NEW YORK – The All-Star Game serves as a crown jewel showcase for baseball’s best talent as well as the host ballpark. For Citi Field, the Mets’ home since 2009 and the site of this year’s Midsummer Classic on July 16, the diverse and delicious food at the park represents a highlight of any in-game experience. Even if the baseball isn’t always at its best in Queens (ahem), baseball fans will be guaranteed excellent culinary offerings throughout the ballpark.
On Wednesday, the Mets and its food and beverage partner ARAMARK hosted a tasting event in the Caesars Club at Citi Field to sample the menu for this year’s All-Star Game. And let me tell you, it was fantastic. The fare at the ballpark — among the best in all of Major League Baseball — provides a wide variety of styles and cuisines, from tacos at El Verrano Taqueria, barbecue at Blue Smoke, burgers and fries from New York City’s iconic Shake Shack, pizza from Two Boots, Italian delicacies from Mama’s of Corona, sushi from Daruma, and signature items including “Pastrachos” and the extremely popular Pat LaFrieda Original Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich.
All of these items and more were on display at the tasting event, in addition to a few new items specially created for the All-Star Game. The Mets and Citi Field plan to bring their A culinary game for this high profile event.
“The All-Star Game is an opportunity for us to reach out to a lot of fans that haven’t been here,” said Mike Landeen, SVP of Venue Services and Operations for the Mets. “A lot of the local fans know what we have to offer but this is definitely our catering and culinary staff’s opportunity to really show what we have here at Citi Field. We feel as though we have raised the bar and will continue to do so.”
As soon as MLB officially awarded the Mets the 2013 All-Star Game in May 2012, the team went into game-planning mode. Robert Flowers, ARAMARK’s Executive Chef at Citi Field, huddled with General Manager Tom Funk to start plotting out the logistics for the three-day extravaganza.
ARAMARK expects to serve 37,000 hot dogs, 15,000 pounds of French fries, 12,500 burgers, 1,700 orders of nachos, and 900 pounds of filet mignon throughout the event. It takes a lot of planning and manpower — 500 additional temporary workers have been hired — to pull that off without a hitch. In addition to all the operational details to be worked out, Flowers knew he wanted to create a signature food item to debut at the All-Star Game.
Earlier this year, the All-Star Meatball Hero was born.
This mouth-watering concoction combines a custom blend of Pat LaFrieda ground beef, pork and veal made from Chef Flowers’ meatball recipe with his family’s centuries’ old sweet Italian gravy recipe from Sicily. The hero is topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and fried basil and served on a long sesame seed roll. I sampled a miniature version of the All-Star Meatball Hero (the full-size version will be $14 and available near section 138) and can confirm it is delicious. Chef Flowers provided some of the back story on how this creation came to be.
“Tom Funk and I thought to ourselves what can we showcase that fans will take to easily, something that they’re not going to shy away from, something that’s ballpark friendly but at the same time has a story behind it,” Flowers said. “My wife has this phenomenal phenomenal old recipe for marinara sauce. How can I use this marinara sauce? I work with one of the best meat purveyors in the world, Pat LaFrieda, so I’ll make a meatball. So I used his meat, the mozzarella we use is special mozzarella from Italy, a piece of fried basil and the garlic toasted bun. My mouth is watering just talking about it.”
Other items I had the opportunity to sample included the Nathan’s Pastrami Dog (Nathan’s all beef hot dog smothered with chopped pastrami and topped with Gold’s deli mustard — thumbs up), Major League Grilled Cheese (Swiss, cheddar, gouda and bacon — another thumbs up), