Joseph M. Sims, Vice President of Operations and James D. Major…
At Target Field in Minneapolis, the runaway hit is Murray's Steak Sandwich, which outsells everything else at the new stadium, even hot dogs. At New Meadowlands Stadium, the big seller is Nonna Fusco's meatballs.
Each of these stadium's signature items evolved out of scouting tours like the one Delaware North Cos. Sportservice executives took Wednesday in Baltimore, in search of their next phenomenon. Joining them were Orioles front-office executives, including Janet Marie Smith, the team's vice president of planning and development. "We were thinking about 20 years," Smith said about the desire for freshening up the stadium's concessions after two decades, "and we liked the idea of Delaware North coming in and challenging us to change."
Named Nov.10 as the new concessionaire for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based food service company was selected by the Orioles in part for its track record of incorporating local cuisine in its stadium operations. For Delaware North, Baltimore's stadium is a unique challenge. "Camden Yards is the standard," said Delaware North's president, Rick Abramson. "Camden's the place."
On the limousine van's scheduled route were crab cakes, of course, from Faidley's and G&M, as well as fried pickles from Pickles Pub, hamburgers from Kooper's Tavern, and sausages from Polock Johnny's, Stuggy's and Ostrowski's. "Take small bites," the group was advised by those who had been on the Minneapolis and North Jersey tours.
The tour was designed to expose Delaware North executives and chefs to the city's vernacular food experiences, not only the things Baltimoreans eat but the way they do it, gathered, for instance, around the stand-up market tables at Faidley Seafood.
And the tour was more about finding inspiration than individual items or vendors, and no one expected the next signature item to jump up and announce itself. Murray's Steak Sandwich at Target Field was inspired by a classic Minneapolis steak house that didn't have a steak sandwich on its menu, and the meatball dish at the New Meadlowlands was not plucked directly from a New Jersey restaurant — it's the recipe of Delaware North executive chef Eric Borgia.
The tour began, as most food tours of Baltimore do, at Lexington Market, and it began without Abramson, whose arrival by air was being held up by the morning's windy weather. The heart and stomach of Delaware North, Abramson, who counts revered chef Thomas Keller among his foodie friends, began his food-service career as a peanut vendor in the old Milwaukee County Stadium. ("I wasn't fast; I was smart," he recalled.)
After a planned stop at Polock Johnny's, the visitors and the home team wandered the market, the Baltimoreans pointing out their favorite stalls, stopping at Barrons for roast beef sandwiches and at Bergers, where the Delaware North group got their first look at the bakery's iconic Chocolate Cremes. "We're never without them in our home," Smith assured her visitors. Informed about the purpose of the expedition, Barrons' Kenneth Mullin said, "I hope they're here to give us a good team."
Suddenly, a man in an Australian duster coat appeared. It was Abramson, shouting, "I love that Polish sausage!"
The group moved to Faidley's for crab cakes and fried hake sandwiches. Abramson chatted there with the stall's owner, Bill Devine, who, when asked if he was a Faidley, responded, "No, but I've been sleeping with Faidley's daughter for 53 years."
The new concessionaires know that there will be a crab cake at Oriole Park, just as there will be nachos and hot dogs, but that wasn't what they were looking for Wednesday. Nor, for the most part, was Wednesday about the search for the kind of fare that they'll be selling on the suite level — a forthcoming trip will take the group to places like Woodberry Kitchen, Charleston and Kali's Court.
From Lexington Market, the van headed to Fells Point, now with Abramson aboard. The first stop on the schedule in Fells Point was Stuggy's, for more hot dogs and sausage, and then, by a combination of luck and instinct, the Whistling Oyster, just next door, where the tavern's new owner, Patrick Butler, whipped them up a batch of his Harbor Rolls.
Butler's own creation, they're a spicy crab meat blend stuffed inside an eggroll-type shell and served with a wasabi dipping sauce. Could this be it? The signature item that fell out of the sky? Butler, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, gamely promoted it. And it fit one of the essential criteria for ballpark food: It can be eaten with one hand.