say probably several dozen parks have sushi. And they have Cobb salads, and they have vegetable wraps. We even saw -- at the Marlins Stadium, they have gluten-free stands, including gluten-free beer.
ENGELSo, you know, they've got chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick at -- we came across in Joe Martin Stadium in Bellingham. And once you get into the Western states, they have lots of hot foods, so you can get deep-fried jalapeno peppers with cheese out in Colorado (unintelligible).
FISHERWow. Tim Carman, I'm -- maybe this is sacrilegious, but I -- to me, the idea of eating salad at a ballpark is just wrong.
ENGELYou know, sometimes, it isn't wrong because it's a hot day, and you've got to think about the fact that you've got a lot of kids, a lot of women at the park who don't want to eat fried everything and don't want a heartburn hot dog. So it's actually a pretty good food to eat in the ballpark.
FISHERTim, did you find any backlash against this trend in your reporting?
CARMANThere are definitely people who prefer to have something that is healthier at ballparks. I think they're in a minority opinion. Most people, like, when I -- I just did the story about all-you-can-eat sections at ballparks, and they do have salads at, for instance, at Camden Yards. But, by far, the biggest, the most popular items on that menu, which is pretty limited, but the biggest items and most popular items that the people get are the hot dogs and the nachos.
CARMANAnd the nachos, by the way, they have these little containers where you can press down -- it's kind of like the 7-Eleven nacho machine where you can get the cheese spread. You can put as unlimited amount of cheese sauce on your tortilla chips as you want. And those are, by far, the most popular items. So I don't think salads are going to supplant the junk food at any time. But there are definitely people who want them.
ENGELWhen the salads are good -- I mean, out in San Francisco, they're good. The ones at -- in Orioles Park are just, you know, standard issue ones that aren't so hot, but it's -- they're terrific.
FISHERBut, Peggy, there do seem -- we've heard for years the calls for healthier options in ballparks, and yet, you know, when you walk around the ballpark, you do not see that the falafel or the salad is getting a huge response. And, in fact, some of those stands that open up with the veggie options end up closing fairly promptly.
ENGELWell, they have to be good versions of it. For example, at Midway Stadium in Saint Paul, Minn., they have a walleye sandwich, a really great fish sandwich, and people line up like crazy for that. And, of course, they also have these mini doughnuts, these sugar and spice mini doughnuts -- and they're probably horrible for you -- and everybody lines up for that, too. But, you know, I just like the diversity.
ENGELIn the summer, they do roasted corn at several stadiums. I think I've even seen it at the White Sox stadium. In fact, White Sox will take the roasted corn off the cob, and they put lime and mayonnaise -- you can skip the mayonnaise on it. And that's a really terrific thing to actually eat at a ballpark. But when they roast the corn in the husk and give it to you at -- in San Antonio at Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium, it's a great ballpark food actually, as long as you don't throw the husk at the opposing pitcher.
FISHERWell, we're going to have as our guest a little later in the hour Dave Peterson, who's the executive chef at Nationals Park, and we'll ask him about what -- whether these healthful options really do sell. But, Tim Carman, this diversity of offerings in stadiums is fairly new. Why wasn't it there before? And why is it happening now?
CARMANWell, I think, like a lot of things, the public has demanded it, and I also think there's been a fairly strong shift in American food culture in the last probably two decades. You know, we -- just generally speaking, our restaurants have become, you know, more sensitive to local sustainable ingredients. They produce better food. We've got more, like, whole foods popping up everywhere. I mean, just larger culturally, we've become more aware of where our food comes from and what we want to put in our body and what we want to eat.
CARMANAnd I think ballparks have recognized this fact. They're a business. They need to cater to what is going on outside its confines. And so they've gotten smart and paired up with groups and chefs and have increased the options. And, you know, whether or not people take advantage of it or not, that's obviously an individual decision, but it's there. And it's often much better than it used to be. I mean, talk about falafel that you can get. There's a wonderful falafel restaurant up in Wheaton called Max's, and they sell -- they actually have a stand in Nationals ballpark, and no one is ever there.
CARMANAnd it's great falafel.
FISHERIt is very good, and it's also closed a fair amount of the time. It's sort of open sporadically. I've never been able to figure that one out. But, Peggy, is there -- as ballparks and ticket prices have really soared in recent years and so is that economic change and the demographic change and who's going to ballparks in baseball and especially in other sports, where the ticket price is much more expensive, does that provide the impetus for stadiums to say, you know, we've got to up our game because we have a different audience that has different expectations?
ENGELThat's right. And it's particularly the family crowd. When my husband helped start Shirley Povich Field, we knew that they were going to be emphasizing a lot of families. And so, you know, Ledo's Pizza came out, and they actually bake -- they bake the pizza right at the park. And when Bean Bag came out with their cookies, they brought in the homemade cookies -- nothing packaged...
FISHERThat's the field up in Bethesda, Md., where the college league plays in the summers at the Bethesda Big Train.
ENGELRight. College of Wooden Bat League, and it -- and we have, you know, Honest Tea that doesn't have sugar in it for kids and their variety. So there has to be a real recognition of your market. One thing that's starting to happen, which I think is not a great thing, is sort of anti-Democratic feeling. At Marlins Park, they have lobster rolls, and everyone was dying to get one, but you had to be in the expensive seats to have access to that. So I am totally opposed to having great food but you can't get it because you're not -- you're in the cheap seat.
FISHERWell, at -- it's interesting. At Nationals Park, that all-you-can-eat deal that Tim wrote about was -- is only in the very highest price category seats, whereas in Baltimore, they're using it as a way to bring in people to some of the cheapest seats.
ENGELFood democracy needs to reign in ballparks.
CARMANAnd I don't think the Nats are not the only ballpark that has the sort of high-end, all-you-can-eat seats. This is the -- the Nationals have -- were the ones that decided to label that an all-you-can-eat section, even though it's really more just about a premium club kind of seat. And I think those premium seats are pretty much available all around the country at most ballparks, where you can pay a fairly large, you know, $170 to $400, depending on who's coming to play at the stadium and have a sort of chef-driven buffet.
ENGELOne of the great things I'm starting to see is brown mustard. I know it's a small point. But I hate bright yellow mustard, and you could only get that for so many years. And now, all across the country, particularly in the Southern states, you're starting to see brown mustard. And they were always -- it was always in New England, and that's great. And also different ice creams. You can get IT'S-IT Bars. Anybody from California will know how fabulous those are. You can get those in the Everett Washington Stadium, and you can get Italian ice almost everywhere now, and gelato...
FISHERGelato is very big. Yeah, we're seeing gelato at a lot of stadiums, which, again, seems kind of -- I don't know. I have moral questions about that. But I'm with you on the brown mustard, and that is something that a lot of fans really were agitating for at Nationals Park. They had it for a while, and then they reverted to the yellow. So we'll take that up with the executive chef at Nationals Park in a few moments.
FISHERBut when we come back after a break, we'll talk with -- Dave Peterson will join our conversation. And we'll also take your calls about what you see is the best food options at stadiums, and what's the strangest thing you've ever seen at a stadium. 1-800-433-8850 is our number, and we'll be back after a short break. I'm Marc Fisher, and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking about stadium food and how it has changed, how it's gotten better and maybe stranger. And we were asking for your experiences with new kinds of food at ballparks at 1-800-433-8850, and joining us now is Dave Peterson. He's executive chef at Nationals Park here in Washington. And, Dave, obviously, the offerings at stadiums have changed across the country. Why?
MR. DAVE PETERSONIt's, you know, trying to be unique. You know, we're trying to listen to the guest, and they're telling us what they want to eat.
FISHERAnd the offerings have become less predictable, in a sense. You want to be unique, as you say. You want to have some local flavor, so how do you figure out what is going to click with an audience here? And is there a danger in going too high-end, too high-scale for a ballpark?
PETERSONOh, definitely. Originally from South Florida, so trying to figure out exactly the D.C. market. I've been in the area for about three years now. There is definitely -- we are selling a lot of hot dogs and nachos, as I heard before, but we do have the healthy cart. We do have the kosher cart. They do very, very well. But a lot of the specific taste we do see in the clubs. So the Diamond Club and the President's Club, that's where we're going to get the people to try a lot of the local ingredients.
FISHERSo there is a correlation between paying a higher ticket price and being interested in a more high-end food product.
PETERSONOh, definitely. You can be more apt to try things instead of ordering a whole meal. You can go around to different chef tables and taste different local ingredients.
FISHERBut Peggy Engel was saying earlier that she wants there to be the same offerings for all ticket prices. Is that just even impractical?
PETERSONTo a degree, but we also have a great balance. In the Red Porch, we do have great salads that have great vine ripe tomatoes and, well, Niman Ranch bacon and fresh watercress. So it's not all fried food.
FISHERRight. But this year, you've added some new things including the StrasBurger, which we've mentioned earlier. This is the eight-pound burger that I imagine is not a solo activity.
PETERSONNo, definitely meant to be shared. We had a lot of fun creating this thing. It's prime beef, short ribs and brisket. It is a big burger. You know, (unintelligible) local here makes the bun, and it's meant to be shared.
FISHERAnd, Tim, have you tried it?
CARMANI have not tried it.
FISHERPeggy, you haven't had one yet, have you?
ENGELI'm hoping that you'll bring back the brown mustard to put on top it. If you do that, I'll eat one.
FISHERAnd if anyone out there has had a StrasBurger or a portion of one, give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. We have a tweet from Random Duck, who says that, "The kosher stand that you mentioned earlier, Max's, is closed for the Sabbath, which is not good for Friday night or Saturday day games. But I've noticed that it's also closed on some other nights, sort of at random. Is it simply a matter of what -- how great the demand is on a given night?"
PETERSONThat would be with -- you know, he decides what days he's working.
FISHEROK. So it's up to him. And among the other groups that you've brought in is the Shake Shack folks from New York, not just Shake Shack but their taqueria as well. And -- is there -- was there any hesitation about bringing in a New York dealer -- vendor rather than focusing more on other Washington brands?
PETERSONWell, this is not my -- I do not oversee the subcontractors that the Nationals decided to bring in. So that is, you know, on their part.
FISHEROK. And, Tim Carman, you've written about the Shake Shack folks. And what -- how do you account for their extraordinary popularity? Is it really a better burger, or is there something else going on there?
CARMANIt's a pretty good burger, and it's cheap. It's one of those classic sort of griddle burgers -- thin, not really cooked to temperature, you know, just kind of sits in its greases till it kind of crisps up and put in a nice -- I mean, it's a good medium-priced burger. I mean, it's on a potato roll bun, which I love potato rolls -- potato roll buns. I think part of the love of Shake Shack is not only its taste, but it's got sort of a nostalgic kitchiness to it.
CARMANIt feels sort of old-fashioned. And it also comes with the Danny Meyer brand. And Danny Meyer is -- I mean, Shake Shack is definitely part, you know, a lower experience on a scale of the restaurants that he owns. But he is an exceptional restaurateur. And I don't think there'd be very many people that would argue with that. And so when he stamps something, people are going to be interested in it.
FISHERHere is a tweet from Taylor of New York City, who says, "It always brings a smile to my face when I wee Ben's Chili Bowl signs during Nat games." How does Ben's dogs do -- how do they do compared to the other dogs at the stadium? And is it mainly locals who are gravitating to Ben's who already know the product? Or do you have a sense of whether some of the tourists who are in town are checking it out?
PETERSONIt definitely is a very busy stand. There's a good mix of everybody. The locals know the brand recognition, and then we get a lot of people that have to have it while they're in D.C.
FISHERAnd, Peggy Engle, we've neglected hot dogs in our enthusiasm about the all the extraordinary unusual things that are showing off in stadiums. But as you have traveled the country through your book, "Baseball Vacations," what have you found far as great new kinds of dogs?
ENGELWell, there's some great bratwurst out there and sausages of every description in Milwaukee and other cities. But, I mean, we have our own half-smokes. Thank goodness that Ben's Chili Bowl sells it because that's one of D.C.'s only indigenous foods, and I think everyone should try that. But there's huge variety in hot dogs. The Dodger Dogs are terrible. They're just, you know, boiled nothings.
ENGELBut you go into some ballparks -- and I have to say we've made a real effort at the Bethesda (word?). They have a great kosher, terrific hot dog. And so, you know, they aren't always sentencing yourself to heartburn. There's some really fabulous sausages and hot dogs out there.
FISHERI am so glad you said that about that about Dodger Dogs because I have never understood the mystique of Dodger Dogs. I mean, people talk about them as if you ought to travel 3,000 miles to check one out, and they're just awful. They're soggy. They're not crisp. How do you explain their popularity?
ENGELI think just the alliteration. You know, it's a great name. That's all I can say.
ENGELBut I have to say the Shake Shack burgers, one of the...
PETERSONSpeaking of alliteration.
ENGEL...is -- that they use great lettuce. It's not shredded lettuce. It's not two-days old. It's a big, nice section of terrific lettuce, very much like the in In-N-Out Burger that is beloved, and should be, out in California.
FISHERDave Peterson, is there -- are we know past the days of the soggy dog and the soggy bun? Is that era of stadium food done with?
PETERSONAt Nats Park, it is.
FISHERBut it still exists somewhere else?
FISHERAnd why does the industry still allow that in an era when people have more advanced tastes?
PETERSONMainly for volume reasons. You know, if we -- at Levy Restaurants, we do a number of different events, from NASCAR to golf to tennis. So I've seen in other companies, you pre-package and you wrap and you put in hotbox and you transport. So it's basically just by volume.
FISHERAnd Levy Restaurants is the company that has the vending franchise for Nationals Park. So at Nats Park -- here's a new stadium just opened a few years now -- is it equipped in a very different way from an older -- what an older stadium would be or do you have a lot more in the way of kitchen space and facilities?
PETERSONComing from a chef's point of view, we definitely are blessed with a lot of toys. In the Red Porch, we have a great smoker. We have combi ovens in all our kitchens. We have char grills. We have ample amount of equipment. Whatever we need, the Nationals are waiting to give to us so we can produce a great quality product.
FISHERTim, were you able to get into any of the kitchens in the stadiums you visited? Do you -- does that make a big difference in what quality food is available at stadiums?
CARMANWell, I think it probably makes some difference, but I think the bigger difference is, you know, gentlemen, like this man, who is a chef, you know, and who cooks and who decides what kind of menu to put together. The tools are good, I mean, I'm impressed that the -- I didn't know the Nats actually had a smoker there.
CARMANI know they had the Danny Meyer Blue Smoke, but I didn't realize -- I mean, I don't know if it's like a southern pride unit, what kind of smoker they have there. But that's an expensive piece of machinery, and, you know, that's -- so that shows us a certain sort of interest in putting out a quality product.
PETERSONIn the Red Porch, we smoke all our own brisket, our pulled pork and our ribs.
CARMANWould you know what kind of smoker? I'm going to hijack (unintelligible) here.
FISHERGo right ahead.
PETERSONIt is -- it is the pride. It is -- we do have a nice mix of cherry and maple.
CARMANHow big a unit?
PETERSONIt holds 500 pounds of meat.
CARMANThat's a good size unit. Yeah.
CARMANThat's an expensive piece of machinery.
FISHERWell, Sherry in Baltimore is on the line, and she has a question about the quality of food at ballparks. Sherry, it's your turn.
SHERRYYes. I go to the Raven stadium a lot, and I expect to pay, you know, overprice for food, you know? That's just a given when you're there. But you expect to get a quality product and, you know, and you don't. You get -- you buy a grilled chicken sandwich, and it's got -- it's a small piece of dried out grilled chicken on a huge bun with nothing else on it, and you're paying $8 or $9 for it.
SHERRYSo I don't -- you know, the variety is there, but when you buy something, you know, the Italian sausage has been so cooked there and left in water so long that all the salt's going out of it. I mean, you just don't get -- it's not hot. You don't get even half your money's worth for what you're buying.
FISHERDave Peterson, obviously, there are stadiums where things have not changed. What do you say to somebody like that who still has that impression of stadium food as being just really dreary?
PETERSONWell, I cannot talk about other companies, and, you know, I've never been to the Raven stadium. I hear it's very nice. There is -- you know, we do work with the human aspect. We don't have 700 chefs. We do have -- and what we need to do is make sure the recipes are followed and everything falls through.
FISHERWe have a couple of tweets here along the same lines. One says, "Cooked items for vegetarians. We like baseball, too." And the other says, "National Park -- Nationals Park chefs, vegetarians love hot dogs, too. A veggie burger doesn't cut it. Please bring veggie dogs to the ballpark." Any movement in that direction?
PETERSONWell, our healthy plate portable, on the third base side, does very well. Whether veggie wraps -- we have a fruit cup, a veggie cup with homemade hummus. So we do have a great veggie burger.
FISHEROK. Peggy Engel, are you seeing more variety of vegetarian options in ballparks, and do they do well to your knowledge?
ENGELYes, they do. I mean, people are really looking for vegetarian options, and they're going. If they can eat fish, they're going through fish sandwiches or fish tacos. But there needs to be definitely more because of the percentage of young people and, really, all age groups that are moving towards -- vegetarianism is growing. And I think that the ballparks are a little behind that curve.
FISHERLet's hear from Chris in Kensington. Chris, you are on the air.
CHRISHi. Yes. I remember when the Nats first came to Washington, and I could get the best tofu dogs in the area at the RFK stadium. And they were only, like, $3. And I just remembered that, and I think they weren't that popular because I think I was the only one eating them. But -- and they've been done away with at the new Nats Park, but -- along those lines. And I also have a comment about how FedEx field, I think, is definitely lagging behind in all areas of food production because (unintelligible).
FISHERThere's a shocker for you.
CHRISYeah, because they have -- well, they are at the bottom of the field, just like the Redskins are, but they have the worst food I've ever had in any stadium and also the most overpriced food at the same time. So I will take my comments off the air.
FISHEROK. Dave Peterson, I know you've worked at football stadiums. Is there a difference in how you supply a crowd at a football stadium from a baseball stadium?
PETERSONWell, you got 60,000 people that are coming in at the same time. We start on Monday to get ready for a Sunday game. I would go in at four o'clock in the morning to get ready to start firing food for 12, you know, 11:30, 12 o'clock doors. So the kitchens are in one part of the stadium. It's a, you know, transportation issue. You do have to cook it, prepare it ahead of time to get it to that location on time.
FISHERSo you can actually do more fresh or more direct cooking at a baseball stadium than for a football crowd?
FISHERAnd his other point, there are all these folks who ask for vegetarian or other healthful options, and then we see that, often, those options disappear after a year or two. Is the demand for that more talk than action?
PETERSONI agree. We wouldn't -- you know, I'll check on the tofu dog -- not aware of that one, but we do listen to the guest that do come to the healthy cart and what they're looking for, and we do offer that.
FISHERAnd, Peggy, this movement toward local products at stadiums, does that feel to you like a gimmick? Or is there something about rooting for the home team and enjoying the home product or brand that seems to naturally go together?
ENGELYeah, absolutely. It's just hard for them to get into the stadium. Usually, it's just a very token number. They'll put one or three restaurants in, and that's it. In Des Moines, Iowa, pork producers got some muscle, and so they got into the ballpark and have these terrific pork sandwiches that you can't get anywhere else. And so I'd like see much more of that. It's hard because the food service operations, it's easier for the baseball team to just turn them over to one person.
ENGELBut someone who called in and talked about the bad qualities that they receive on the other end, they have to remember that sometimes the (word?) are being turned over to non-profits as a fundraiser. That happens a lot in stadiums. So you think you're getting the trained person behind the counter, but they may not be. It may be their only one-time, one-night there. But, you know, I would advice that person to complain and return the chicken that was all dried out and the French fries that were cold.
FISHERBut, you know...
ENGELUntil we do that, we're going to paying overpriced food for low quality.
FISHERBut when you try to sort of talk back to management, that's always easier to do with a smaller establishment than with a huge corporation. And this raises the question, you know, that you do have a few very large companies that dominate a lot of the stadiums around the country. The Nationals blew through a couple of those companies before they found the vendor that they like, Levy Restaurants.
