Saturday, April 4, 2009

Citi Field is great - especially the food

My last game at Shea Stadium was September 22. I had to work late that night and did not get to the ballpark until the fourth inning, when the Mets were beating the Cubs, 2-1. But by the time I got to my seats in the upper deck, the Mets were losing, 6-2, with the help of an unlikely grand slam by Jason Marquis.

My first game at Citi Field was today. Squawker Lisa and I arrived just before the game started and decided to check out the new food options first. By the time we got to our seats, the Mets were losing, 6-0, with the help of an unlikely grand slam by Jed Lowrie.

But it was so great to be at Citi Field that I am going to think positively about the Mets' woes. Today, we saw Bad Ollie - next time out, let's hope we get good Ollie. (Though after his problems with getting in game shape during spring training, it's hard to blame people for booing him even in an exhibition game.)

And I'm going to do my best to think positively about Gary Sheffield.

If Sheffield is truly willing to come off the bench as he claims, maybe, just maybe, it is worth it to see if he has anything left in his bat. Maybe he can become the new super pinch-hitter - the next Rusty Staub.

And putting Sheffield on the roster should at least force the Mets to release Marlon Anderson.

And if Sheffield messes up team chemistry, there was a year in which the Mets benched an aging, unproductive outfielder in the middle of the season. The player, George Foster, didn't like it, so the Mets released him in August of that year. August 1986.

But enough about the clouds on the horizon. What about Citi Field? And what about the food?

Thanks, Metsgrrl, for the tip to avoid the Rotunda entrance and enter through one of the other gates, where the lines were drastically shorter. And we were able to admire the Jackie Robinson rotunda later, when it was much less crowded.

One of the things I always liked about Shea was how you would walk along the cramped, crowded concourse, find the entryway to your section, walk through it, and suddenly the big green field would be spread out in front of you.

At Citi Field, I will never have that sensation again. But the new setup is so much better. Now the magic comes when you enter the concourse itself, which is completely open to the field. And the concourses are much wider, though so many people were wandering around that they were still pretty crowded. But this might well be due to the fact that people were exploring the new park and not watching an exhibition game, much less one that was over in the first inning.

I've been to several of the new parks, and I liked them all. I like the the retro design and the food. My favorites, PNC in Pittsburgh and AT&T in San Francisco, have something Citi Field lacks - a connection to something appealing outside the ballpark. But it is not Citi Field's fault that there is no McCovey Cove or Roberto Clemente bridge just beyond the fences.

While walking around Citi Field, we did spot some of the auto repair shops of Willets Point, and it was interesting to see more of a connection to the outside city than was evident at Shea. But you are not going to go to Citi Field to see the auto repair shops.

So in terms of the look of the ballpark, I would have to place PNC and AT&T first. But Citi Field trumps them in every other way. It's got the Mets inside and New York City outside. And it's got food that finally lives up to the high standards of good New York restaurants.

Bringing in Danny Meyer is like signing a superstar free agent at the top of his field - a Carlos Beltran or a Francisco Rodriguez. Not only is Meyer responsible for some of New York's best restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, but he also created Shake Shack, which pretty much already serves gourmet ballpark food. So what better place to transport to a real ballpark?

While Citi Field also has high-end dining options, they definitely came up with great choices for the average fan. I haven't been to the new Yankee Stadium, but the non-high end options seem to run along the lines of the Hard Rock Cafe and Johnny Rockets, institutions known for their attitude which don't generate the kind of buzz they once did. Kind of like signing Gary Sheffield.

Lisa and I are already big fans of Shake Shack, so that was the first place we went. Alas, the lines were already really long. So Lisa got on line for Blue Smoke, while I headed for El Verano Tacqueria. All of these places, along with Box Frites, are near each other in the Taste of the City section behind center field, and all come from Meyer. Blue Smoke and Shake Shack are offshoots of existing restaurants, while the other two are new concepts. Floyd Cardoz, executive chef of Meyer's Indian fusion restaurant Tabla, came up with the tacos for El Verano Tacqueria.

The best thing we had was the ribs from Blue Smoke. You get four great-tasting meaty ribs for $10. We shared the ribs, as well as a pulled pork sandwich that I liked more than Lisa did. We also had Blue Smoke's own beer, which was really good, especially with the ribs and pork.

At El Verano Tacqueria, we shared one order of carnitas tacos and one order of the chili marinated skirt steak tacos. I preferred the carnitas, while Lisa liked the skirt steak more, but both were great. The carnitas were very spicy, so if you don't like spicy food, bear that in mind. We did not try the third type of taco, chicken mole pipian.

At this point, we had probably eaten enough for the day, but it was still early in the game and there was more food to try. So we eventually made our way to Box Frites, which offered fresh-cut Belgian fries with dipping sauces. At $7.50 for a large box of fries, they seemed a little pricey compared to the ribs and pulled pork. The tacos, $7.25 for two and $9.75 for three, might seem pricey to some, but you expect to pay that much for a ballpark meal that at Shea was a lot less satisfying than this one.

But fries for $7.50? All I can say is, that if you are willing to spend that much, than go for it. The fries not only tasted great, but looked so tempting as I was walking away with them that a passerby pretended to take one. Neither Lisa nor I were crazy about the bacon dipping sauce (and we love our bacon!) but there are several other options and these fries tasted great with ketchup and barbecue sauce anyway.

Part of the reason we had such a great experience with the food at Citi Field was that our seats were fairly close to Taste of the City. We sat in section 132 in the field level, in fair territory down the left field line. I generally prefer sitting higher up in the infield than lower down in the outfield, but these seats were pretty good for outfield seats.

Being near Taste of the City, however, meant that we could sit down and enjoy our food while it was still fresh. It particularly made a difference with the fries, which were not quite as good once we sat down.

So if your seats are not near the outfield, you may want to consider eating your food in that area if possible. They do have some small tables around which people can stand around and eat. But that might not be feasible during peak times.

It's hard to gauge what a peak time is once the real games start and the novelty wears off. On April 24, I have tickets to a game and these tickets are in the upper level behind third base. If we go to Taste of the City, wait on the lines, by the time we get back we could miss a couple of innings.

There is a big TV screen in the area, but I could not see it on the taco line, only hear it. And the people on the Shake Shack line and the Blue Smoke line had their backs to it.

So you might want to get this food before the game starts or toward the end. We went back to Shake Shack in the eighth inning and there was almost no line. We made room for a Shackburger and vanilla shake. Lisa and I have now been to all three Shake Shacks and continue to be big fans.

We did not end up going to Catch of the Day, but I suspect a lobster roll or po boy will be high on the list for my next game.

Based on what I ate today, at my next game I would probably get an order of ribs to start and later on an order of tacos - the group of three so I could try the chicken mole.

But if you've never had Shake Shack, make sure you get something from there. I actually prefer the regular burger to the Shack burger, but they don't have that at the ballpark. Shake Shack also offers a couple of different kinds of hot dogs. One of them is $5. We saw people waiting on long lines for Nathan's hot dogs, which were also $5. If you're willing to wait on a long line for a hot dog, check out Shake Shack!

I'm glad to be sitting higher up for the next game, since I never got off of the field level at this one. I look forward to exploring more of Citi Field. As for the food, it's already in midseason form.

1 comment:

Paul from Boston said...

Sounds like a good time - still bummed I couldn't get tickets. TV hasn't really done either new place justice so I guess I'll still have to get down there this summer. Now FINALLY on to some real baseball!!!

Cheers from Boston.

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