By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
In the mid-Eighties, stadiums began upgrading the food service at sporting events. It changed my life.
Before that, baseball games were something to be tolerated. During the give-and-take years of dating, my presence at a game usually came as a tradeoff for an evening at an art-gallery opening. And on Opening Day, baseball was a reason to skip school and start drinking beer at 10 a.m. until I threw up and had an excuse not to go to the game. That point came sooner if I forced myself to think about the food that awaited: flaccid hot dogs made of ground pig toenails and served in steamed buns that solidified when they hit the air, accompanied by a watery Pepsi or more cheap, warm beer.
But no more. The companies that run concessions for sports arenas woke up one day to find that the public was chowing down on gourmet pizzas covered with crawfish and blueberries and swilling expensive imported brews--and they were doing this before the game so they didn't have to eat something that looked like a piece of bicycle tire during the game. Faced by the unappetizing prospect of losing out on a money-making opportunity, concessionaires responded by applying the most advanced technology in the hospitality industry to improving the quality of their products. Coors Field is proof that they've succeeded.
Now, don't get me wrong: I still wouldn't cancel a date with my laundry to go to a game, but at least at Coors Field there's enough food to keep me occupied. And since we were determined to try as much of it as we could consume in nine innings, I forced myself to sacrifice watching the game in order to act as gofer. And I did it without spilling beer on anyone's head--a bad idea in any section, but a potentially deadly one when you're sitting in the Rockpile.
This nosebleed territory (although, really, there are no bad seats at Coors Field) contained one of the most interesting cross-sections of baseball-loving humanity you're likely to find. Since this was another sellout, every $4 seat was occupied, often by a person eager to share his erudite play-by-play. "At least he swang," a gentleman behind us said after one of the Rockies whiffed in his first at-bat. Ooh, time to get some food.
After a not-so-quick walk around to look at all the options--this is a big place, friends--it became obvious that there was some overlap among the 57 permanent concessions. Some are called Fanfare, some Esta Fiesta, some GrilleWorks, and some were a combination of the three, with an Itza Pizza thrown in here and there. The basic idea is that Fanfare serves your quintessential ballpark stuff: hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels and Cracker Jack; Esta Fiesta does nachos and other pseudo-Mexican grub; GrilleWorks does (surprise!) the grilled items; and Itza Pizza, well, that should be fairly obvious. They're all owned by Aramark Corp., a Philadelphia-based food service that's one of the largest in the country. These folks have been doing stadiums for thirty years; they've been in Mile High Stadium and McNichols Arena from the beginning, and they count among their other conquests Three Rivers Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Soldier Field, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and the Houston Astrodome.
When sports fans with a modicum of taste learned that Aramark's contract extended into Coors Field, the complaints were loud and heartburn-felt. But Aramark, like other concessionaires across the country, says that it's changed its ways to accommodate the public's changing tastes--and the offerings at Coors Field back up that claim. "In the old days the theory was, `Hey, we've got a captive audience. Who cares what we give 'em?'" says Richard Hesse, Aramark's food-and-beverage director in Denver. "Nowadays, that's unacceptable. People want more than a lousy hot dog."
But they still want lots of dogs, if the 15,000 (during the day) to 18,000 (at night) sold at each game are any indication. These puppies come in the form of regular mutts as well as bratwursts, sausages and red hots, and they far outsell anything else offered at Coors Field with the exception of, you guessed it, beer. I got one of each--a standard-sized Oscar Meyer weiner ($2) and a 24-ounce cold one ($4)--for our first course. The dog was warm and came on a decently fluffy, fresh bun, in direct contrast to your average Mile High woofer of old. And the beer was...Coors. Whaddya expect? To be fair, though, other beers are available, just not at the regular food booths (this is Coors Field, after all). You can find these renegades, even Bud, in ice chests sprinkled throughout the walkways behind the stands. We got excited when we saw the Beer World concession, but it's a small beer world, after all, because only six bottles were offered, and half of those were British.
So we settled for another Coors draft and took on a Polish dog ($3) that I'd call kielbasa. The spicy sausage grew increasingly fiery with every bite and came on a thick, soak-up-the-grilled-peppers bun. Each concession area had a nice, clean condiment island floating near it, supplied with the usual ketchup and mustard but also offering the welcome additions of grilled onions, red and green peppers and sauerkraut, all of which were fresh. We were worried that our bag of peanuts ($3) would be anything but fresh--we'd never bought plastic-wrapped goober peas before and joked that the package must be stamped with a 1986 expiration date--but the unshelled nuts were winners.