Fare is fair, but ain't the beer cold? Food and prices leave bit of a bad taste, but selection of suds is easy to swallow

August 30, 1998|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,SUN COLUMNIST

In the cast of media characters found at pro football games, you have your pre-game prognosticators, your halftime telestrator operators and your post-game dissectors. Now comes the post-meal analyst, a position I filled during a Ravens preseason game.

The idea was to rate the food and drink served at the Ravens' new stadium. After watching how the other second-guessers do their jobs, I knew I needed some socko visuals to tell my story.

The accompanying chart shows how a handful of eats and drinks I bought at the stadium -- a hot dog, a soda, a couple of beers, a crab cake, a beef sandwich, and a cheese-steak sandwich -- rated in four categories: time, how long I waited in line at the concession stand; temperature, how hot was the dog and how cold was the beer; cost, how much I paid for the item; and quality, how it tasted.

I rated the fare on a 1-to-5 football helmet basis, with one helmet signifying that an item merely "showed up," three signifying an average performance and five meaning it had "done good." I based my ratings on years of eating and drinking at stadiums, including the past six years sampling the Opening Day fare at Oriole Park.

While I really wanted a telestrator to help me do my job, I had to settle for an instant-read thermometer, a watch, a calculator, and an assistant eater, my 17-year-old son. This was the same setup, minus the assistant, that I had used to evaluate the fare at Oriole Park.

I roamed Ravens stadium, climbing all the way to the upper deck, where the air seemed thinner and the lines shorter, sampling food and drink from concession stands.

Overall, I think the fare at the stadium rated 2 1/2 helmets, a little below average. The strong point of the food and drink was temperature. The beer and soda were cold, between 40 and 42 degrees, and most of the sandwiches were hot, 120 to 130 degrees.

The weak point was price, especially for beer. I paid $5 for a beer.

When I whipped out the calculator and did the math on my $5, 12-ounce beer, it came out to 42 cents an ounce. That was a personal worst for me, costing more than the 29 cents an ounce I paid for a 16-ounces beer at Oriole Park.

I liked the quality and selection of beers at the football stadium. Beers from two Baltimore-area craft brewers, DeGroen's and Clipper City, were available for the fans of locally made suds. There was Heineken for the import crowd and plenty of Budweiser at $4.25 a can for the brand-name loyalists.

The flavor of the hot dog and the crab cake did not excite or offend me. I was expecting a little commotion from the $6.50 crab cake, which, I had been told, had recently gone through the equivalent of a complete flavor makeover. There was crab in that cake, but it was shy and easily overwhelmed by the bun.

The beef sandwich, which I bought at a concession stand inside the stadium, was labeled pit beef. It seemed more like sliced roast beef to me, but it ended up being my favorite sandwich of the evening, especially when it was slathered with a red, smoky sauce.

The cheese steak, modeled after that fabled sandwich of Philadelphia, was disappointing. It was almost cold, and limp.

The lines at concession stands were slow-moving before the game but picked up speed once the game began. Before the game, I waited between five and seven minutes in the hot dog, soda, crab cake and beer lines on the lower level. But at halftime I got a beer in only one minute on the upper deck. During the second half, there was basically no wait to get the cheese-steak and beef sandwiches.

I went to the archives and compared the amount of time I spent in line when Oriole Park opened in 1992. I found that, for the most part, the wait in line at Ravens stadium was about three minutes longer.

I have noticed that some NFL types like to end their reports by offering advice to the home team on how to "turn things around."

On that note, I offer these suggestions on how to improve the stadium food and drink: Get more condiments and bigger signs.

The sandwiches needed to be pepped up, and one simple way to do that is to add condiments. I detected a serious shortage of horseradish and mayonnaise, which can instantly add zip to any sandwich, especially if you combine them.

As for the concession stands signs, they need to be bigger and placed in the front of the stands. During the game, the signs listing the items being sold were stuck in the back of the stands. They were hard to read from the back of the line. This meant you could wait in line, only to get to the front and discover that this stand was not selling what you wanted.

Disguising your intentions might be a good idea when you are a pro football quarterback, but not when you are a pro football concession stand.

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