The headline on Thursday’s Grub Street post was a little misleading: “Hark! New Shake Shack to Open at Shea Stadium.” The short post does correct the misdirection—the new Shake Shack will be part of Citi Field (or, as we are all already calling it, Shitty Field), the new Mets park set to open in April of 2009, but it doesn’t quite get at the heart of the Mets’ concession problems.
I have long been a critic of the food at Shea. Even with the slight upgrade this year (switching park-wide to Nathan’s hotdogs, and instituting smarter line management at some stands), Shea still has some of the worst ballpark food in the major leagues. It’s not so much any one item (though the barely warm hotdogs, assorted disgusting fried items, and chemical-flavored and extremely soft Carvel soft serve are all pretty foul), but rather the complete lack of a sense of place that has always bugged me.
You go to Wrigley in Chicago, and you get a top-flight Chicago-style hotdog with all the appropriate toppings (one of the best hotdogs I ever had was in the bleachers at Wrigley, but maybe the atmosphere had a little to do with that review). You go to the “phone booth” in San Francisco, and you can get a stinking rose—a hot chicken sandwich, heavy on the garlic. You go to Milwaukee, and you not only can get five different kinds of sausage, you get to see the sausages race during the seventh inning stretch!
Come to Shea, and at most stands, you can get a Pepsi, a Budweiser or Bud Light, a hotdog, and an assortment of generic options not uncommon to school cafeterias. Now, like I said, the Nathan’s dogs are a step up, and somewhere in the park there is rumored to be a place to get Jamaican beef patties, but otherwise, there is no real sense of being in New York.
The thing that has always really bugged me is the lack of traditional toppings for the hotdogs. In fact, there is a complete lack of toppings, aside from ketchup and mustard (and thank our stars that they actually went back to real mustard after a couple of years of Dijonaise. . . I still shiver thinking about it), of any kind! In LA, you can get relish and raw onions, in Milwaukee, there’s two kinds of hot sauce, at Wrigley, as I said, there’s the emerald relish and the sport peppers and the half-dozen other ingredients that you need for a classic Chicago dog.
But in New York, where you can’t imagine a hot dog without either warm sauerkraut or taxi onions, imagine them is all you can do once you walk through the Shea Stadium turnstiles. Except in the fancy luxury suites, you ain’t gonna find those kinds of things when you “show up at Shea.”
The concessions at Shea Stadium should celebrate New York food. They should have always been seeking out the great purveyors of hotdogs, pastrami, beef patties, and egg rolls—or maybe pork buns—and maybe even pizza (for some reason, I don’t like the idea of pizza at a ballpark—it just seems out of place). They should have offered up Brooklyn Lager, or some such local brew, and maybe a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry or Cel-Ray soda. But, instead, they have, as long as anyone can remember, contracted out their food to one of those national catering companies. It used to be Harry M. Stevens, then they were bought by Aramark. These are the same people that do the food in freshman dining halls and corporate cafeterias. There is nothing distinctly regional about what they bring to the table. . . or your lap, as the case may be.
I also should note that speed and service have never been hallmarks of Shea’s concessions. Again, it’s a little better this year, but you will still miss an inning or two if you try to get some fries during the first half of a well-attended game.
So, all of this is not to say that I don’t welcome a future that will include a Shack Burger or a Vienna hotdog, and maybe even a concreation, inside the confines of Shitty Field—I am a big fan of the Shack (even if it has slipped a little this summer. . . and the new fries suck)—but a Shack Burger is, at its core, an LA-style burger. Vienna hotdogs are from Chicago (though, along with the classic windy city toppings, Shake Shack does offer very good sauerkraut or onion relish). The Shack’s frozen custard apparently draws its inspiration from St. Louis.
So, the food might be better, but it won’t be New York.
In the end, I don’t go to a baseball stadium to eat (well, not just to eat), but the ballpark experience should be a total experience. New York’s team with New York’s food.
Plus, I should add, if you think the lines at the Madison Square Park Shake Shack are maddening, let me tell you, if the Flushing Shack is staffed with Aramark employees, instead of Danny Meyer’s well-paid, well-treated Union Square Hospitality Group workers, then you might see America’s first incidences of burger rage. I can easily imagine never getting a Shack Burger at “Shea” because I won’t even wait for more than 20 minutes at the original Shack—and in that case, I’m not missing a live baseball game while I’m waiting.
In the final analysis, I have discovered that if I eat minimally during a Mets game, I can take a short walk after the game to Flushing’s main drag and enjoy some of the best Chinese and Malaysian food this city has to offer. No lines. No inflated ballpark prices.
I hope that this part of my Shea experience survives the Stadium “upgrade.”
Labels: ballpark food, baseball, Citi Field, Danny Meyer, hotdogs, New York Mets, Shake Shack, Shea Stadium, Wrigley Field