Sunday, April 22, 2018

Joey's Small Bites: Crashing the MLB Food Fest

Never has a napkin been so honest in its message.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's cooking, everybody?  This is Studious Metsimus roving reporter and culinary expert Joey Beartran and I just finished putting the second half of my title to use as I attended this weekend's MLB Food Fest at Center 415 on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

What was the purpose of this sumptuous smorgasbord?  I'm glad you asked.  The food fest allowed fans to sample 30 unique food items from each of the 30 MLB teams, although you were only allowed two hours to do it and had to bump your way through several thousand people to get to the stand you wanted to go to.  For $25, you could try everything on the menu and have unlimited soft drinks and bottled water.  For an extra 15 bucks, you could add three adult beverages (beer and/or cider) as well.  Each item was billed as half the size of the actual ballpark concession and for the most part, they were.  But of course, the Marlins couldn't afford a calculator so their offering was more like a quarter of actual ballpark size.

Still, good times were had by all, especially by me, as I made sure to enter the building with an empty stomach so I could try as many foods as possible.  Knowing that I only had a two-hour window, I recruited my Studious Metsimus colleagues, Ed Leyro and Taryn Cooper, and faithful Studious Metsimus reader, Tracey Mapou, to help me get my paws on as many foods as possible.  And by helping me, I mean going around from stand to stand while I sat at one of the few empty tables we could find.

Before my friends and colleagues could get around to their race around the place for food to stuff my face, I must mention the hot dog room, which was an homage to the ballpark staple, the frankfurter.  The two eye-catchers in the exhibit were a giant hot dog seesaw and a pyramid of wieners, which my sister (and Mariners fan), Honey Bee Hawk was hoping was made of real frankfurters.

Dogs, dogs, dogs.  And one bear.  (Top photo by Tracey Mapou.  Bottom photo by EL/SM.)

As some of the lines were very long depending on the popularity of the product, we went to the shorter lines first before hitting up the longer ones.  As a result, I started my 120-minute feast with a sampling of the Mid-Atlantic offerings, namely Washington's Crab Grilled Cheese and Baltimore's Chesapeake Waffle Fries, which were paired with a crab dip.  The former was definitely the better of the two, and I'm not even a fan of seafood.  I'm more a fan of "see food", as in when I see food, I usually eat it.

Crab to the left of me, crab to the right.  Here I am, stuck in the middle with food.  (EL/SM)

One of the things I was most pleased about regarding the presentation of the food was the paper that adorned the small container that carried the items.  If you look at the photo above, you can see the Walgreens logo on the Nationals' offering and the Oriole bird on Baltimore's dish.  It made it so much easier to identify what you were eating, especially when you weren't the one going up to the stands to get the food and had to write a piece the next morning that involved photographs of said items.  To quote the legendary television character, Luke Duke, I was "much obliged."

After crabbing it up with Washington and Baltimore's fare, I moved on to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Pulled Pork Pierogie Hoagie, which was much easier to eat than it was to pronounce.  Now, I've been to PNC Park in Pittsburgh before and always made the Primanti Brothers sandwich my go-to meal during games.  But after having this hoagie, I think I may have to reconsider my ballpark food choice the next time I cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge for a game.  Even though it was only half the size of what you would get at the ballpark (this one was truly 50% of the full size offering, as my colleague saw the preparers make a full hoagie, then cut it in half before serving it), it was still a mouthful.  This wasn't just a bite-size snack; this was a decent-sized meal, and I would definitely want to eat this delicacy again, and maybe I did.  (More on that later.)

Pulled pork and a pierogie on a hoagie?  This was a winner, and not just for fans of alliteration and rhyming.  (EL/SM)

With the Mets playing in Atlanta as the food fest was going on, I decided I should try something from the home of our long-time division rivals.  The Braves' offering was the Pig Pickin', which according to the official food fest description was a "BBQ spiced tortilla shell stuffed with curly fries, macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, coleslaw and roasted corn pico de gallo with fried pork rinds on the side".  This offering proved one thing; that the Braves have not only killed the Mets for many years, they've also managed to kill Mets fans as well.  The Pig Pickin' sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen so I had to devour it quickly before it could do the same to me.

At least the Pig Pickin' wasn't full-sized.  I'd like to be around to see the Mets win another pennant.  (EL/SM)

Next up is a Texas Two-Step, also known as Houston's Chicken Waffle Cone and Texas' Chicken and Donut Slider.  These two were deeeeeelicious.  Obviously, since I am a fan of breaded chicken, I knew I was going to like these before I sampled them.  But just putting fried chicken on a "bun" made of glazed donuts and popcorn chicken as a topping in a waffle cone filled with mashed potatoes (with honey mustard "sprinkles") was enough to make me want to put on a cowboy hat and fly down to Texas to have these delicacies in their full size, the way nature intended them to be.

