Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, April 11, 2002
Going to the Dogs

The Ballpark in Arlington beefs up its wiener menu.

By Nancy Schaadt

It’s typically understood that taking in a major-league baseball game requires a major-league appetite. Food and sweaty men swatting at balls just seem to go together. And the baseball spectator’s favorite ballpark delicacy? Why, the hot dog, of course. (Freud would’ve had a field day with all this.)

Getting your hands on dogs at The Ballpark in Arlington this season will prove a little more complicated than last year, especially if you’re the type of food-lover who wants to eat everything on the menu in spite of the size of your stomach. Tim Donegan, general manager of SportService, the food and beverage company of the Ballpark, has added two new doggy-style items to the park’s already-extensive menu of wieners. Basically: You’re gonna want to make multiple trips to the Ballpark this year — if only to stuff your face with franks.

What we’re talking about here are the Chicago Style and Coney Island foot-longs. Donegan admits it isn’t easy to come up with fresh, new food ideas, but he did create a masterpiece in the Chicago. Concessions workers during a preseason gamed called the Chicago the “Wow” dog — that’s what folks said when they saw it.

The Chicago is a spectacular blend of food groups. The seeded bun holds relish, dill pickle, and onion, and the dog is topped with slices of tomato and pickled hot peppers. It’s served with a dill spear and potato chips and comes with a knife and fork — which are only necessary if you plan to spread the wealth (not a bad idea considering you’ve got to contend with roughly 10 ounces of meat — talk about a value meal). The Coney Island, smothered in chili and cheese, is a monster. And if you look closely enough at the dog, you can almost see the calories conspiring to wreak havoc on your ticker. Obviously, it’s sumptuous.

Donegan says that baseball crowds probably eat more than any other sport’s spectators — an important fact to consider when concocting “national pastime” cuisine. Fans want speedy service, variety and quality. He admits it’s a balancing act. “You don’t want a real wide selection,” Donegan says, “not like an ice cream store.” His goal is to please the patron by providing tasty selections and short waiting lines.

Along the way there have been some surprising hits like the Big Kahuna and the Lemon Chill and not-so-surprising misses like Thai food and the egg roll stand. On a sad note, fans of the smoked-sausage sandwich or the Greek gyro will go wanting. Donegan has also 86’d big dill pickles.

Food options for the moneyed and/or the season ticket holders are much better than what the rabble’s offered. Not only will you find that good ol’ Hector in the Cuervo Gold Club can serve up one helluva dirty martini, you’ll also discover that the club grub doesn’t stop at sticky nachos. Fans can field coconut shrimp with papaya and pineapple relish or scoop up a sandwich of marinated chicken topped with guacamole and mozzarella. Ambiance? Think of the club, open only to season-ticket holders in preferred lower-seating areas, as a swanky nightspot where the patrons would rather talk baseball than twirl to pounding techno.

On the outside chance that the Gold Club lacks exclusivity, there are two tiers (72 seats) of leather recliners that go for $100 per game. The chairs offer a spectacular view of the playing field from the prime real estate of behind home plate.

Perhaps to compete with the Ballpark’s TGI Friday’s Front Row Grill, the food-service group at the Ballpark has also revamped the Diamond Club. Located within it is the new Bullpen Grill, a club-within-a-club with a cocktail service menu of sandwiches, finger foods, burgers, smoothies, and desserts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when we went to check it out.

Now what your wallet wants to hear: The Ballpark’s “fan cost index,” like ticket prices, remains unchanged from last year. The fan cost index, or FCI, figures the cost at various ballparks for four average tickets, two small beers, four small sodas, four hot dogs, parking, two game programs, and two adult baseball caps. In Arlington, that adds up to $150.21, putting the Ballpark at 15th out of a field of 30.

Hot dogs and soda are fine for one segment of the population (read: families), but for the rest of us a little brew goes a long way — so long as we get it in time. At the Ballpark, vendors stop selling beer after the seventh inning, while the concessions stop rolling at the eighth inning or two and a half hours after the start of the game, whichever comes first. I’d rather have my teeth cleaned by a sight-impaired dental hygienist than watch a baseball game without a cold beer in my hand.

Sticking with the dental metaphor, I’d rather have root canal than drink light beer. Although stands selling Bud, Miller, and Coors Light are everywhere, full-strength beer is more difficult to find. “This is a light beer market,” Donegan says, “so we provide what people want.” I suppose that if we all rose up and refused to pay full price for half-beer, the Ballpark would consider real ales, popular microbrews, and brews like Belgian ales or a good IPA. Until that time, look for me at the Shiner Bock stand.

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