With all due respect to Jack Norworth, the American songwriter who penned “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” in 1908, peanuts and Cracker Jack just aren’t cutting it for many baseball fans. Gourmet hot dogs and exclusive chef tasting experiences, though? Now we’re talking. Our Forbes Travel Guide team has compiled an all-star roster of five baseball parks that have stepped up to the concession plate with new food offerings that are changing the face of game day dining.
Turner Field, Atlanta Braves
One of the top contenders in Atlanta’s constant argument of the best patty is the meat, cheese and bread combination made by chef Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch Public House. This season, Turner Field added the legendary burger (which is considered to be one of the best food experiences in Atlanta) to its concession offerings by opening two H&F Burger outposts in Fan Plaza and one behind the home plate in section 102. This burger is not for the faint of heart: It comes with two patties, cheese, housemade ketchup, mustard and pickles, sandwiched between two butter-toasted pain de mie buns complete with that perfect crispy edge.
Of course, if you plan your trip to Turner Field right, you could forego the tasty H&F burger and enjoy a full gourmet meal whipped up by a celebrity chef. On select home games, the Atlanta Braves’ “Big Night Out” program allows guests to enjoy a dinner inspired by the visiting team’s local cuisine along with the luxury game-viewing experience from a designated suite. Only 40 fans per game will be able to savor the work of chefs such as Herb Mesa, former competitor on the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star on June 29 and August 17; Southern chef Bobby Deen (you’ve heard of his mother Paula, right?) on July 12; Iron Chef America winner Kevin Rathbun on July 26; and Donna Rodriguez, radio personality and host of The Dishing With Donna Show, on August 9. Chefs Mesa and Rodriguez will cook together on September 14 and 27. Tickets are $145 per person and include a parking pass.
Citi Field, New York Mets
If ever there were a place where haute cuisine and casual classics go hand-in-hand, it’s New York City. For proof, look no further than the popularity of Shake Shack, which is owned by Union Square Hospitality Group—the same company that oversees the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurants Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.
In 2012, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors (the storied meat wholesaler that provides the beef used in Shake Shack’s signature burgers) started selling a filet mignon sandwich to New York Mets fans with just 15 games left in the season. The sandwich proved so popular—more than 10,000 sandwiches were sold in a few short weeks—that this year, Citi Field and LaFrieda expanded the partnership to open Pat LaFrieda’s Chop House inside the Delta Sky360 Club. In addition to the popular steak sandwich that debuted last season, fans can enjoy specialty items such as the Citi Field Amazin’ Burger (a 10-ounce patty made with a Black Angus blend of boneless short rib and beef belly, topped with onion rings, red wine gastrique compressed tomato, garlic-dill peppers and American cheese) and Grandpa’s Sweet Italian Sausage, a home-style favorite that’s made with an old family recipe.
“Growing up in Brooklyn, I’ve been a Mets fan all my life,” says Pat LaFrieda, Jr., the company’s CEO. “Sausage with peppers and onions is not just one of my favorite ball park foods, but one of my favorite foods, period. I knew we had to have a LaFrieda’s custom blend sausage on the menu, and was able to pay tribute to my grandfather, who made the best sweet Italian sausages.”
Target Field, Minnesota Twins
Andrew Zimmern has built a media empire by applying a “try everything once” mindset to his culinary adventures through his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. The two-time James Beard Award winner lives just outside of Minneapolis, and he brings his worldly appetite to the streets of the Twin Cities with his popular AZ Canteen food truck. When he was offered the opportunity to bring one of the truck’s most popular menu items to the Minnesota Twins’ concession lineup, he couldn’t say no.
“I’ve always been a huge sports geek, especially a baseball fan,” Zimmern says. “I associate food with sports. And I know I am not alone. Just because you are sitting in a seat with 50,000 other fans doesn’t mean your food shouldn’t be wholesome and delicious.”
Zimmern’s Canteen Burger—a lamb and goat blend made by Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors served on a pretzel bun with roasted tomatoes and charred onions—and other favorites from the food truck’s menu, including his popular ginger hibiscus punch, can be purchased from the new AZ Canteen stand in section 120.
Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros
Houston native Bryan Caswell has a culinary career that most chefs dream of, with stints in the New York Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Jean Georges, Four-Star Gotham Bar and Grill and the luxurious One&Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas to his name. These days, he’s back in his hometown, serving fine-dining seafood at his restaurant, Reef, and flipping patties at his casual burger joint, Little Bigs—all the while sporting his trusty Houston Astros hat. In 2011, Minute Maid Park opened a Little Bigs stand to bring Caswell’s sliders and pulled pork sandwiches to fans. This year, the chef’s presence at the field has expanded to include The Caz, a Bryan Caswell Grille on the club level.
The new stand serves half-pound burgers, chicken sandwiches and tenders, specialty sausages, hand-cut fries and milkshakes—all the foods that have made Caswell’s own game day experiences at the park memorable and fun. Menu highlights include the Freddy Fender, a chorizo sausage wrapped in a paprika tortilla and topped with tequila-braised onion, cheese, pico de gallo and cilantro sour cream; and the Dancing Chicken, a grilled chicken sandwich that’s made with fresh sliced apples, jalapeño jelly, cream cheese and fresh herbs. His goal is to bring new flavors to the plate without sacrificing the essence of fan dining.
“Baseball foods have to be eaten with one hand because you’re either whistling or screaming and cheering with one (or drinking), and eating with the other,” Caswell says.
Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
Enjoying a hot dog at Progressive Field is a quintessential part of the game day experience if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan. With that in mind, the Food Network Hot Dog Bar debuted this season to bring a new twist to the standard dog. Fans can head to sections 166 and 157 to sample The Cleveland Dog, a creation that boasts a Sugardale hot dog topped with housemade pulled pork, coleslaw and Bertman’s mustard. Longtime Clevelanders may prefer a sausage dog made with Pinzone’s Italian sausage, that same housemade pulled pork, coleslaw, mustard and grilled peppers and onions.
For the ultimate game day experience, you’ll have to make friends with one of the 100 lucky owners of a season ticket to The Collection Auto Club, a brand-new premium club that replaces 10 premium suites at Progressive Field. Here, fans enjoy watching the game on 20 HDTVs in extra-wide plush seating, all while feasting on daily menus created by chef Ed Michalski. Inspiration for each menu is drawn from the regional culinary influences of the Indians’ visiting teams—we’re salivating at the mere thought of the barbecue goodness that may pop up when the Indians take on the Kansas City Royals (July 12-14), or the Texas-style surprises that guests will enjoy when the Texas Rangers come to town (July 26-28).
Photos Courtesy of Nick Solares, Collection Auto Club, Turner Field and Minute Maid Park