Take me out to the ballgame and buy me some fried eggplant with prosciutto. Or some grilled beef tenderloin with sauteed shiitakes. Or the kosher-style dog with sauerkraut served on fresh-baked bun.
It is cuisine AT Camden Yards. That is what I found at a recent sampling of the fancy and plain, ol' American food to be served this season at the new ballpark. Because this dining experience was arranged for the eating press, it was not like real ballpark life. For example, no beer was served. The barrels had not been hooked up yet. A red wine, Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, 1987, pinch hit.
There were no lines at the hot dog stand. Instead, everyone from executive chef Russell T. Szekely, who supervises the placing of the horseradish crust on the baked salmon, to Arnett Cromwell, the Baltimore native who makes the crab soup and crab cakes, was hovering over our table to make certain that every detail was just right. Whether Szekely, along with his sous chef, Candler Gotschilch, and his ARA Services staff, can keep the quality high under game conditions remains to be seem.
Still, I liked what I ate, all 12 items. The dog had a good bite to it. And the Italian sausage with peppers and onions was pleasingly spicy. The crab soup was the original Maryland red, the vegetable-style soup of the workingman, not the late-coming, cream of crab variety. And the crab cake, about the size of half a baseball, came with a fiery horseradish red sauce.
In place of the old Memorial Stadium pizza, a pizza I remember as big as a basketball and about as tough, the new pizza at Camden Yards was smaller and softer. It was made with fresh dough, cooked in its own pan and about 6 inches wide, the size of an extra-large softball. I had a pizza topped with cheese, roasted peppers and basil. It was quite good, and was the first time I had eaten basil at a ballpark.
The grilled lamb chop and roasted breast of chicken were cooked correctly, which means they were juicy, not shriveled.
The controversial Caesar salad with its uncooked eggs and potential for food poisoning has been scared off some menus. But it, too, is at Camden Yards. After Chef Szekely told me that the health department had declared his salad preparation style to be safe, I ate a big portion and lived to see dessert, berries in a pastry cup.
The only hole I saw in the sampling of the menu was the lack of vegetarian fare. The fried eggplant came close, but it also came with prosciutto ham. The ARA chefs said, however, that vegetarian fans eating in the stadium's restaurants could tell their waiters to hold the ham.
For me, the difficult part about eating at the new ballpark will be figuring out which food is served where. Vendors will not be selling baked salmon with horseradish crust to fans sitting in the bleachers. Instead, the salmon and other upscale items will be found in the Diamond Club, a buffet-style restaurant located on the stadium's club level and open to season ticket holders. On the club level, where the seats are wider and the ticket prices higher, fans can snap their fingers and a waiter will hustle down to take their drink and food orders.
The sit-down service restaurant is the Camden Club, a membership-only, $1,000-initiation-fee club, located on the seventh and eighth floors of the adjacent B&0 warehouse.
For the common fan, hot dogs, pizza and the like will be sold throughout the stadium by vendors and at the Fan Fare and Deli Stations. ARA officials said fans still would be allowed to bring their own food into the stadium as long as it was not carried in breakable containers and the bundles could fit under stadium seats.
To me, the most promising eating area of stadium seemed to the food court set up on Eutaw Street between the B&O warehouse and the ball yard. It is called Pastimes, and is where fans can grab a hot dog, a salad or a grilled sausage before the game. It is also where former Oriole Boog Powell will hold barbecue court.
"It is gonna be good in your mouth," Boog said. And that, come to think of it, is about all anyone can ask of ballpark eats.
* Kiddie hot dog $1
* Kiddie soda (14 oz.) $1
* Beef hot dog $1.75
* Soda (16 oz.) $1.50
* Draft beer (18 oz.) $3
* Popcorn tub (85 oz.) $2
* Soft pretzel $1.75
* Turkey sandwich $4.75
* Ham sandwich $4.75
* Carved sandwich $5
* Garden salad $3
* Chef salad $3.75
* Imported bottled beer (12 oz..) $3.75
Taste of Maryland
* Crab cake $3.50
* Crab soup $2.75
* Babe's Chili $2.75
* (skybox suites, diamond club buffet, 4,500 club level seats)
* Diamond Club Buffet $19.95. Revolving menu on game days.
* Sampling of foods that can be ordered for skybox suites.
* Maryland crab cakes, $54
* Tempura shrimp, $54
* $72 American sturgeon caviar, new potato chips, $135