Even if you hate hot dogs. Even if you fear all the nitrates, hormones, cow lips, anal flaps and sawdust pumped into them. Even if stuffing a slippery, pink, semi-rigid flesh pole approximately six inches in length into your mouth incites repellant sexual imagery, there’s one place in the world where you’ll not only eat a toxic meat missile slathered in mustard water, but smile and burp out an order for a second.
Sports arenas transform us as eaters, allowing a few brief hours to indulge our stomachs and wallets in ways we normally would not.
Where else, after all, would you pay $14 to horse down chewy pizza and stale Cracker Jack at 8 o’ clock on a Wednesday night, much less shout “Dirty Sanchez!” at Latin ballplayers whose names suddenly strike you as hilarious four $8 Miller Lites into your evening?
As a card-carrying member of the International Confederation of Picky Eaters, I go out of my way not to criticize the eating habits of others.
I am, however, prone to noting the day-to-day habits of the hoi polloi.
From a lifetime spent trying not to spill beer and relish on my cargo shorts as I wedge into a tiny plastic seat while the Mariners flush another meaningless May-June-July-August-September down the toilet, here’s a brief taxonomy of ballpark eating types.
Luxury Suite Gourmand
This ballpark connoisseur is less interested in Brian Wilson’s beard than in James Beard. Chefs who have won the latter’s prestigious culinary awards now oversee “to die for” concessions at a number of ballparks around the country.
Niman Ranch apple-gouda smoked sausages at Arizona’s Chase Field. Mediterranean chicken with seasoned vegetables and basil-toasted orzo at New York’s Citi Field. Alaskan king crab pulled from the Bering Sea and boiled to perfection at Yankee Stadium. For this diamond diner, no feast is too classy — or incongruous — when men named Pronk, Zorilla and The Mexecutioner are adjusting their groin configurations nearby.
Field Box Ethnic Explorer
As America’s population has diversified, so has its appreciation of exotic cuisine. MLB concessionaires have reacted by creating chowhounds havens of culinary respite in arenas once dominated by cigar smoke and foil-wrapped franks.
Today’s diversity-celebrating fan can seek such treasures as Sake Ichirolls at Seattle’s Safeco Field and Caribbean jerk chicken sandwiches at Nationals Park in Washington. Just hand them the chopsticks and walk away quietly when the old Peace Corps war stories start flowing.
Hot dog. Peanuts. Cracker Jack. Something domestic, light, cold and overpriced in a plastic cup. This guy knows what he wants — sniffly memories of going to the game with Dad included — and nothing’s getting in his way. Except maybe a glowing tray of pump-cheese nachos.
“Hot dogs will always be the most popular item out there,” says David Freireich of Aramark, the Pennsylvania-based company that handles concessions at 11 MLB stadiums. “But don’t shortchange the nacho. It’s right up there with hot dogs in terms of popularity.”
Mezzanine Garbage Can
Cotton candy. Red vines. Frozen lemonade. Corn dogs. Dippin’ Dots. Funnel cakes. Milk Duds. Pizza. Tootsie Rolls. Kettel corn. Pretzels. Milkshakes.
Whatever’s being hustled by the nearest “in-seat vendor” (that’s industry-speak for the hawkers who wander stadium aisles soliciting commerce like Phnom Penh cathouse touts), it’s going down this guy and his kids’ gullets before the next irresistible offering rolls by.
No matter how special the occasion, there’s always the pill who refuses to abide the BOHICA insult of the stadium cash register.
Old man skinflint who wouldn’t toss a quarter at a legless war veteran sure as hell ain’t gonna get bitch-slapped for a sawbuck getting himself or his brood a sno-cone or bratwurst, no matter how hard the kids whine about being starving, hot and bored. If you’re lucky he’ll pony up for a bag of peanuts outside the stadium (“Hey, they’re two bucks more inside!”) and sneak ’em past security for a taint-scented bleacher treat.
Terrace Fast Foodie
This creature of habit isn’t about to change his ways just because he’s passed through a turnstile.
What he likes on the outside, he goes for inside the stadium. That’s why whether it’s a stand flogging Hardee’s at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, Little Caesars in Detroit’s Comerica Park, Outback Bloomin’ Onions in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field or Mrs. Fields/TCBY’s finest at Arizona’s Chase Field, the line for franchise fare is as long and motley at the ballpark as it is at the food court in the mall.
Field Level Local Snob
Miss two innings waiting in line for grub? Damn straight, if it’s for a Shake Shack burger at New York’s Citi Field, Rubio’s fish tacos at San Diego’s PETCO Park or a Grain Belt Nordeast grog at Minnesota’s Target Field.
These days, “local legend” at the stadium can mean anything from a beloved first baseman to an even more beloved gingham-printed paper boat filled with garlic fries. When the local nine is 22.5 games out of the wild card hunt in July, the dedication of the “locally sourced” patriot leaves ballpark consumption as the one reliable source of hometown pride.
More baseball talk on Food Republic: