Out to the Ball game
Stuggy’s, Gino’s, and ‘Bacon on the Stick’ join typical stadium fare
Published: September 5, 2012
Is it sad that, as I write this, the song stuck in my head isn’t “Take Me out to the Ball game” or (God forbid) “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” but instead is “Talkin’ Softball” from that one baseball episode of The Simpsons? (“Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw . . . ”)
Perhaps it’s just inevitable. Times change, songs change, and this season ballpark food finally changed too. As the O’s hunker down for a potential playoff run—and if there’s any Oriole Fever left to catch in this town, more people will be going to late-season games than they have in a decade—we took a test eat.
One thing that hasn’t changed, at least for me, is the ballpark dog. On paper, it’s kind of revolting. I mean, who boils hot dogs anymore? Any other time, I prefer mine grilled or fried, deep-fried if the option is available. It’s just a particular magic—Orioles Magic, if you will—when you’re in the stands on a hot-ass day, and some sweaty man reaches into a metal box strapped to his chest, billowing with porky and slightly sour-smelling steam, pulls out a wan, waterlogged cylinder of anus-and-lip paste, slaps it into a warm spongy bun, and expertly writes “Orioles” in mustard script on said anus-and-lip paste cylinder, that makes for a singularly satisfying food experience. I go to games solely to address that specific craving, frankly.
But really, a sweeping and pretty magnificent change in ballpark food actually has occurred in our own Camden Yards. First off, they have Boh. Now I’m really not a fan of Boh, in fact I think it sucks—not quite as bad as PBR, but way shittier than Bud. And I know it’s not brewed here anymore and that the logo has been whored out shamelessly, but the brand does have cultural roots here. And it is part of Baltimore’s identity, which made it pretty damn vexing to not be able to hoist one at an Orioles game before this year. And the reason was the park’s original food service provider, Aramark.
If you’d been to a few games, you knew the drill: chicken tenders, hot dogs, burgers, nachos, in ascending order of terribleness. And that was pretty much it. Ballparks in other cities have their signature things, like sushi at Safeco in Seattle, pork hoagies at Citizen Bank in Philly, and even Ben’s Chili at Nationals Park in D.C. We had Boog’s, which let’s face it, is average pit beef at best. And the “crabcakes” at Camden Yards don’t even deserve mention, except to say they were straight abominations.
But now an outfit (ironically?) called Delaware North Companies, or DNC, has opened up the gates to a bunch of new and, thankfully, better foods at the stadium. Most of the newness is clustered at the Eutaw Street walkway, with local businesses Stuggy’s and Gino’s right at the front. Those are only licensed, though, and are actually operated by DNC, but both of their offerings were pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing to me and my team of taste-testers. Same goes for the Polock Johnny’s inside, though I was the only one among us who’d actually had a Polish on Washington Boulevard.
A Gino’s burger is a must-have—really homemade-tasting patties and distinctive soft buns with an absolute shitload of sesame seeds on them. Across from that is Dempsey’s (as in Rick, duh), which is a sit-down restaurant with in-house-brewed beers and surprisingly good food. The menu has some overlap with other vendors in the park, which sort of bursts the bubble of feeling like you’re in a proper restaurant though. One of those overlapping items is the leery, squint-inducing “Bacon on a Stick” that’s also sold at the Jack Daniels stand right next to Boog’s. Sounds like a total gimmick, and I guess it is, but holy crap, it is damn good. It’s more a thick slab of pork belly than a strip of bacon, skewered, grilled for a sec, and dipped in Old Bay maple syrup. I know how it sounds; believe me, I almost didn’t want to like it. But dude. Awesome. Also the ribs at this stand aren’t too shabby and pretty cheap at $10.
Even the boilerplate concession stands within the stadium seem to have been generally upgraded. I was genuinely shocked at how good the crabcake was—I mean, it’s not so much a very good crabcake as a decent one, but that’s like a logarithmic scale improvement. I’m sad to report that the nachos at Camden Yards are still half-assed and crappy—standard bag-style chips, plasticky, straight-from-a-55-gallon-drum cheez goo, and basically ketchup salsa. And those nachos are about as ethnic as the food gets. But I was told by facility executive chef Josh that the plan is to branch out even further in the near future, with tentative plans to expand Asian offerings, and yes, to improve the abysmal nacho situation. Walk the walk, yo, walk the walk.
So I mean, the stunningly good performance of the O’s this year should be enough to get asses in seats at the Yard (as of this writing, first place in the Wild Card standings with a 44-run differential, impossibru!) but now as an added bonus the food itself is worth a trip.
“We’re talkin’ Homer, Ozzie, and the Straw . . . ”
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