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MLB Concessionaires Go Big, Creative

Behold "The Closer," being served up by Aramark at PNC Park.
Photo by: ARAMARK
“Foodie Friday” is back and so are the half-dozen MLB concessionaires, making headlines for creating new and in some cases crazy menu items for the new baseball season.

Over the past five years, food vendors have done their best to top one another by introducing oversized portions such as 2-foot-long hot dogs and massive burgers, meant to be shared by several fans. Some dishes sound pretty tasty; others border on belly bombs.

But food providers must also remember to keep their core items on track, said Carl Mittleman, newly appointed president of Aramark Sports and Entertainment. For Aramark, a firm running food at nine MLB parks, 70 percent of its general concessions sales are tied to hot dogs, beer, salty snacks and nonalcoholic beverages. It’s been that way for more than 100 years in baseball, Mittleman said, so vendors must be conscious of getting the basics right before expanding their menus to meet more exotic tastes.

Some of the “Man vs. Food”-style feeding frenzy is still trending. This year, Levy Restaurants debuts a new $25 corn dog at Chase Field in Phoenix, an 18-inch-long corn-battered hot dog stuffed with cheddar cheese, jalapenos and bacon. Belly up.

Levy, also the White Sox’s premium dining partner in Chicago, rolls out a $17 sundae in the suites at U.S. Cellular Field, a stomach-churning 12 scoops of ice cream served in a plastic batting helmet.

Otherwise, the focus continues to be on bringing well-known local brands into the ballpark and expanding craft beer selections tied to new bar destinations.

Coors Field, Great American Ballpark and Tropicana Field all debut new bars devoted to serving craft brews, such as the Reds Brewery District in Cincinnati (SportsBusiness Journal March 24-30).

In the Pacific Northwest, where Seattle teams set the tone years ago for serving microbrews in sports facilities, Centerplate has pushed the trend further by introducing cask-conditioned ales at two Safeco Field stands. Cask ale is an unfiltered beer that completes its secondary fermentation in the container from which it’s served, according to Centerplate officials. At Safeco, there are limited supplies for every game and the vendor is serving 20-ounce pours for $9.75 until the taps run dry. All told, there are 50 craft beer brands available at the home of the Mariners.

The local trend extends to sourcing food and going organic on site. This season, Aramark opens its second ballpark garden at Citi Field, in the Pepsi Porch in right field, after launching the concept last year at Coors Field.

The herbs and veggies harvested last season in Denver were served to patrons in the ballpark’s Mountain Ranch Club and Coors Clubhouse spaces. The goal there is to expand from two to five harvests this year, Mittleman said.

Want to digitally sample some of the latest ballpark fare? Check back in this space to see what concessionaires are offering at MLB parks.

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