At food fests, vendors pitch fares common to home palates


July 07, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Welcome home, baseball fans. Pick up a plate, grab a fork and dig in, when major-league baseball All-Star festivities turn Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards area into a giant smorgasbord.

From Friday to Tuesday there'll be crab cakes and bratwurst, cheese steak and chicken, fish tacos and fried lake trout -- not to mention the hot dogs, cotton candy, peanuts and pretzels that are mandatory for any ballpark experience.

It's all part of All-Star Week, when baseball breaks out its legends and Baltimore celebrates its unique culinary legacy.

"We decided in early April that we wanted an old-time street festival," said Mark Strausman, the New York chef who is coordinating all the food-related activities of the All-Star FanFest to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center and Festival Hall, and of the All-Star StreetFest, to be held on the parking lot across Camden Street from Festival Hall.

Working with the Baltimore Office of Promotions, Mr. Strausman signed up more than a dozen local vendors, some famous, some street-fair regulars, to offer baseball fans and visitors to the open-air festival "a true taste of Baltimore."

Among the better-known folks who'll be offering Chesapeake cuisine are Richard and Rose Cernak, of Obrycki's (steamed crabs, crab soup, crab balls), Nancy Longo of Pierpoint restaurant (Maryland fried chicken, sweet-potato fries) and Randy Stahl, of the Brass Elephant (grilled Italian sweet sausage, fried mozzarella with marinara sauce, cookies and brownies).

But there will also be people selling falafel and hummus (Carlos and Pauline Taylor of Live It Not Diet), shrimp (Myrna Cohn, of B&J Shuckers), snow cones (Hazel Jones), pit beef (Jose Ribas of Forum Caterers), hot dogs and corn on the cob (Sina Reid, of Dogs Plus), Sichuan pork and cashew chicken (An Pan Lee of Uncle Lee's), cotton candy and funnel cakes (Debbie White), chicken wings and fried lake trout (Rogers McCaskill), just for starters. There will be lemonade (from John Kousouris of Oasis), soft drinks, bottled water and ice tea, but no beer. And nothing will cost more than $6.

"The whole thing is all these local people doing their own thing," said Mr. Strausman, executive chef at New York's Coco Pazzo restaurant. He's also a baseball fan who came to Baltimore on his own a couple of weeks ago to see a game at Camden Yards.

Most of the vendors are used to street fairs; officials at the Baltimore Office of Promotions drew on the ranks of ArtScape food sellers to provide Mr. Strausman with choices. ArtScape, the annual celebration of the arts in the Mount Royal area, is one place Mr. McCaskill, a barber by trade, practices his other craft. "I love to cook," he said. "I do as many [festivals] as I can."

Sharing the experience

The city asked for, and got, a say in the way StreetFest operates. "We wanted to have a community counterpart to the All-Star FanFest, a free event so residents who don't have baseball tickets could have some of the All-Star experience," said Tracy Baskerville, of the promotion office. StreetFest will also have music, dancing, ethnic celebrations, crafts and activities for children, Ms. Baskerville said.

Indoors, FanFest, a sort of interactive festival for baseball fans, features games, cards and memorabilia, high-tech batting cages major-leaguer on a life-size video screen "pitches" the ball), mock-ups of a locker room and a dugout, events, souvenirs, and player autographs. And food. FanFest's food vendor, Service America, will feature food from major-league parks, including crab cakes from Baltimore, hot sausage from Cincinnati, Philly cheese steak subs, and baby back ribs from Toronto.

This is the third year for the FanFest event, which accompanies major-league baseball's mid-season All-Star Game around the United States and Canada as it skips from American to National league cities. It was in Toronto in 1991 and in San Diego last year. (Timed-entry tickets to FanFest cost $12 or less.)

"We wanted to share the enthusiasm with a broader audience," especially families, said Richard White, president of Major League Baseball Properties. "Qualitatively, we also wanted to pay attention to details." The food matters a lot, he said. "It would be very simple for us to move into a convention center and sell whatever they sell there [to eat]. We said, why not make it more than that? Why not bring in great food from all the major-league ballparks -- bratwurst from Milwaukee and crab cakes from Baltimore?

Scoring with Chesapeake fare

"And then we thought, if we could also provide food that's indigenous to the Chesapeake area, we could really have a hit on our hands."

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