Baltimore sweeps D.C. in baseball food fight

April 06, 2005|By ROB KASPER

It is nice to be superior, and that is how I felt after eating and drinking at the baseball parks in Washington and Baltimore.

At Camden Yards in Baltimore, we have crab cakes, Boog's barbecue and - are you ready for this? - ambience. Whereas down in D.C. at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the home of the Washington Nationals, the place is - how shall we say this kindly? - a dump. No, that may be too harsh. It is an older structure that has "amenity issues." Mainly, not enough room to serve food in the style to which we Baltimoreans, who have admittedly lofty standards, have become accustomed.

They're trying hard down there at RFK, but let's be frank, it isn't Baltimore.

When you eat at Camden Yards you get spoiled. There is nothing wrong with the food at RFK. It is good, basic ballpark fare. Actually many of items - grilled hot dogs and sausages, for example - are virtually identical to those served at Camden Yards, as are many of the prices. But the menu is not as extensive as Baltimore's. Things are better in Baltimore. Isn't that is music to our ears? I never claimed to be neutral.

The team delivering the eats and drinks at RFK, the pros from Aramark, are from the same organization that handles the masses at Camden Yards.

A big difference between the two experiences is the surroundings, or, as we like to say here in Baltimore, the "milieu."

If RFK were a house, it would be described as a "fixer-upper." A real-estate agent trying to unload it would probably call its kitchens a "work in progress," saying they will be in better by April 14, the Nationals' first home game of the regular season.

Camden Yards, by contrast, is the builder's house on the hill, the dramatic structure with gleaming kitchens.

I have got to give the D.C. crew credit. They are making do in difficult circumstances. They are like the young couple that just moved into the old house down the street. The cooking situation could be compared to camping out.

At RFK, they have wheeled in portable carts to serve the basic ballpark fare. Sunday, when I was there for the Nationals' exhibition game against the New York Mets, the cart crews did a fine job, until the crowd showed up. Then came the squash, the condition that occurs when too many people occupy too small a space. The narrow concourses at old RFK got even tighter.

Until Washington gets a new stadium, three or so years down the line, Nationals fans are probably going to have to console themselves with the thought that the underside of many old stadiums, including Fenway Park, look, dark, historic and claustrophobic.

I arrived at RFK hungry. I grabbed a $5.50 grilled dog, hot from a Fourscore Grill in the concourse down the first-base line. It was a big dog, weighing about a 1/3 of pound, and had the warmth , flavor and pleasing snap of an honest frankfurter. It was the equal of any dog I have had in Baltimore.

I also visited the exclusive section, the Diamond Box, down the first-base line. Here, folks who shell out for season tickets get good views of the action and fancier pre-game fare. Sunday, they were serving authentically spicy Italian sausages, hot dogs with top-quality kraut and stuffed sandwiches. The Diamond Box had been freshly painted and was looking the best it could. But once again, I had milieu on my mind. It was still a space stuck underneath the grandstand.

By contrast, the atmosphere was much more refined when I dined on a crab cake with a sherry beurre blanc sauce in the enclosed comfort of the Diamond Club on the Camden Club level of the Baltimore ballpark. Actually, there were two sauces on the crab cake, a tomato coulis and the beurre blanc, but as a baseball traditionalist, I preferred the beurre blanc.

Down in D.C., the baseball masses aren't going to be able to eat crab cakes as they watch the game. The kitchen facilities are not ready to serve seafood, Rob Sunday, Aramark's district manager, told me. Crab cakes may show up in the fancy Diamond Box buffet, but not in concession stands, at least not this year, he said.

I guess you can watch a baseball game around here without enjoying a crab cake or spooning down some downright delicious crab soup, the kind I had Monday at $4 a cup in Camden Yards. But it is a hardship, at least for us in Baltimore.

I tried to rid myself of the stereotypes I have of Washington residents. For instance, while I think of Washingtonians as being mostly wine-sippers, I had to admit that their ballpark had a great selection of suds. In addition to $5 and $6 beers from the big three American brewers, Budweiser, Miller and Coors, the park also offered Guinness, Harp, Heineken, and Blue Moon for $6.50. It also had good local craft beer, Foggy Bottom ale and lager, made by Gary Heurich, whose family has deep roots and a long brewing tradition in Washington.

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