I have been a N.Y. Mets fan ever since I was a young boy and have stuck with the team through times thick and thin (more thin than thick). I loved Shea Stadium, not because it was a great ballpark (it wasn't), but because it was home. One of the worst things (and there were many bad things) about that stadium was the food. It had the double whammy of being lousy and expensive. Despite all its negatives, I was sad to see Shea disappear, that is until Tuesday, March 31st, when I had the opportunity to visit the new stadium – Citi Field, try out some of the food and get a tour.
The stadium is magnificent. The sight lines are great. It has fun quirks and already appears to have a lot of energy even though there wasn't even a ballgame!
I arrived early enough to scope out the situation before the press conference started. This was held in the Caesar's Club on the Excelsior level of the stadium, one of a number of such dining venues. This one ultimately will be a place for more informal dining for premium ticket holders, but on this day it was the sight of this culinary showcase, featuring food from every different venue in the park.
The event opened with a welcome from Dave Howard, the Mets executive vice president of business operations, who is directly responsible for organizing the food services. He introduced Jeff Wilpon, the Mets COO and the team of culinarians who will be operating the various food elements. Aramark, the exclusive concessionaire for Citi Field for the next 30 years was represented by Marc Bruno, the President of Aramark Sports. The food concessions represent a partnership between The Mets, Aramark, Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, Dave Pasternak of Esca and Drew Nieporent's Myriad Restaurant. Group. Each came to the podium to describe their offerings and say a few words.
Dave Howard spoke of bringing everything together while listening to the fans, taking into account their diverse tastes. He mentioned that the wine beverage service in the various restaurants will be coordinated by Zachy's. Overall, he said that they were quite proud of the value presented, noting that "pricing on average is less than it was at Shea by 6%." Of course that value is relative, as Shea was not particularly noted for high quality food at low prices.
Drew Nieporent spoke first and spoke of making sure that the quality of food served in his Acela Club would be top notch and a great value with a prix-fixe "Market Table" menu featuring "Americana" cuisine at $48. Of course, the bulk of their service will be prior to the ballgames with the restaurant opening 2.5 hours prior to game time. The Executive Chefs will are Michael Sobelman and Stephen Lewandowski. The restaurant holds up to 350 people and overlooks the game with panoramic views from left field. Nieporent stated that the reason he got involved in this project is because he is a Met fan.
Next up to the podium, Dave Pasternack, the award-winning chef of Esca, spoke about his food offerings at "Catch of the Day" including lobster rolls, shrimp po'boys, Long Island clam and corn chowder and his "Bayside Fries" with smoked sea salt, Old Bay seasoning and a side of sharp cheddar cheese sauce. Pasternack stated that these fries will "become legendary!" He enthused that a fan "can stand in line and watch the game," something not possible at Shea.
Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group runs the lion's share of the name restaurants associated with the stadium, opined that the venture, to be successful, is "all about team." He stated that even though he grew up in St. Louis as a Cardinals fan,he has also become a Met fan. He added, "We are here because our company loves baseball." Noted for arguably the best service model in the industry, Meyer vowed to bring that level of service here, saying that they "are training people to smile, even if they had never done so before." He was asked how they plan to keep their food products fresh and top quality at service. He responded that they plan on making everything to order, but have limited selections "to keep the lines moving," a wise decision in my estimation. When asked about price, Meyer noted that the price differential for Shake Shack is only $1 more per item in the stadium than in Manhattan. Meyer's hope is that the quality and value of the food at the stadium "will make (a Mets') victory taste even sweeter and may even take the sting out of a defeat."
A number of USH's chefs are participating in the venture. In addition to Shake Shack's offerings, Kenny Callahan is bringing Blue Smoke bbq, while Floyd Cardoz of Tabla is venturing into Mexico with El Verano Taqueria. On my tour, I did come up with a question that was too late to have answered at the event, What is "Chicken Mole Pipian?" I know what chicken is, I know mole and I know Pipian. I can see chicken mole or chicken pipian, but not both. It sounds to me like they liked the terms and figured that two are better than one. That dish was not available to taste today, but I suppose that so long as it is good, most people won't care what they call it.
I asked a question regarding what if anything they were doing in taking into account issues of sustainability when sourcing product. The question was given to Marc Bruno from Aramark, who stated that that is an important consideration for them and that they are sourcing a fresh and sustainable product from Hudson Valley farms as well as surrounding areas. Danny Meyer added that these concerns are addressed with their packaging products as well. Time will certainly tell, how much of this is lip service versus a real commitment. I expect an interest here from the restaurateurs, but it is encouraging to see a company like Aramark at least express a concern. Hopefully, it will turn out to be more than that and Bruno's statement will pack some punch. Between that and what Sysco appear to be doing (at least according to the latest Saveur magazine), there may be hope yet. While these actions don't absolve either Aramark or Sysco from some of their less noble business elements, these are at least steps in the right direction with potentially great significance for our food industry and beyond.
After a few photo ops with each of the culinary principals wearing Mets jerseys with their names and 09 on the backs, the food finally took center stage. It was impossible for me to try everything, though I gave it my best effort. The food was generally as one would expect from those producing it. Some of the highlights to me were the fried flounder sandwich and clam and corn chowder from Catch of the Day, the pulled pork sliders from Blue Smoke and the Heritage porchetta from The Acela Club. Though the sushi from Daruma of Tokyo looked better than it generally tasted, they did come up with the most unique, fun and tasty item – their Citi Field All Star Shrimp Dog, served with shrimp chips that were dead visual ringers for french fries. With spicy mayo adding a kick, the sandwich was quite flavorful. While I was told that they were priced at $8, I noticed that at the ballpark point of sale they were priced at $14. At $8 I wouldn't hesitate, though I wonder how many they will sell at $14.
The Shrimp Hot Dog
Box Frites fries
Chile-Marinated Skirt Steak tacos
I enjoyed the food, which in scope and quality is the best I have ever encountered in a ballpark. I hope that this translates (given the players, I expect that it will) into an on-going reality. While the food has the potential to be dynamite for a ballpark and should indeed elevate the overall ballpark experience, it is not so good that I would go to Citi Field just to eat. I would, however, be happy to partake of the offerings when at Citi Field to enjoy a game.
Let's go Mets!
For more photos, please click here.