Like the Orioles, sushi scores big on food tour of ballpark

April 07, 2002|By Rob Kasper

Take me out to the ballgame, buy me some sushi and hot dogs that are vegetarian. Who says the ball yard is only for proletarians?

Yes, that is what I have come to. This week I went to a baseball game, the Orioles' 10-3 victory over the Yankees on opening day, and ate sushi. I liked it. I would do it again except there is one small problem. The sushi -- a $10 variety package of 12 crisp pieces -- is sold only on the club level, which has restricted access. That means ordinary eaters, a class I count myself among when I am not toting a press pass, will be unable to enjoy raw seafood at Camden Yards. That seems almost un-American.

Sushi for the masses! I say this after sampling the crispy California roll and spicy tuna rolls made by Tzu Yang. I found Yang, who operates the two Kawasaki restaurants in Baltimore, at a stand near the Diamond Club. He told me that, while in years past he had catered private parties at Camden Yards, this was the first season his sushi was being sold to the public, albeit just the club-level dwellers.

As is my custom on opening day, I was eating my way through the ballpark, armed with a notebook, a watch, and an instant-read thermometer. There was no line at the sushi stand. I quickly (1 minute 10 seconds) selected an attractively packaged $10 box, picking it over the smaller $6 offerings, and found my way to a table with a view overlooking Russell Street. As I watched the gleeful opening day crowd work its way into the ballpark, I picked up my chopsticks and happily worked my way through the sushi. It was crisp, flavorful and surprisingly satisfying, even for me, the kind of guy whose normal ballpark fare consists of barbecued hunks or grilled dogs.

Next I made my way to the Dogs Plus stand on Eutaw Street. This was quite a contrast from the quiet, corporate tone of the club level. Here the music was blaring, the line was long and the crowd was boisterous.

It took me 10 minutes to place my order for a $4.25 Smart Dog. This is a meat-free veggie dog. In my 40-plus years of going to ballparks, I had never eaten a veggie dog.

Judging by this one, it will be another 40 years before I try another. This dog, I learned, was made of soy. While warm enough -- 142 degrees -- and wrapped in a crisp bun that the fellow working the stand had toasted on the grill, the texture was all wrong. There was no bite in this dog. Something was missing. I think it was meat.

Also missing on opening day were beers made in Maryland. The stands that in prior years sold brews from area microbrewers were this year selling beers from Yuengling. I like this Pottsville, Pa., product, but when I am at the Baltimore ballpark, I want to drink a Maryland-made beer. A spokesman for Aramark, the stadium concessionaire, said "contractual obligations" prevented the appearance of Maryland-made beers in the ballpark on opening day. But the spokesman said that situation could change as the season progresses. As Yogi might say, it ain't over till it's over.

My fallback beer was a $5.75, 36-degree Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. This is one of a handful of imports making a first appearance at the beers-of-the-world stands at the ballpark. The Pilsner Urquell was a fine substitute for a Maryland beer, but still a sub.

Old habits die hard, and after eating sushi and a veggie dog, I felt the need to chow down on more traditional fare.

The two-minute wait for the $4 cup of french fries seemed long, but once I got the hot (145 degrees) fries in my hand and squirted them with vinegar, I was awash in familiar flavors and smells. Standing out in the centerfield bleachers, eating fries, I felt like I was at a ballpark.

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