They came here from out of town, but come Opening Day, they'll be serving Baltimore fans Old Bay wings, Polock Johnny's sausage and soft-shell crabs battered in Natty Boh.
Oriole Park's new concessionaire, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North Companies Sportservice, unveiled a new stadium menu Wednesday with a decidedly local flair. They brought the traditional (a tastefully done crab cake), the outrageous (an Esskay hot dog topped with smoked pit beef, pepperoni hash stewed tomatoes and crispy onions) and the whimsical (a golden pretzel braided in the shape of the Orioles' O).
If all that sounds like a Cook's tour of Baltimore, then Sportservice has made good on its promise to return the city's tastes and traditions to Camden Yards, where the offerings had felt generic and indistinct to many fans. The only exception over the years has been Boog's BBQ, and even that is being given a Sportservice twist. The new sandwich, called the "Big Boog," is a mammoth pile-up of barbecued beef, pork and turkey, fully twice the size of the original.
With less than two weeks before Sportservice's April 4 debut, Orioles executives appeared delighted with their decision to replace their longtime concessionaire.
"We couldn't be more pleased with the initial results of today's food tasting," said Greg Bader, director of communications for the Orioles. "Delaware North Sportservice certainly delivered on everything they promised in terms of bringing many of the local and regional culinary dishes and influences into the ballpark cuisine."
Some of what Sportservice served up Wednesday appears to have been directly inspired by the culinary bus tour of Baltimore that Sportservice executives and regional chefs took of Baltimore in December. Polock Johnny's, the first stop on that tour, will operate one of the seven new concessions at Camden Yards this year. A crabmeat-stuffed spring roll called the Rolling Crab looks to have been directly inspired by an impromptu visit the executives made to the Whistling Oyster in Fells Point during the tour.
The introduction of new fare won't prevent fans from having a regular old hot dog at Oriole Park; the traditional ballpark items will still be available. Sportservice was showing off the kind of signature and premium items that have enjoyed success at their other sporting venues.
A few of those popular items have been creatively converted into Baltimore specialties. The Meadowlands' most popular dish, Nonna Fusco meatballs, hand-rolled and topped with pecorino/Romano cheese and fresh basil, has been rechristened the Little Italy Meatball Sub for their Camden Yards appearance.
Other new concessionaries will be Baltimore Chop House, By the Slice Pizza, Baseline Burgers and O What a Dog! Two newly conceived bars are debuting on the stadium's lower concourse. Natty Boh Bar is opening on the first-base side, and a bar featuring Maryland and local craft beers is new this year on the third-base side.
But for Sportservice President Rick Abramson, his company's most critical assignment was Operation Crab Cake. Sportservice executives and regional chefs sampled more than 50 area crab cakes. In the end, a Baltimore native had a hand in creating the ultimate Oriole Park crab cakes. David Friendlich, the new sous chef at Oriole Park, adapted a recipe he used at the Brass Elephant for Camden Yards' new crab cake.
Or rather cakes.
"Coming up with a crab cake in Baltimore is probably one of the most difficult things I can imagine," Abramson told his guests at Wednesday's tasting. "They're very individualized. We [ended up with] two very good crab cakes — we couldn't make up our minds. Some of us like a little bite to our crab cakes, some like it a little more smooth. But we all like a lot of crab meat."
Abramson described Wednesday's tasting as "the second part in a three-part process." The third part, Abramson said, "comes on Opening Day, when the fans have their say."