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Canned Kozy Shack pudding dispensed from a booth and twee little bottles of wine with the plastic cup built into the top of the bottle? This is baseball fare?
I went to the Mets’ third game of the season, versus the Atlanta Braves, yesterday afternoon. The baseball was entertaining (Mets won 7-5, after almost blowing a seven-run lead late in the game), but what blew me away was the food.
It’s something of a miracle you can still get these ancient standards of baseball cuisine — Cracker Jack and salted peanuts in the shell.
Those 25 and older will remember the old days of baseball eats, when your choices were mainly limited to Cracker Jack, peanuts, ice cream bars, hot dogs without sauerkraut, and Bud. But as the Age of Foodism dawned, an expanded list of stadium eats were demanded by a public gradually getting more discerning (some might say peevish) in its tastes.
But Citi Field takes baseball eats to a more august level than ever before. Sure, 95 percent of sales are still confined to conventional snacks along a hot dog/french fries/rubber hamburger axis at dozens of kiosks and windows on several levels, but look on the field level specifically to find some amazing viands that would have been inconceivable in a baseball stadium 10 years ago.
In one food concession configured like a store, find premade packages of sushi. Across from it are counters selling gyros and feta-dusted cheese fries, and Italian specialties catered by Leo’s Latticini in nearby Corona.
Aimed more at foodies than Greeks: a lamb gyro and feta fries
The flounder sandwich at Catch of the Day (fries and “cheese” sauce in background)
Save your money, though, because walking counterclockwise along the field level you’ll soon encounter Catch of the Day, whose logo is a lobster with a baseball mitt over one claw. The place is presided over by David Pasternak, chef of Esca and member of an ancient Montauk fishing family.
The flounder sandwich ($9.50) is the thing to get, local fish in a dark breading flopped luxuriantly over a brioche roll smeared with fancy mayo. It’s utterly delicious and really amazing for ballpark fare. I wasn’t so interested in the blackened shrimp po’boy available at the same place for the following reasons: I’m not terribly enamored of the blackening technique, invented fairly recently by Paul Prudhomme — the spice coating always tastes burned to me; I also know they don’t have the kind of high flame to really blacken the shrimp properly.
A little farther on in the same direction, you’ll find an open courtyard at about the center-field position in the stadium, with an assortment of foodie concessions. There’s a Two Boots, for example, and a Shake Shack. More as a tribute to the Danny Meyer’s marketing and publicity team than to actual culinary virtue, long lines form in front of the broad building, while the lines are much shorter, for example, at Blue Smoke right next door. C’mon, foodies! You can get Shake Shack anywhere.
Blue Smoke’s Kansas City-style ribs
While Blue Smoke is not the city’s best barbecue, it is a solid one in several American styles. But in this case, the context ennobles the product. Thus the ribs are quite good, small and lightly glossed with a sweet sauce. A portion ($9.75) consists of four pieces served with good pickles. Yum!
Across from that is El Verano, a Mexican counter selling only tacos (taquitos, really) and quesadillas. I picked the chicken tacos because they’ve been the subject of Internet approbation. The place also has carnitas and barbacoa(!!!). The tacos are dressed simply with chopped onions and cilantro, which is how it’s done in the city’s most authentic southern Mexican taquerias, and an assertive hot sauce has been squirted on.
Perhaps most amazing of all is the new enhanced beer selection. I was able to enjoy as I sat in the sunny and breezy stands both Sixpoint Sweet Action and Goose Island IPA. There are plenty of bars in town where you can’t do that!
Chicken taquitos as good as any from a truck
Next: The very best thing I had to eat, hands down
The superb Memphis-style barbecued bologna sandwich