FISHERThey started out with ARAMARK, as I recall, and that was kind of disastrous at RFK. Tim Carman, is the role of these huge companies such that they sort of defined stadium food culture and lowered our expectations for many years?
CARMANThat's a tough question. I think the -- I think Dave kind of hit upon the real issue. It's like you're dealing with such a large volume. I mean, you can't do what's known in the restaurant businesses as a la menu cooking, to order cooking, for a big ballpark stadium-type situation. You just can't. There's got to be certain foods that are prepared ahead of time that can sit, that can hold. And so a part of it is the culture. I mean, hot dogs were the first food really introduced to baseball stadiums, maybe back in the late 19th century.
CARMANAnd so it's history. It's convenience. It's, how do you cater to such a huge volume of people? I think all of these factors go into the foods that have historically been part of it. I mean, I have to give some credit to these companies. They are big companies, and they are there to make money. And they do -- I mean, they do their job, but they're also -- they seem to be listening to what people want.
CARMANAnd it is a slow -- it's a slow movement. You know, it's not going to happen overnight. And I still think that most want the junk food. I mean, personally, I want the junk food when I go to a baseball game.
FISHERAbsolutely. I'm with you there. We will continue our conversation about stadium food. And we'll hear more from you about what foods you like at stadiums and what you don't like at 1-800-433-8850. We'll also get into what is local food for a Washington crowd? That's after a short break. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking about stadium food with Tim Carman, food writer of The Washington Post. Peggy Engel, she's the co-author of "Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America." And Dave Peterson, he's the executive chef at Nationals Park.
FISHERAnd, Dave, we have a posting from Andrew on our website that says, "I found that boiled peanuts down south are one of my favorites at the ballgame, and I'd love to see it spread through the nation's parks. The Montgomery Biscuits, an actual minor league team, they have a biscuit cannon that," he says, "when a team shoots you a buttered biscuit into the stands, that, to me, is an experience."
FISHERSo I don't know if you'd be able to provide buttered biscuit shot into the crowd, but is there pressure to be always innovating and, you know, have you experimented with other things you can shoot into the crowd?
MR. DAVID PETERSONBoiled peanuts, have you ever tried them?
CARMANI have, and I -- it's like Dodger Dogs. I don't get it.
PETERSONMe neither. It's fun. I mean, I worked at Verizon Center for three seasons, and, you know, they do the chipotle. You know, they wrap up a T-shirt and wrap it up like a burrito and throw it in there for free. We do T-shirts. There's a lot of, you know, pizza giveaways. There's a lot of gimmicks that we can do.
FISHERSo we're not going to see sushi shooting out of a shooter into the crowd anytime soon.
PETERSONNo. The health department wouldn't allow me to do that.
FISHERWell, you know, Baltimore is identified with the crab cake and Milwaukee with the broth, Seattle with seafood. But Washington really doesn't have very much of a distinct regional culinary identity, aside from the half-smoke. So as you're trying to introduce a local element into the offerings at the stadium, Dave, have you run into kind of a brick wall there?
PETERSONWell, besides the half-smoke and the Ben's Chili, you know, that's what we're looking. I mean, there's a lot of -- you know, D.C., there's a lot of different tastes. You know, there's a lot of different people from all over the, you know, all over the country. Trying to get that and saying what is D.C., you guys can educate me that a lot more, being from Florida.
FISHERTim Carman, what's the local delicacy that ought to be at stadiums?
CARMANThis is a question that has mystified food writers and historians in the D.C. area for a long time. The half-smoke, incidentally, is not even produced in D.C. anymore. It is produced by a company called Manger's up in Baltimore. And so, I mean, it's got -- its history is based in D.C., and it's got a long history in D.C.
CARMANBut as far as, like, foods that, I think, that could be introduced to, like, Nat Stadium or FedEx Field, there is a -- there's a food that I love that comes out of -- mostly out of the African-American community, and you see at, like, Howard games. There is -- it's fried fish, fried whiting, and it's usually served with a hot sauce. And, you know...
FISHERWith mambo sauce, another Washington delicacy.
