Play ball…and pass the empanadas

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you likely have very fond memories of your first visit to a Major League Baseball park as a kid—but you probably don’t remember anything about the food you ate during that first visit to the ballpark.

Chances are it was one of the old standby offerings. According to baseball aficionados, Wrigley Field in Chicago is credited for opening the first American ballpark permanent concession stand back in 1914. During the earlier decades in pro-baseball history, hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jacks were among the earliest foods sold at baseball parks. Now, fast-forward to 2013 and the newer food offerings sold at baseball parks have greatly diversified and evolved.

Aramark, a food and hospitality supplier for 11 Major League Baseball stadiums, recently announced its ballpark menus for the 2013 season and the variety is staggering. These new offerings came about by combining current food and dining trends, fan feedback, innovative culinary techniques and locally inspired flavors, the company relayed.

Let’s take a look at some major league ballpark menus to see what newer meat and poultry products are being sold. For those of you who haven’t visited a major league ballpark in some time, be advised that a hot dog is no longer just a hot dog. Angel Stadium, Anaheim, Calif., offers a hand-twisted pretzel dog; Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pa., sells Harry's Double Dog, which is described as an extra-long hot dog, pickled red onions, tomato relish and jalapeño cheddar cheese sauce. And Kansas City, Mo.-based Kauffman Stadium’s Wurstle Dog is a European-style dog on a fresh-baked baguette. O.co Coliseum, Oakland, Calif., touts the Diablo Dog, which is garnished with Pimento cheese sauce, bacon crumbles and fried onion straws, while PNC Park’s Firehouse Dog consists of an all-beef, foot-long dog, nacho cheese, sliced jalapeños and Fritos.

Staying with more contemporary offerings, new Latin-inspired dishes feature classic ingredients in a variety of meat and poultry concession items. Citizens Bank Park sells hand-crafted burritos with chicken, pork or vegetarian formats with rice and black beans. Coors Field, Denver, Colo., now offers its Carnitas Nacho, consisting of tortilla chips, green chili queso, pork carnitas, jalapeños, pico and sour cream. This ballpark also sells a Smothered Empañada, which consists of a Spanish empañada, Stinkin' Good Green Chili, shredded lettuce, pico and sour cream.

Kansas City-based Kauffman Stadium carries its Pork Carnitas Taco, which features braised pork butt, lettuce, queso fresco, pico de gallo and cilantro sour cream. Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, now offers its 12 Kitchen Nacho, in honor of Baseball Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar, which consists of home-cooked kettle chips, warm cheddar cheese, charred corn and roasted pineapple salsa, flat grilled-and-sliced Canadian peameal bacon, salsa verde, diced red tomatoes, shredded pickles and jalapeño-infused island sauce.

Gourmet sandwiches, which were once considered novelties, are becoming commonplace in professional ballparks these days. Citi Field, Queens, NY, sells Pat LaFrieda 's Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich, made of hand-cut 100-percent Black Angus filet mignon, Monterey Jack cheese, sweet caramelized onions and au jus on a toasted French baguette. Philly-based Citizens Bank Park sells its Toasted Chicken Grinder, garnished with roasted peppers, mozzarella, baby spinach, oven-dried tomatoes, house-cured pickles, spicy chili garlic relish and extra virgin olive oil. Fenway Park, Boston, Mass., offers its Pot Roast Sandwich, consisting of provolone cheese and a choice of au jus or barbecue sauce on a crispy sandwich roll. The park also sells a Premium Steak Sandwich, made with sirloin steak, provolone cheese and caramelized onions.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s Rogers Centre touts its Distillery Turkey "Pretzel" Sandwich, which is made of house-smoked and hand-carved turkey, whole-grain Dijonnaise, Canadian white cheddar, grilled back bacon and rocket (arugula) greens on a soft pretzel bun. And at Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga., Yicketty Yamwich is a tribute sandwich to Chipper Jones featuring braised short rib, brie, cheddar, apple butter and spinach.

Aramark’s new line up of ballpark burgers is not to be outdone by its other new gourmet offerings. New York’s Citi Field sells Garlic Knot Meatball Sliders from Two Boots Pizza. Citizens Bank Park now sells a Chicken Burger, garnished with red-onion slaw, pickled tomatoes and citrus-Dijon aioli on a griddled-brioche bun. Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas, now features half-lb. burgers, chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, specialty sausages, hand-cut fries, milkshakes and Bryan Caswell 's house recipe chili cheese fries.

• For poultry lovers, Toronto’s Rogers Centre offers a Grilled turkey burger with fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and rocket greens on a whole-wheat bun. Atlanta’s Turner Field now carries the H&F Burger, a handcrafted burger from Holeman & Finch Public House. It features a double-patty cheese burger garnished with house-made ketchup, mustard and pickles on a butter-toasted pan de mie bun.

• Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park’s Federal Donuts offers Philadelphia's popular fried chicken and gourmet donuts.

Well, there you have it. Although standard hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jacks will forever hold a place in ballpark food history, America’s favorite past-time is now serving up more contemporary offerings for millions of hungry baseball fans — and there is most definitely something for anyone.

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