Whoever replaces Aramark as the concessionaire at Oriole Park at Camden Yards — and the Orioles are keeping that announcement under their caps — they will have a tough act to follow.
While the baseball team has had its ups and downs, the ballpark fare under Aramark's 19-year tenure has been consistently good and widely imitated.
Concepts such as selling food on a promenade like Eutaw Street, having a former ballplayer such as Boog Powell cook barbecue at the park, and serving regional favorites like crab soup and coddies were mostly hatched at Camden Yards and have now popped up at ballparks around the country.
In Pittsburgh's PNC Park, there are Manny Sanguillen barbecue sandwiches and piergois. In Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park there are cheese steaks and barbecue from Greg Luzinski. In San Francisco's AT&T Park (formerly Pacific Bell Park), the former star turned chef is Orlando Cepeda, and his sandwich is called Baby Bull Tri-tip. The recipes and retired sluggers may differ from ballpark to ballpark, but we in Baltimore know where the idea came from.
The concessions at Camden Yards were, according to a ranking by ESPN.com, tied with a handful of ballparks as best in the nation. In the more comprehensive category of best ballparks, Camden Yards finished third, trailing only the newer parks in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
Over the years there have been a few bobbles at Camden Yards. The crab soup has been tepid, the steamed shrimp limp, and why Heineken ended up being served at stands that otherwise pour regional microbrews has always been a head-scratcher. The all-you-can-eat for $40 idea seemed at odds with the new national emphasis on fighting obesity. But the basic ballpark fare — sandwiches, snacks, brews — were far above average.
Given the general quality of the food, we can only speculate that Orioles ownership is looking for a better financial deal from a new vendor. If so, might we suggest the team pass some of those savings on to fans, so they don't have to take out a second mortgage to have a second beer?
Aramark is not leaving Baltimore. It is still the vendor at M&T Bank Stadium. It has a done a good job at Oriole Park both delivering the goods and working with local church groups and nonprofits who, in return for a cut of the proceeds, staff some of the ballpark stands. Under Aramark's replacement, Oriole Park should continue that practice, as well as the custom — not followed in every city — of allowing fans to bring food into the ballpark.
Saying good-bye to ballpark favorites can be wrenching. Some tears have shed, for instance, over the news that the Esskay hot dog can no longer be found at Ravens games. But change happens. Aramark has served O's fans well, and its replacement has a high standard to meet.