Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Culinary Road Trip

The food choices at baseball parks have evolved a great deal over the past 20 or 25 years. Earlier this year, the N.Y. Times' Peter Meehan traveled to ballparks in 10 U.S. cities. In this article, he shares the diverse food experiences he encountered — the good, the bad and the ugly:

... if you’ve been to enough professional sporting events in your life, you’ve certainly encountered some edible disappointments along the way. And since I grew up in the 1980s, my memory of ballpark food involved frozen pizzas, sodden hot dogs on sullen buns and bad fast-food chains.

But in the last decade or so, as aging stadiums were either renovated or replaced, the ballparks have stepped up their game, and not just for the corporate skybox crowd. New stadiums have been laid out so that nosebleed sections have decent views, the concourses aren’t dark passageways, and the food and beer offered are no longer an afterthought to the game.

Hot dogs and peanuts still rule the food court, but I spotted signs of progress almost everywhere ... There were concessionaires that served humanely raised meat from the fashionable purveyor Niman Ranch. Phillies fans drank beer from biodegradable cups made of corn, and a few might even have filled their cars with biodiesel made from the park’s used fryer oil after the game.

And dishes from other baseball-loving cultures have made inroads, like tonkatsu, Japanese fried pork cutlets; sweet-fried plantains from Latin America; and pressed Cuban sandwiches.

Of course, I also saw plenty that deserved jeers: in the cramped confines of Wrigley Field’s concourses, I watched a large man, his head thrown back, guzzling spicy curly fries from a cup like they were a beverage.

... in Baltimore, I came face to face with a crab cake sandwich that edged out guinea pig (yes, guinea pig) as the least appetizing dish I have ever tried.

But there was enough good food — a cedar-planked salmon in Seattle, a thick pastrami hero at Dodger Stadium, the classic Primanti Brothers sandwich in Pittsburgh — that I never gave into indigestion or hot dog fatigue.

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