Making runs for hot food on a cold day at ballpark

April 09, 2003|By ROB KASPER

IT WILL BE a cold day in Camden Yards when hot chocolate outsells beer.

But as the Oriole season opened, a cashier working a concession stand along the first-base line predicted that day had arrived. He looked at my $2.25 cup of hot chocolate and said, "These are selling better than beer."

He was exaggerating. Cups of the 158-degree hot chocolate were being served only at a handful of locations in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Meanwhile, cups of beer were being poured at almost every outpost. Later in the week, an official for Aramark, the Camden Yards concessionaire, confirmed that while hot chocolate made a good showing on Opening Day, it was stomped by beer sales. Traditions die hard.

Yet the day was so cold - it snowed something like three different times - and the wind was so piercing, that the ascendancy of hot stuff seemed possible. This year, during my annual eating trip through the ballpark, I bought anything that was steaming. Hot crab soup, a version of Irish coffee, spicy hot sausage and the hot chocolate were my companions.

Even when it came time to pick my potato chips, I went for warmth. Instead of opting for room-temperature chips in a bag, I forked over $3.50 at the Upper Deck Deli for a cup of "fresh-cut chips." These custom-cut potato chips had been cooked in peanut oil. They had good flavor and they were warm, registering 82 degrees on the instant-read thermometer I stuck in them.

If they had been warmer, they would have been better. But that could have been said for almost anything in the ballpark. This was a stormy, snowy day that had everyone from the tanned ballplayers to the pale bleacher bums shaking their heads in disbelief at the weather and shaking other body parts to keep their circulation going.

I am the first to admit that a gustatory tour of a ballpark taken on a frigid spring day differs from one taken in the languid heat of summer. For instance, when it is hot at the ballpark, you want a seat in the shade, plenty of chill on your beverages and a short wait in line.

Yet on Opening Day, I found myself lingering at the Dogs Plus stand on Eutaw Street. It felt good to stand next to a sizzling grill. I waited there five minutes and 28 seconds as my $4.75 hot-sausage sandwich with pepper and onions was prepared.

Reluctantly I moved along, over to a sunny spot next to the warehouse near the Eutaw Street entrance. There I devoured the 120-degree sausage and the crisp peppers and onions.

For a moment, life was good. Then dark clouds rolled in from the west, snow swirled and life got weird. How weird? Well, in one snowy moment, I found myself talking to a man dressed as a turtle about crab soup as we stood next to an ice-cream stand.

The turtle suit was quite cozy, just the outfit for a chilly day, Chad Rogers, the man inside the suit, told me. He also told me he was wearing the get-up to promote a Fells Point bar that had the same name as his outfit. Buddies of the green turtle had offered him a beer, but he declined, figuring it would look bad if school kids attending the game saw a reptile imbibing.

I was going to recommend the crab soup to him. The $4 bowl I got at a stand behind home plate was full of crunchy green beans, carrots, peas and ample amounts of crab. It registered a pleasing 145 degrees on my instant-read thermometer.

But I couldn't remember the laws of nature. Do turtles eat crab? Before I could come up with an answer, the turtle had shoved off, migrating toward the stands.

Meanwhile, it snowed even harder, blinding the players on the field and causing two people working at an ice-cream stand, Tremayne Cochrane and Catina Boyd, to roar with laughter. Business had been very slow, they said. "This morning I had a feeling I would be out here in a snowstorm, trying to sell ice cream," Cochrane said.

In the course of the afternoon, I walked around Camden Yards, eating or drinking at every level. The coldest spot in the ballpark was a stairwell in the left-field stands that overlooked the bullpen. It was a place that the sun never shined and wind always blew. "It is cool in the summer" an usher, dressed like an Eskimo, told me as he stood at the club level of the stairwell.

Throughout the ballpark, the queues at the concession stands moved relatively quickly.

The longest line I saw, about 10 customers deep, was at a beer stand in the upper deck. Snow did not stop the beer drinkers. "Today, I am buying everything that is hot, except the beer," one fan explained to me.

On the club level, a cup of hearty Clipper City Pale Ale, 40 degrees and costing $5.75, was delivered to me in 30 seconds flat by a bartender. It is one of the eight locally made beers being served throughout Camden Yards this season, a vast improvement in the local suds supply over previous seasons.

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