We’re in the thick of the U.S. Open, and by the end of next weekend, 700,000 people will have passed through the gates of Flushing Meadows to watch muscly athletes grunt while they send little green balls flying 100 miles per hour toward opponents (and so ends our knowledge of the game of tennis). But while we don’t exactly have an enthusiast’s heart for the sport, we can get behind this event for its dedication to feeding attendees: Between the Food Village, on-site restaurants and lounges, and celeb chef-run VIP eateries (including David Burke’s Champions Bar & Grill, Morimoto’s ACES, and Tony Mantuano’s Wine Bar Food), the Open serves up 15,000 pounds of beef, 225,000 hamburgers and hot dogs, and 400,000 individual berries.
And you can eat well–very well–even if you don’t have a top-dollar ticket. Presenting the highlights–and the deals.
Forty percent of the ingredients sourced for the open are local, a rep told us, and the local focus extends into which restaurants get contracts for vending, too. Carnegie Deli has a stand, for instance, and Hill Country Chicken and Barbecue Market are new this year. The Texas-inspired stand turned out chopped brisket sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, and chicken fingers; the latter–for which tender white meat was encased in thick, crunch batter–was our game day pick.
New to the Food Village this year, Fresca Mexicana served up our sleeper hit of the day: the vegetarian torta. Though not a traditional version of this sandwich by any stretch–it was slightly reminiscent of a banh mi–this solid sandwich stacked a layer of black beans, earthy mushrooms, chipotle mayo, and tons of fresh cilantro between two halves of a crusty, chewy roll.
The lobster roll, we learned, is a perennial classic at the Open, and it’s one of the most popular items. We can see why: A thick slice of buttery white toast overflowed with succulent bits of claw. At $17.50, this is also the best deal we spotted–that’s likely less than what you’d pay for a roll of this quality outside the gates.
If you want more substantial fare and table service–or a break from the sun–you might stop into Mojito Bar and Restaurant for a sweet and boozy version of the spot’s namesake drink as well as a ropa vieja platter, new to the menu for 2013. $18 nets you piquant beef braised tender, sweet caramelized plantains, garlic-tinged black beans, and a bit of toasted bread (an odd addition, though it helps for scooping up straggling bits of stew). If you’re dining with a pal, consider springing for the scallop and shrimp ceviche, hit with tart tomato, lime, and a spark of chilies.
Pat LaFrieda is everywhere these days, and America’s biggest tennis event is no exception: The star butcher’s $15 steak sandwich–which he rolled out at Citi Field this season–is the staple of the Open’s East Gate Grill. Hunks of tenderloin ooze juice under melted Jack cheese and caramelized onions. The sandwich is heart, but probably your best bet to line your stomach if you plan to get after some drinking.
And speaking of beverage options, it’s going to be hard to imbibe cheaply. If you’re able to spend the cash, though, you might make the most of your daytime grounds ticket by seeing some matches and then heading to one of the Heineken lounges, where you can play cornhole under the TV screens, or the fountains, glass of vermentino from the wine bar in hand. There, you can linger into the evening even though you can’t get into the big match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
If you’re more inclined to cocktail, we’d ignore any mocking stares and go straight for the frozen Grey Goose cosmopolitan–though at $14 a drink, you might be better off with beer.
Bonus tip: If you’re short on cash but thirsty before a night game or after you’ve had your fill of the matches, head on over to the Flushing Meadows Pitch & Putt, about a two-minute walk from the Open’s front gates, and suck down $11 pitchers of beer at the picnic tables. Actually golfing is optional.