Arena food for thought

Here are my suggestions to improve ballpark food; give me yours

April 29, 2009, 3:11 PM

By: Wayne Drehs

I visited Citi Field during a recent visit to New York and even now, almost a week later, I can't get the place out of my head. It has nothing to do with the amazing sight lines, the massive Jumbotron (which stopped working while we were there) or the spacious, open feel when you walk the main concourse. No, it has to do with the food. A Shake Shack cheeseburger to be more exact. My mouth waters just thinking of the toasted, buttery bun, the juicy, perfectly seasoned sirloin. It was pretty darn close to the best fast-food burger I've ever had -- right up there with anything from In-N-Out or the Billy Goat. Pretty much every time I've eaten since, my brain has wondered, "What the hell is this? Why not another one of those Shake Shack burgers?"

It's all gotten me thinking -- what if we could raise the bar for stadium food? No more cold hot dogs, hard pretzels or sponge-like slices of pizza. No more nuclear-colored cheese sauce for your nachos and instead, fresh, tasty, tummy-pleasing cuisine. I don't mean sushi, salmon or a peppercorn-crusted filet. Save that for the suit-and-tie types downtown. I'm talking for the rest of us who don't even flinch if we spill some hot sauce on our shirt.

So here's the challenge: If you could choose any four Chicago-based fast-food-type restaurants to start selling at Wrigley, The Cell, Soldier Field or the United Center, what would they be? And what would they serve? Here are my choices:

1. Portillo's Italian Beef

Just the thought makes me smile. My friends and I have argued for years over the city's best Italian beef -- some of them like Al's, others prefer Luke's and then of course there's always Mr. Beef. Me? I've always been a Portillo's guy. And, if they could serve it hot, with the freshly-dipped soggy bun, I would have no trouble forking over $8 or $9 for an in-restaurant quality Portillo's beef.

2. Lou Malnati's Pizza

Replicating a hot Lou's pizza with its tomato chunks and sausage slab would be no easy task in a stadium. And as great as cold pizza may taste, a cold deep dish pizza is typically a colossal failure. Another challenge -- the mess. Call me what you want, but I have not been able to master a slice of Lou's deep dish deluxe without using silverware. But if they could make mini slices and serve it hot, I'd so be on board.

3. Paradise Pup Cheeseburger

Sure, the Billy Goat gets more attention from out-of-towners, has a connection to Chicago sports and serves a pretty tasty slice of bun-covered meat. But a competition between its burger and one from this Des Plaines institution is as lopsided as Brian Scalabrine trying to guard Derrick Rose. There would be definite challenges to bringing the Paradise Pup into a stadium -- the meat is brought in fresh daily and the cheese is shipped in from Wisconsin. But oh the happiness if they could pull it off.

4. The Patio's Barbecue Ribs

I probably prefer Carson's ribs an ever-so-slight tad better, but the fact that The Patio is already a restaurant with counter service (as opposed to a place with white tablecloths), leads me to believe that they would have a better chance of making this happen. Sure, ribs would be a bit messy. But whatever -- just grab a couple of extra napkins.

Hungry yet? What about you? Send your suggestions for a restaurant or fast food stand that you wish could be added to the menu at the stadium of your favorite team and I will post those ideas in a later blog.

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com. Follow Wayne on Twitter at ESPNWayneDrehs.

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