Shea Stadium, our dearly departed former home, was pretty far from desirable when it came to the quality and variety of available food offerings. I don't think I'll find too much argument there. We always had a readily available assortment of the standard fare, Hot Dogs, Pretzels, Beer, etc. But there was nothing particularly special about anything. And it was generally not worth what you paid for it. In the late 80s, or at least this was when I noticed it, things started to get jazzed up a little bit. They opened a quaint little food-courty type place in the Right Field corner in the Field Level called the "Fielder's Choice," where you could get more or less the same stuff, I believe. In my younger days, I always opted for the chicken tenders. The Fielder's Choice caught on, and before too long, they popped up in the Mezzanine and Upper Decks.
In the 90s, Aramark took over the concession from Harry M. Stevens (I'm more or less going from memory now, so correct me if I'm wrong) more and more specialty food stands started to pop up, and the Fielder's Choices had wholesale makeovers, with new names like "Midtown Express," and "Grand Central Grille." But they more or less had the same stuff they always did. Then, there were some satellite stands that had ice cream, or beer and pretzels. In the early 2000s, an odd, rather tasty smell began wafting through the stands, when they started putting Italian Sausage stands in various locations. I tried one once, in 2001. I was immediately hooked. It was substantial, it was good, and it was, by Shea standards, reasonably priced. And thusly, the Sausage & Peppers became my Shea Stadium food of choice.
But through these years, I was going to quite a few games, generally within the neighborhood of 15-20 a season. Sometimes, I didn't always feel like the Sausage & Peppers. So, I began to explore the other available options. The standard Hot Dog had gone through its own metamorphosis, from Kahn's to Nathan's, and if you found the right stand, was even available in a footlong variety (see above). At some point, they even started throwing a free bag of chips in there, too. There was also the old standby, the Chicken Tenders, which now came plopped on top of a small stack of soggy French Fries. They were cardboardy, heartburn-inducing goodness. There was pizza around, however after trying it once and finding the box it came in to taste better, I wasn't going there again. The Bubba Burgers that appeard in 2006 were nice, but unsubstantial. I felt limited. Were there other, palatable options? I meandered around the Field Level a few times in 2007 and 2008 and found that the original Fielder's Choice had turned into a veritable strip mall of chains and inscrutable local establishments. The BB Sandwich Bar had an interesting Cheesesteak-like sandwich (Upon mentioning this to my infamous co-worker, he replied, "Cheesy Steak? Who the hell eats that at a ballgame?!"), but it was basically an over glorified Roast Beef Sandwich, hardly worth going out of my way for. I wasn't about to frequent Dunkin' Donuts for dinner either. There was also a Subway there, which I could only make fun of, because it was overpriced and unnecessary. And if I ever wanted to go to Subway, I would have gone to one of the many real ones in Manhattan, gotten a reasonably-priced sandwich and eaten it on the train out to the stadium. There was also the Glatt Kosher stand, which I never went to because I'm clearly a bad Jew. In the Mezzanine, there appeared, in 2008, a stand called Mama's of Corona. I'd never heard of it. They had a stack of boxes, but no picture or description of what was inside. It was the Mystery box. El Guapo and I wondered about it for several weeks, before I finally took a moment to walk over and read the menu. Turns out they were specialty sandwiches. I believe there was a Turkey Club, and something called the "Mama's Special." $9 specialty sandwiches, that they didn't show you before you bought them. I decided to pass.
So, what's the point of all this? Well, with Citi Field opening, there was the promise of some newer, higher-quality, recognizable food coming in. The concession deal with Aramark remained, and one can only assume that many of these options will still be available (I'll be sorely disappointed if I can't get the Sausage & Peppers in the Promenade level). But who cares about that? An article in Friday's Daily News gives a blow-by-blow account of the new assortment of culinary choices available at Citi Field. I guess, at Shea, the only really high-end anything as far as food was concerned was the Diamond Club. I never set foot in the place. I'd venture the guess that I probably won't see a number of the new places at Citi Field, either.
First, there's the Shake Shack. This isn't anything resembling high-end, I don't think, though I have to admit that I've never set foot in a Shake Shack, nor have I been to the original stand in Madison Square. El Guapo raves up and down about it, so I guess it's probably good.
Next, Box Frites. This place serves Belgian-cut french fries. Because when I think of great Ballpark Food, I think of Belgian-cut french fries.
The Verano Taqueria, much more acceptable than if they'd decided to plop a Taco Bell in Center Field.
The Wheelhouse Market purports to have "classic, artesianal comfort foods," which sounds to me like an overglorified diner.
Then, there's the Delta Sky 360 Club, the Acela, and the Blue Smoke, in case you have the urge to sit and have a gourmet 3-course meal while watching the Mets. Apparently you can only get into the Acela if you have a reservation. Well, la dee da! I wonder what the menu at that place must look like.
But the real kicker is Zachys, a Wine Bar. I'd love to see what happens when the Sack 'O Nuts crowd gets tanked after too many glasses of Merlot.
Many of these new stadiums tend to have a hearty sampling of local food, such as the Sushi stand in Seattle or the Crabcake stand in Baltimore. I know there's something in San Francisco too, but whatever it was has slipped my mind at the current time. What appears to be lacking here is that the Mets seem to have gone for a lot of glitz and glamour, and some big-name restaurateurs when it came to putting together the Citi Field Menu, but it lacks New York flavor. I know a good Corned Beef or Pastrami sandwich isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you're at a ballgame, but wouldn't a 2nd Avenue Deli stand work here? How about a Junior's Cheesecake stand? How about finding someone who can turn out a decent Pizza, rather than that Sbarro crap they've been passing off as food? And the Wine bar is just plain bewildering.
One thing's for sure. If you're going to go to a game at Citi Field, you won't go hungry. But at what cost?
Slate of Amazin' Eats on Citi Field's Home Plate [Daily News]