I had three holdover questions from last week I wanted to get to, then I spent 1200 words on the first of them. So I guess I’ve got content already mapped out for next week!
Devon with a locked Twitter account asked me to list the “five best things I’ve eaten at a ballpark.”
This is a surprisingly complicated question to tackle, as I’ve done quite a lot of special-event eating at ballparks. In San Diego for the All-Star Game, I sat at a table as one of Petco Park’s chefs brought me all the stadium’s best foods so I could eat them on Facebook Live. I’ve been to five or six of the Mets’ annual food previews, which are incredible, and I attended MLB’s inaugural FoodFest in New York. I even once got the Legends Suite experience at Yankee Stadium, which goes a long way toward explaining why no one’s ever in the seats behind home plate during Yankees games. They’re back in the dining room, eating ridiculously good food, and probably trading hedge funds or something.
I say this not to call out Citi Field or the Mets in particular, only because it’s the place where I’ve (understandably) most often witnessed this phenomenon: The food presented to media, at events specifically created to generate positive press around a ballpark’s food, is never quite as good when you try it in the wild. When I sampled the Fuku chicken sandwich at the Citi tasting event, I figured it would become my go-to meal there. The first time I got it while actually at a game, it was disappointing enough that I never got it again.
Also, for context, I always tried my best not to eat at ballparks while traveling for work. Maybe somewhere in Wrigley Field there’s some astonishingly tasty specialty sandwich (though I kind of doubt it), but in a city that eats as well as Chicago does, there’s no way I’m wasting a meal on ballpark food unless it’s an absolute necessity. I’ve got something of an iron stomach for greasy food, but when you’re spending the entire month of October on the road watching baseball games, you need to take care to eat a salad at some point or the World Series is going to be awfully unpleasant.
OK, here we go:
5) Dante’s Inferno Pizza, Progressive Field: So you know that thing I just said about trying not to eat at ballparks while traveling for work? It’s more or less impossible to pull off in Cleveland if you don’t have access to a car. Downtown Cleveland, at least as of 2016, has one stretch of sports bars, a takeout pizza place, and, I want to say, a Blimpie. The best places I found to eat in that area were actually inside a casino, but entering a casino to eat pre-game lunch is a risky proposition when you’re a degenerate like myself.
It’s all good, because Progressive Field is quietly an excellent food park. I’m not even sure the pizza is the best thing I’ve had there, but I remember that it’s cooked to order and that the Dante’s Inferno namesake pizza was spicy and delicious. I also remember a sandwich with pierogi on top, and thinking that the pierogi didn’t actually add anything to the sandwich but appreciating that I could pull them off and eat them as dessert.
4) Torchy’s Tacos, Minute Maid Park: You’re going to notice a theme here. The ballpark foods I like the best are rarely those made specifically for ballparks, because foods made specifically for ballparks these days seem more focused on generating internet buzz and Instagram likes than actually tasting good. A bacon-wrapped chicken-and-waffle fried pizza lobster donut may sound intriguing, but I guarantee it’s not as good as tacos from a good taco place. Torchy’s is an excellent, Austin-based fast-casual taco chain, worth eating at even if you’re not in a ballpark. But the Minute Maid Park location is incredibly convenient to the auxiliary press box.
3) Mama’s Special, Citi Field: I already know Devon’s with me on this one. After years of dallying in Blue Smoke and Box Frites and Two Boots and all Citi’s other good options, I concluded that the best, most consistent, and most convenient meal to eat there is the one carryover from Shea Stadium. An Italian hero is a perfect ballpark food for a ballpark in Queens — it’s a full meal, it’s regionally appropriate, it’s easy to eat with your hands without making a mess, and it’s salty and porky and cheesy and fantastic. The turkey and mozzarella sandwich from Mama’s is also a go-to for me. Why am I going to kill three innings waiting on like at Shake Shack when I can get a really good deli hero in 10 minutes? Makes no sense.
One of the big keys to eating at Mama’s in Citi Field, I think, is making sure to also get a packet of Italian dressing. They have them on hand for salads, but they don’t default to giving you one unless you ask. Really makes the sandwich sing.
2) Chili Half-Smoke, Nats Park: Trust that it kills me to put anything related to the Nats this high on the list, but this ranking isn’t about the Nats so much as it’s about Ben’s Chili Bowl. If you’re unfamiliar, the original Ben’s location is a D.C. institution and one of my favorite places to eat in the whole world. It’s a place that brings tourists and locals together to bond around the deliciousness of half-smoke sausages (a D.C. delicacy) drowned in soupy chili, I almost never go to D.C. without getting there, and I envy the heck out of Nats fans for their access to its ballpark location. A Chili Half-Smoke is a mess of a thing to attempt to eat at a baseball game, but whatever. Love Ben’s Chili Bowl. Save Ben’s Chili Bowl!
1) Corn on the Cob, Chiefs Stadium: Maybe this is a cop-out. In 2005 I worked in a high school, meaning I had the whole summer off. I drove from New York to Minneapolis (via Canada and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), met some friends there, and set out on a ridiculous baseball road trip. In the course of maybe 15 days, we hit games in Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Chicago again, Peoria, St. Louis, Kansas City, D.C. and Baltimore.
If I remember it right, the Peoria Chiefs game almost happened on a whim, like, “hey you know what would be a funny thing to do on our one night without baseball during this absurd baseball road trip? Go to a different baseball game!” And at that point, I had been on the road a while (I took three days just getting to Minneapolis), and almost exclusively eating fast food and ballpark food. Oh, and it was in the midst of a brutal heat wave.
Out in the right-field pavilion in Peoria in 2005, they were grilling up corn on the cob. I assume it was local, because why the heck wouldn’t you have local corn in Peoria, and after exclusively eating greasy, processed food for the prior couple weeks, it ranked among the single most delicious things I’d ever eaten. It didn’t even need butter! And I know corn’s not even particularly healthy, but it’s definitely better than, like, your fourth straight meal at Jack In The Box because there’s Jack In The Box in your hotel parking lot.
So it was that. The corn. Pretend it was wrapped in bacon, I guess.