Ballpark food scores on almost all bases: heat, speed, taste

HAPPY EATER

April 11, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The hot dog was 22 degrees hotter than last year. The beer selection was big, and the $4 bottle of Beck's dark was cold, 40 degrees to be exact.

Except for a backup at a pizza-dispensing post, the wait in line was shorter, even at Boog Powell's barbecue stand. Tom Matte's ribs were sweet, yet good. The fresh-roasted peanuts were disappointingly lukewarm.

That is the summary of my recent eating trip through the concession stands of Oriole Park at Camden Yards operated by ARA food services. I was there Wednesday night as a professional eater. That meant I carried a thermometer and a stop watch. I recorded the temperatures of the food and drinks, and the time it took to get them. Last year I did the same thing on Opening Day.

It is a somewhat uneven comparison. The second game of season does not attract the President of the United States and his many attendants. But both games were sellouts. And both offered a look at how, when the house is full, food gets to hungry customers.

Like most fans, I look for three essentials: food with flavor, food served at the correct temperature, and food served speedily.

I am willing to pay $2.75 for "hot half smoke," a hot dog that is lightly smoked, if it is indeed hot and somewhat smoky-tasting. The one I had the other night was. As a matter of fact it was my pick for "dog of the day."

The grilled Polish sausage sold at the sausage haus stand behind first base, $3.75 with kraut, was my pick for sandwich (not counting hot dogs) of the game.

The hot half-smoke hot dog registered 102 degrees, some 20 degrees hotter than the ballpark hot dog I bought last year. This was impressive because this dog came from one of those multilevel warming devices with glass fronts that look like little seaside condos for hot dogs.

Most dogs I have pulled from these devices have been tepid dogs. But this one had both the "hots" in the temperature department and zing in the flavor category.

I waited four minutes in line for the dog, about the same time I waited last year to fetch a much colder, tamer dog. The hot dog line was tolerable because it was moving. That was not the case at the pizza stand down the left-field line, concession stand 111. After waiting for 11 minutes and seeing no pizzas emerge from the oven. I gave up.

I had to wait five minutes when I bought my $2.75 cup of crab soup at a cafeteria-like stand located along the first-base line. I got my soup one minute after I got in line. But a cash register problem held things up. I sipped as I waited. It was a red crab soup, with good spice and plenty of bite. It was hot, 138 degrees, which was 38 degrees warmer than last year's crab soup. Even with the delay, this year's trip was 3 1/2 minutes faster than last year's crab soup venture.

The buzz at the ball park was that the line at Boog's barbecue stand on the Eutaw Street court was moving faster. Last year, I waited 12 minutes and six seconds to get a sliced pork sandwich there. This year I was in, out and eating a $5.75 pork sandwich sandwich in three minutes 15 seconds, my personal best.

Two factors accounted for the improvement. First, the stand now has two serving lines rather than one. Second, I cheated. I got in line before the game began, when the line was short. I felt guilty about cheating, so I went back when the line was long and monitored the progress of a guy in line, Greg Taylor from West River. Taylor got in line at 6:24 p.m., announcing to his friends that after 10 minutes he was leaving. Eight minutes later he was at the entrance of the stand, exchanging greetings with Boog, the former Oriole first baseman. And two minutes later Taylor had his pit beef sandwich and was searching for a beer. A smiling Taylor said that the 10-minute trip through the stand was a personal best for him.

There was no wait at Tom Matte's rib stand, a few yards down Eutaw Street court. Matte, a former Baltimore Colt star, has teamed with Mike Hart to turn out the ball park's best new food. The big ribs were baked in an oven, then dunked in sauce containing honey, orange juice and crab spice, before being cooked over charcoal grills. While I am partial to sour, slow-cooked ribs, I found these sweet, grilled ribs to my liking. The plate of six ribs, slaw and corn bread for $7.75 was enough food to satisfy most serious eaters.

Having completed my professional tour of the ballpark, I plan to return as a regular fan. When I do, I'll probably have the half-smoke dog, the Polish with kraut, a Beer of the World, and if I am still hungry, a plate of ribs.

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