A rally cry for hot dogs as ballparks reach toward ever-loftier eats.
This is the year that Momofuku invades Citi Field.
Not Momofuku Ko, David Chang’s $195 tasting menu mothership, nor the Noodle Bar (ballpark ramen exists, but not yet in Queens), but Fuku, the restauranteur’s venture into the realm of fast-casual.
They’re just fried-chicken sandwiches, you think. That’s good baseball food. Right?
Sure, technically. Considering the price of ballpark snacks, the $12 sandwiches aren’t so unreasonable. And they are all of the things you want in a game-day snack: carb-filled, fried, vehicles for condiments. But they’re also a status statement, a brand. When Fuku opened its first location last June in Manhattan, Eater live-blogged the day. The line reached levels warranted by things like rainbow bagels and sushi burgers: viral foods. I can’t imagine the wait will be any less arduous during the Mets’ home opener on April 8.
Because people are excited. Fans have taken to Twitter to wax poetic about Citi Field’s lineup this season—not the players, but the food. In addition to Fuku, Mets enthusiasts can feast on the Nutella rice balls from Arancini Bros. and the Danny Meyer personal pizzas that have joined trend-food behemoths Shake Shack and Blue Smoke at the stadium this year.
All of these things are delicious, and they have a place in people’s stomachs and in society. But that place isn’t a ballpark.
There’s something so delightful and carefree about traditional ballpark food: hot dogs turning slowly on their rollers, nachos drizzled with plastic cheese. It’s not healthy; it’s not gourmet. It’s barely worth an Instagram. I find this very calming.
Baseball games are long, steeped in tradition and Bud Lights, and coated with peanut dust that smells like the 1950s. Even as a fan, I sometimes question whether or not I’m truly enjoying myself by the time the 7th-inning stretch comes around. But what hooks me is the fact that I’m there; I’ve committed to eating the hot dogs that remind me of the $1 offerings the Oakland Coliseum put forth to bolster the A’s through the doldrums of the mid-2000s. I don’t want to feel the pressure to sample a bastardization of the latest culinary trend I could order at a restaurant downtown; I don’t want to turn the experience into something other than what it is: the chance to spend upwards of three hours drinking bad beer and eating bad food while watching groups of dudes battle it out in a slow-moving war of attrition.
My colleague, Brentin Mock, has a slightly different opinion. “For people like me, who think baseball is about four decades past its shelf life, the trendy foods would probably be the only thing to keep me in my seat through the 9th inning,” he says, “…besides my cellphone.”
Baseball games, he adds, “are like airports.”
But just think about how disappointing—almost wrong—gourmet food tastes within the confines of an airport. The setting dictates the experience of what you eat as much as the chef does. Baseball games subsist on an atmosphere that borders on kitsch; I’m completely fine with fueling myself through them with equally kitschy food.
The sushi burritos and designer chicken will still be there to feed you when you leave the ballpark.