At the Preakness, affluent and influential wine and dine in luxury THE INNER CIRCLE PREAKNESS '94

May 18, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

Pssst! You there, on the frayed blanket, with the floppy hat, the sunburned shoulders, the hot beer and cold hot dog . . . I see you gazing longingly across the infield toward the bandstand and the tops of the sheltering tents of Preakness Village, where high rollers, high society, and high and mighty captains of industry and finance sip and sup and play today. . . . Want to know what you're missing?

Savor this: Shucked oysters, beef tenderloin, Texas brisket, pan-roasted chicken with garlic, rosemary and white wine, pasta salad with fresh tomato basil sauce, savory baked cheese twists, roasted herbed Idaho and sweet potato wedges, crab cakes made from the still-secret recipe of the Old Pimlico Restaurant by a chef who worked there, marinated smoked turkey breast, Caesar salad, roast vegetables, wine, beer, mixed drinks, black-eyed Susans, lemonade, iced tea, espresso and cappuccino, Linzer torte cookies and brandy snaps, make-your-own berry shortcakes and do-it-yourself sundaes, plus afternoon tea, all freshly prepared and served by the Classic Catering People of Owings Mills.

And imagine the setting. The infield at Pimlico Race Course: Some 20-odd tents, all of them pristine white, sit in a graceful semicircle, with the bandstand closing the ring. Inside each tent, white chairs surround tables spread with festive cloths and sparkling with china and silver. Each tent is filled with flowers and floral decorations. Want something special to drink? The bartender will whip it up for you, ma'am, sir. Finished with your plate? Discreet servers will whisk it away. Finished with lunch? Step outside to mingle with other fellows of this festive circle, to place a little wager at the betting booths, or listen to the band, or watch other entertainers as they try to capture your attention. . . .

All of this is Corporate Preakness, a sort of Brigadoon of gracious living, a fantasy land where national and local companies play gracious host to their invited guests. Invitations may be eagerly sought; but the names of party-throwers and partygoers are strictly private.

As for the race -- what race? This is a party, a big, bountiful, once-a-year party.

"What makes the Preakness Village so special is the synergy of the people, the food, the setting," says Gail Kaplan, of the Classic Catering People.

"It's elegant entertaining out of doors," says Ansela Dopkin, another principal of the company.

Presentation is positively posh: silver platters and chafing dishes, good wood carving boards, glass bowls for salads -- and coffee is served from silver urns. "It's so pretty. . . . It's as if you were in a ballroom," Ms. Dopkin says.

The beauty belies the mountain of labor that goes into making sure the party is a success.

"The easy part is doing the food," says Edward Dopkin, Ms. Dopkin's son and the president of the company. "The hard part is the organization and timing."

This is the second year that Classic has handled food service for Preakness Village. "It's not the largest party we do," says Mr. Dopkin, who's expecting to feed more than 3,000 folks this year. But it's certainly among the more complicated, with each tent having its own decor, china, silver and menu, he says. The possibility of scarce electricity, the limits of portable cooking, the vagaries of the weather don't daunt them.

"Probably half the places we go don't have water or roofs," Ms. Kaplan says.

Classic will have three cook tents and a kitchen truck at the track for the event. The "last crossing" to take equipment across the track before Saturday's 119th running of the Preakness is at 7 p.m. Friday.

Tables are set up and linens set out on Friday. The bars are also set up early. In the kitchen truck are convection ovens, braising ,, pans, tilting skillets, fryers and steamers. By Saturday morning, the truck will be buzzing with more than a dozen people preparing food. By the time lunch rolls around, there will be some 250 people cooking, serving, supervising, cleaning up.

When it's all over, they will have used 14 cases of tenderloins, 750 pounds of crab meat, 1,000 pounds of ice, hundreds of gallons of iced tea, and a truckload each of beverages and bottled waters, not to mention 200 tablecloths and more than 2,500 white wooden chairs. And then it will be time to pack everything up.

Although Classic offers a wide variety of menus for Preakness Village -- including a cookout and an Italian theme, clients tend to select a fairly traditional range of items. This year, virtually every tent will have crab cakes. Tenderloin is also popular, as are marinated smoked turkey breast, pasta salad and Caesar salad (made without eggs, for safety reasons; eggs in the crab cakes are pasteurized).

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