Traditionally ballpark food has had the reputation for being limited in choice and not exactly delightful to the palate—but that’s why we’ve loved ballpark food so much all these years. The stale(ish) peanuts and popcorn and lower-quality hot dogs were all part of the ballgame experience. A shift is trending, though, in parks across the country that’s not only changing the menus at stadiums and parks, but is increasing the selection, too. Who knows if this development was sparked by restaurant supply shops looking to unload some non-traditional items to the concession stand cooks or if it is really a clever marketing ploy designed by the team owners to make the ballparks a meal destination with the game as a secondary consideration? Whatever is driving the transformation, be prepared for something more unique than popcorn and peanuts at the next ballgame.
The chefs (no longer cooks) preparing the goodies at the parks have kicked things off by teaching the old dogs some new tricks. Certainly you can find a basic hotdog and that’s what some parks, like Dodger Stadium, proudly serve up to baseball fans. Knowing that comfort food is always a good seller, the hot dog dressed with onions, mustard and relish is a classic. But if you’re in the mood for a dog that’s deep-fried, covered with chipotle mayo and mango slaw, or would prefer yours to look—and taste—more like an order of nachos complete with tortilla chips, jalapeno peppers and cheese sauce, those are available at select parks, too.
“But why,” the ballpark chefs asked, “should we stop at gourmetizing the humble hot dog?” And stop they did not, bringing a Bison cart to the Chicago Cubs stadium to offer fans a different bison product at each game. That’s just one example of the exotic eats you’ll currently find at a ballgame. Many parks have their own take on nachos, piling the traditional tortilla chips with changeups like buffalo or jerk chicken or ancho pepper-braised pork. It’s not uncommon anymore to find sushi at a Mariner’s game, fried walleye at a Minnesota Twins game, or Rocky Mountain Oysters at (of course) a Colorado Rockies game. And leave it to “Da Brew-ahs” to bring the Beef Parfait to Milwaukee. At first glance, it’s an ice cream parfait…but wait! Instead of vanilla ice cream, mashed potatoes are layered into the parfait glass with shredded smoked beef brisket, drizzled with barbeque sauce, and those are chopped chives on top, not candy sprinkles.
No visit to a ballpark would be complete if you didn’t indulge your sweet tooth, and the epicureans in charge of the stadium menus aren’t about to let you down there. You’ll always be able to munch on caramel corn, ice cream and little treats like cinnamon doughnuts. Why not give something different a shot, though, like the marshmallow fluff-topped, M & M-sprinkled, chocolate-drizzled tortilla chips dubbed “S’more Nachos”, guaranteed to give you the sugar-rush you crave?
Lest you get the impression that all of the food focus at America’s baseball stadiums has gone the way of satisfying but not healthful, it should be pointed out that many parks have added vegetarian and gluten-free food to the flood of gourmet fare enhancing park menus. This twist makes eating at a game enjoyable as well as accessible to anyone counting calories or having health issues with traditional concession stand offerings. Stir-fry, veggie paninis, gluten-free hotdogs and buns, and specialty gluten-free beer are available at a growing number of parks. And in a move that is sure to set a trend and make history, some parks have instated no-peanut zones and no-peanut days to accommodate fans who have nut allergies. Giving the fans what they want is all part of the business of baseball. Improving the food selection and providing health-conscious choices in the process is a winning strategy for everyone.