Regional fare and expanded selections are helping fans compensate for the high cost of ballpark snacking.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- If Major League Baseball teams are going to charge a premium for concessions, fans should at least get a premium product for their money.
It's just an accepted fact that concessions at a big-league baseball game are going to batter fans' wallets between innings. This year, the average cost of a draft beer on the concourse is $6.15, according to Team Marketing Report. Throw in a hot dog ($4.13) or a soda ($3.71) and you've already increased the cost of your ticket ($26.98 on average) by more than a third. Citi Field offers a classic New York experience: waiting on line for a ridiculously long time for a delicious Shake Shack burger.
So why settle for those bottom-shelf items? In some markets, regional fare and expanded selection help fans compensate for the cost a bit. You can get a hot dog anywhere, but the food and drinks in the following 10 markets have local flavor that peanuts and Cracker Jack lack:
Safeco Field, Seattle
Heavy hitters: Ivar Dogs, sushi, "The Man"
When you're rooting for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in more than a decade and has won more games than it has lost only twice in the past eight years, stadium comfort is important. Local seafood chain Ivar's provides plenty of it with Ivar Dogs -- slivers of fried cod topped with tartar sauce and cole slaw. The sushi rolls and maki at Safeco were once novel, but are becoming a more regular sight in the majors as the rest of the league goes upscale. The best-kept secret, however, is "The Man" sauce at Porter's BBQ, made with a closely guarded recipe loaded with spices. On most nights, it has more kick than the Mariners' lineup.
AT&T(:T) Park, San Francisco
Heavy hitters: Gilroy garlic fries
Tons of other ballparks, including Safeco, boast about their garlic fries. None do them as well as brewer Gordon Biersch does in San Francisco. That pile of parmesan cheese, herbs and fresh ground garlic over a hot stack of potatoes won't make you many friends among those in talking distance, but it's a decent way to warm up during those cool spring and fall spells by the bay. It also says a lot about a facility when its menu includes a Dungeness crab sandwich on sourdough and the fries are still the best item being served.
Fenway Park, Boston
Heavy hitters: Sausage sandwiches
This is one of the few places in the league where you don't have to go to the game to get the best item at the concessions stand. Fenway is ringed with carts hawking sweet Italian sausages cooked to a crisp on flat grills, and the more you can load it up with spicy mustard and sauteed onions and peppers the better. We warn that prices get a bit higher once you've passed the ticket checkpoints on Yawkey Way, so we recommend hitting vendors slightly removed from the park's gates for real value. Look for the best deals on Yawkey about a block away from Boylston Street or on Lansdowne Street just down the slope from the Cask 'n Flagon.
PNC(:PNC) Park, Pittsburgh
Heavy hitters: Primanti Brothers sandwiches
Why waste fries as a side dish? Since the 1930s, the Primanti Brothers have been stacking them in Pittsburgh's signature sandwich with steak, cheese, cole slaw and tomatoes and defying out-of-towners to take it down. Though it's available throughout Pittsburgh, it's best enjoyed with PNC Park's view of the bridges and rivers. The combined experience makes 20 straight losing seasons of Pirates baseball a little easier to stomach.
Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
Heavy hitters: Tony Luke's cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, "The Schmitter"
There are few ballparks that catch local flavor nearly as well as the Phillies' home, but fans are faced with a tough decision. Ballpark tourists gravitate to Tony Luke and giggle their way through orders asking for whiz (hot Cheese Whiz) and wit (with onions). Locals know better and go with Philly's less-official sandwich: roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe. A sweet tooth and a relatively paltry $2.50 will get you a package of Tastykake peanut butter Kandy Kakes or Butterscotch Krimpets -- just added to concessions this year thanks to countertop mini fridges that prevent melting -- but the king of all Phillies concessions is still "The Schmitter." First made by Philly's own McNally's Tavern, this beast is built out of layers of steak, cheese, fried onions, tomato, grilled salami and special sauce on a broiled Kaiser roll. That's a lot to handle when your gameday diet normally consists of hot dogs and beer, so give the Schmitter a few innings to digest.
Miller(:TAP) Park, Milwaukee
Heavy hitters: Any cased meats
This is the only stadium in the majors where the hot dog comes in second to sausages in sales, and with good reason. Brewers fans have their pick of bratwurst, chorizo, kielbasa and Italian sweet sausages. Each is roughly on par with the next and, at about $5, cost less than the hot dogs the Miami Marlins, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays sell at their stadiums. Fans also get to root on the sausage they just ate when sausage-suited mascots line up for the Sausage Race later in the game.
Progressive(:PGR) Field, Cleveland
Heavy hitters: Pierogi
PNC Park has its pierogi race, but those warm dumplings are a Cleveland staple. These cheese-and-potato-filled treats come with sauteed onions and sour cream on the side, but are best enjoyed with Cleveland's own Bertman's brown mustard. While perhaps not the best choice for a balmy July day, pierogi are great during early and late-season Indians games that can get quite a chill from the Cuyahoga River. Eastern European grandmothers have warmed winters with them for generations.
Citi(:C) Field, New York
Heavy hitters: Shake Shack burgers, cannoli, hot pastrami on rye
The stadium is named after a bank that took billions in bailout money. It is owned by folks who were cleaned out by Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. The team on the field is more than .500 despite having its payroll slashed and its stars depart.
At least the food is decent. Mama's of Corona has some great Italian sandwiches, but its blue-and-orange stuffed pastry tubes are the best snack at the park. The hot pastrami has its own stand, is piled high between slices of rye bread and comes packaged with a sour pickle. If you want a real taste of what New York has been offering in the past decade or so, skip a couple of innings to wait on line for a burger at Shake Shack. Danny Meyer's burger ranks among the city's best, but the hourlong wait -- similar to that at the stand's first location in Madison Square Park -- is one of the most overrated, touristy NYC experiences that doesn't involve a cupcake or Cosmopolitan.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
Heavy hitters: Boog's BBQ
There's a lot of barbecue in big-league baseball these days, and former Oriole Boog Powell isn't the only retired player serving it.
He was the first when he opened his stand nearly 20 years ago and is still the best when it comes to serving up spicy sauce with a dash of his own personality. Powell himself runs the grill and dishes out the hickory-smoked pork, turkey and beef throughout the game, tormenting those who pass up his stand by letting the smoke from his pit flow over the outfield all night long. The Kansas City Royals will claim better BBQ at Gates' in Kaufmann Stadium (and they'd have a strong argument) and ex-jocks in Philly, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Diego stand by their own fare. But Boog's provides a bellyful of authenticity few can match.
Petco Field, San Diego
Heavy hitters: Sonoran hot dogs and shrimp tacos
With apologies to Randy Jones' barbecue, the best San Diego offerings originate south of the border. San Diego restaurant Rubio's brought its shrimp and fish tacos up from Baja nearly 30 years ago and loads them up with cabbage, salsa and garlic sauce. The ballpark versions are pricier, but no less perfect. If you're craving something a bit meatier, a Sonoran hot dog comes wrapped in bacon and jammed with onions, tomatoes and pinto beans. It's all served on a potato bun, then topped with mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce. Thank you, Mexico.
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