Taste the fried chicken flavor!  (And donuts.  And mashed potatoes.  And honey mustard.) (EL/SM)

A few things that were okay were from St. Louis (bacon-wrapped Nathan's hot dog), Minnesota (Kurd Marczuk, which was breaded cheese curds and bratwurst topped with brown gravy), San Francisco (Crazy Crab Sandwich) and Detroit (chicken shawarma nachos).  The Cardinals' offering was originally billed as a genoa salami dish, but was changed to something you can get at many ballparks.  I wasn't overly impressed.  The Twins' offering was messy with all the gravy, but if you can get past that, it was edible.  After having the Nationals' and Orioles' crab meat, it was just crab overload when I tried what the Giants gave me.  And the Tigers' dish was actually better than I made it out to be in my intro to this paragraph.  The pita chips were crunchy and nacho-like, while the chicken was tasty without being gamey.  The hummus could've been better though.

From top to bottom, bacon-wrapped hot dog, Kurd Marczuk, Crazy Crab Sandwich and chicken shawarma nachos.  (EL/SM)

In the middle photo above, you may have noticed something above the Kurd Marczuk.  Eagle-eyed readers may also have spotted the Miami Marlins logo on the paper.  That's because:

a) My colleague simply forgot to take a separate photo of Miami's bacon-wrapped plantain, not knowing where I was going with this piece, or

b) A food offering that small in size would've been lost if it weren't combined with another item in the photo.

Last year, I traveled to Miami and had a full-sized bacon-wrapped plantain, so I was excited to have it again at the food fest, even if it was only going to be 50% of what I had at Marlins Park.  Um, unless the size of the food fest offering was calculated by using common core math, I don't think it was half the size of the original.  Take a look at what I got this weekend and compare it to the real deal from Miami.

I've heard of chicken fingers, but bacon-wrapped plantain fingers?  Did Derek Jeter have something to do with this?  (EL/SM)

Speaking of Derek Jeter, I did something I'm not too proud of.  I tried the food from Yankee Stadium.  I'm sorry, but it was adobo bao and I thought I'd like it.  For all you kids out there, this dish had chicken and pork rinds in a bao bun.  For all you other kids out there, bao is a Chinese dumpling.  Anyhow, here's a picture of it.  I don't need to describe how it tasted because I don't want to compliment anything that came from Yankee Stadium.  I'll just lump it in with the "it was okay" food items, even though it may have better than okay, but don't quote me on that.

Get that Yankee logo off my food wrapper!  (EL/SM)

Before I forget, there was one thing I wouldn't try, but my sister did.  Honey Bee Hawk, being the big Mariners fan that she is, wanted to try the fare from the Seattle stand.  And I can guarantee there's nothing like it at any of the other 29 ballparks in the majors.

The toasted grasshoppers were the only insects on the menu, but I didn't think they'd pair well with any of the other food items I wanted to try, so Bee stepped in for me.  In addition to Bee, two of my colleagues tried the lime-flavored grasshoppers and documented their experience in a video.

 Honey Bee Hawk photo by EL/SM.  YouTube video by 1986GetOverIt (that's our YouTube channel).

Unfortunately, due to the two-hour window we were given and even though I had several assistants, I only got to sample 14 items, which is not even half of what was offered.  Some long lines prevented us from trying items while the abundance of certain items (pulled pork was in six of the food choices) kept us from trying others.  Now there was one last thing that we couldn't pass up on no matter how long of a wait we had to endure.  And believe me, there was a wait for this one, as it was the only dessert item on the menu and the only one eaten live on television by Steve Gelbs.

I'm talking about the one and only Churro Dog.

Dessert of champions!  (EL/SM)

My homeboy Steve Gelbs was lucky enough to have the full-sized Churro Dog in Arizona.  I still haven't been to that ballpark so I had to settle for the smaller version, which I have called the Churro Pup.  The Churro Pup had frozen yogurt, chocolate sauce, caramel and whipped cream on top of a churro that was inside a chocolate iced donut.  Only three words could rightfully describe this delectable concoction.

Best.  Dessert.  Ever.

I can see why Steve Gelbs had to sample this one on live television.  It was too good not to share with the viewing audience.  It also explained why there so many Mets fans on the line to get themselves a Churro Pup.

So that's it from the first MLB Food Fest.  I had so much fun sampling the "best" food items from all 30 major league ballparks.  And why is "best" in quotes?  Because the Mets only offered pastrami when they have so many other delicious dishes they could have shared with the baseball foodie world.  What's up with that?  No wonder that line was so short compared to most of the others.

In summary, I can't wait to go to ballparks in Texas, Houston, Pittsburgh and Arizona.  And Bee can't wait to go back to Seattle to get her dead insect groove on.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed eating it.  And thanks again to Ed Leyro, Taryn Cooper and Tracey Mapou for their assistance in getting me my - ahem - research material.  Now if you don't mind, I'm going to have my lunch, which I may have smuggled out of the food fest.  Pulled pork pierogie hoagie, anyone?

Wish I had a Churro Pup to wash down my lunch.  (EL/SM)