Historically, no sport is associated with food as much as baseball. Hot dogs and peanuts are almost as integral to a game as bats and gloves. Cracker Jacks even get a lyrical shout out in seventh inning stretch anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And that song was written in 1908! Of course concession offerings have come a long way from plain frankfurters, and in recent years have reached the fanciest levels of haute cuisine. You can even buy trendy tuna poké balls at Dodger Stadium or sophisticated oysters at Fenway Park.
While stadium food itself has become big business, just how integral is it to the baseball experience? For some of us (and by us, I mean me) food alone is reason enough to attend a game. But do you really need lobster poutine to enjoy a day at the ballpark? To answer these questions, I turned to an expert: my dad. Surely a diehard Yankee fan, frequent game attendee, and a collector of baseball cards (seriously, growing up our basement closets overflowed with shoeboxes of them) could help me answer these hard-hitting questions.
Together we embarked on a tasting of Yankee Stadium’s latest food offerings for the 2018 season, where we noshed our way through a plethora of items in anticipation of opening day.
The first thing we noticed upon the arrival was the vast array of options available. A huge buffet stood before us and we barely knew where to begin. Dad just stared in awe and may have accidentally photo-bombed a few professional photographers who were snapping pics of the whole she-bang, because he wanted first dibs on a Big Island Crispy Chicken Sandwich, complete with tempura pickle chips on a toasted Hawaiian bun. I can’t really blame him.
Before we ate, I asked my father to list as many hot foods as he could remember being sold at a baseball game in his younger days, say 30 to 40 years ago. “Hot dogs, hamburgers…maybe a chicken sandwich?” I watched him struggle to name more than a handful of items before giving up. “There was nothing like this!”
The huge uptick in dining options at national stadiums speaks to a larger trend in how we prefer to experience sporting events. Spectators rarely stay put in their seats for the duration of the game. The desire to watch from different vantage points, as well as purchase souvenirs and snacks, often has us roving about. As a result, the number of food options and concession stands in general has risen as a means to tap into our experiential preferences. For the most part, this is a good thing, even if the result is over-the-top chicken sandwiches, or, if you’re my dad, especially if the result is over-the-top chicken sandwiches.
This trend is also especially promising for those with dietary restrictions. In his opening remarks, Senior Executive Chef Matt Gibson spoke briefly on the dining team’s desire to make the menu as amenable and inclusive of all, and in this regard, they definitely succeeded.
There actually was an entire section of the stadium’s official dining guided dedicated to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free offerings. As a non-meat eater myself, I found this breakdown to be incredibly useful and surprisingly progressive, especially because it consisted of more than just basic salad. There were delicious black bean taquito cups and a faux-meat sausage sandwich courtesy the geniuses at Beyond Burger, both of which I gobbled down and neither of which my father touched. Militantly old-school, he stuck to the steak.
When it came to dessert, they were proud to unveil four brand new Grand Slam Milkshakes. However, only one was available for sampling—the Celebration Shake, full of vanilla ice cream, birthday cake frosting, and Funfetti vanilla cupcakes. Dad thought it was deceptive of them to tout four flavors while only providing a taste of one, especially when that one was vanilla-based. “That’s just like drinking sweet milk,” is something he maybe, no, definitely said. Whatever, dad is wrong on this one. Funfetti is the birthday cake of the gods. And the Yankees are well aware of this.
As we wrapped up our meal, we both left feeling full and content. There may not have been a game going on, but I was preoccupied with a platter of fries and dad marveled at the thrill of having unprecedented access to his favorite team’s stadium. He kept pointing out the window of the press lounge to the tiers below, incessantly reminding me those seats cost 800 dollars. Just to see them up close was good enough for him, as was eating a fruit plate that probably retailed for 10 bucks according to his “Price Is Right” estimates. It turns out, you may not need the fanciest, gourmet food to enrich your baseball experience, but getting to sample it for free is indeed priceless.
Header image courtesy of the New York Yankees.