CARMANRight, a mambo sauce, too. And, you know, this is something that, I think, often gets overlooked as one of the -- I mean, it's a very simple dish. It's just -- it's whiting, basic white fish, breaded, deep fried, served with, you know, this very acidic, vinegary hot sauce. And yet it's -- if you go to a lot of African-American sporting events or functions, that's what's served.
FISHERThat's the staple.
CARMANYeah, that is the staple. And you don't see that in stadiums. And I think that's something that I'd love to see in stadiums.
FISHERPeggy Engel, do you have a vote on what is -- food that really is Washington? Oh, I think we've lost Peggy, but there's -- we've gotten other votes from listeners on this, and John in Arlington may have a suggestion. John, are you there?
JOHNYes, I am.
JOHNOK. I'm glad you mentioned mambo sauce 'cause I was thinking of chicken wings with mambo sauce is a D.C. favorite. Yeah. I guess I wondered if you want to know about some other unusual foods you've had at other stadiums.
JOHNOK. When I was in Seattle, it was a beautiful park, and it met all my requirements because it was fabulous sushi called an ichiro.
JOHNAnd unlike Nat Stadium, which is always a problem for me, they must have had six different microbrew IPAs around the stadium. That is like, you know, a drink 'cause Nat Stadium falls a little short on the beer selection. The other thing is if you've ever been to Pittsburgh, there's a sandwich called Primanti Brothers.
CARMANI just had it.
JOHNIt's got the French fries inside the roll.
FISHERIt's an extraordinary sandwich. This is a sandwich packed with meat and coleslaw and French fries all inside the bun.
JOHNIt's an effort to get it in in your seat, but it's well worth it.
FISHERThanks for your call, John. John mentions what he sees as a paucity of beer choices, but the numbers have certainly increased in the last few years.
PETERSONDefinitely. I would invite this gentleman to visit us at the Red Porch. We have over 30 beers on draft. We have Hennepin. We have Blue Moon, obviously local Dogfish Head up in Delaware and Heavy Seas from Baltimore, even Yuengling.
FISHERAnd even in the stands, I've noticed that the vendors are now carrying Stella -- although we made fun of it earlier in the hour -- are now carrying Stella Artois along with your basic American brews.
PETERSONDefinitely. We're listening. You know, they're -- D.C. has a great taste. You know, they're looking for those microbrews, and we definitely have them at the park. We also have the Primanti Brothers sandwiches, too.
FISHERNow, I should mention, as long as we're talking about local foods, our producer, Brendan Sweeney, suggests that the true Washington culinary experience at the ballpark would be something Ethiopian. It's a doro wat or something like that. I kind of doubt that you're going to jump right on that, but just throwing that out there.
PETERSONI definitely will experiment with some.
FISHERMaybe along the third baseline would be a good place. But the offerings do change every year. And, in addition to adding Shake Shack and some of the other vendors from New York, you've subtracted things over the years. What have you tried in the past that just didn't work?
PETERSONWell, in the whole off-season, we -- our concessions team, our premium team, we sit down. We work with the Nationals, what works, what doesn't work, and then we'll see if there's small tweaks. You know, Taste of the Nation -- or Taste of the Majors came about that. Last year was with hot dogs, and this year we're doing more regional -- what the team does in their own ballpark.
FISHERAnd so last year you had -- I remember there was one stand that had a different kind of dog for each of the NL East team cities: Miami, Philadelphia and so on.
PETERSONRight. That was the Taste of Majors. We just changed it up a little bit. Now, it's more sandwiches and different -- we still offer some of those hot dogs. We'll have a Miami dog with pulled pork and pickles and shredded Swiss -- excuse me -- coming up when, you know, Miami comes here.
FISHERSo that's just when that team is in town, you offer that. And what -- I know you had some Philly cheesesteaks available during the much-hyped Philly series this past weekend, but they carried a different name.
PETERSONWell, the whole part of Take Back Nats Park when Philly came to town, we didn't do anything that was Philadelphia. We didn't do a cheesesteak. We took a nice -- we made an attitude steak sandwich. It was a nice 7-ounce rib eye topped with a -- an aged parmesan cream, with a tomato and fresh horseradish, also with baby arugula on a, you know, fresh chapati roll.
FISHERWow. And was that a one-time only offering or...
PETERSONWe did it for the Philadelphia series, and we're going to move it up into the Stars & Stripes Club.
FISHERUh huh. And...
CARMANMaybe you can do a Cole Hamels bean burger now.
FISHERYou definitely want to take advantage of that publicity. Is it that easy to start something and just put it out there in a matter of days or it takes some time?
PETERSONThe Nationals, you know, we sit down once a week, and we'll look at our schedules coming up. And then -- it's a great partnership. I have the best job. You know, I go to a game every day to work, so it's a lot of fun.
FISHERNow, you can come up with all the greatest ideas and even the greatest recipes in the world. But when it comes to the fan experience, it's highly dependent on who's working the stand, how quickly they move along and how they deal with the product. Is there a disconnect between the dreams and desires of a chef and what you are able to execute, given who the workers are at a ballpark?
PETERSONIt is very tough, but it's something that we stay on top of daily with retraining and, you know, re-forecasting and pre-shifting and making sure that our workers know that they're -- people are coming to the stadium for the first time, and they're looking for a great experience. And we got to deliver that every day of the week.
FISHERTim, is there a real -- is it fair to hold stadium food to anything like the standard that you would find even in a fast food restaurant? Is it that different in a production process that it really should be held to completely different standard?
CARMANYou mean like a nutritional standard?
FISHERNo. As far as just the quality and the taste experience, the fan experience.
CARMANYou know, I don't think so. I think, you know, people can turn out good food with fast. You know, there are fast casual restaurants that turn out good food and they do it quickly. No. I think people will demand, ultimately, what they want and, you know, if the ballparks are smart, they'll listen to it. But, you know, from what Dave is saying and what I've seen, I'm not sure there's a huge amount of fan need or desire to have a whole different type of cuisine at ballparks.
FISHERAnd how about outside the ballpark? As much as the food inside ballparks is changing, Nationals Park is a new stadium in what is going to be a new neighborhood but is one that is still very much in the process of being built. There are still some empty lots around the stadium. Have you had a chance to wander around and see what's available before and after a game?
CARMANI have. The last time I went to Nats Park, which was a couple of weeks ago, I walked around the neighborhood, and it's still -- you know, options are very limited. I mean, there's a McDonald's, of course. It's been there forever. There's Justin's Cafe, which has got a pretty good beer list if you want to get a drink before the game. There's the new -- the Fairgrounds, which is Bo Blair's sort of sprawling open-air establishment that has beer.
CARMANAnd they don't have concessions. But what they do is they put a couple of food trucks in there, two or three food trucks and maybe even Bo's own Surfside food truck. So you can go in there and get, you know, some freshly prepared food from food trucks, which is nice.
FISHERAnd that's in the open space directly across from the Metro station on Half Street.
CARMANThat's correct. Other than that, I mean, it's pretty slim pickings.
FISHERThere's The Five Guys.
CARMANThere is The Five Guys. I think it's going to change, as we were discussing earlier. There's that part, the new development over by the Yards, that it's going to include a neighborhood restaurant group project, which is the group behind Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, the big beer empire over there on 14th Street. And they're going to open up what they're going to call Blue Jacket, which is their brewery and restaurant, and I think that's going to be a game changer for that area over there. And it's great because it really fits into this new beer culture that Washington now is embracing.
FISHERAnd that's part of a big -- if you're walking to the stadium behind the U.S. Department of Transportation, there's a big glass pavilion that they're working on. And toward the end of this season or perhaps in the fall, the developers behind the Yards project along the Anacostia River there are planning to open up a sort of food emporium with quite a number of food options for that before or after game.
FISHERWe have an email from Kirsten -- Kristen saying that she's a huge baseball fan and a vegetarian and that she gets her delicious veggie dogs at DC-3 on Capitol Hill before walking over to the game. But she'd rather have them at the stadium. And she, too, remembers those tofu dogs at RFK. So another vote for those, Dave Peterson.
PETERSONI'm writing it down.
FISHEROK. Dave Peterson is executive chef at Nationals Park. We spoke earlier with Peggy Engel, the co-author of "Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America." And Tim Carman is food writer for The Washington Post. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," and thanks so much for listening.
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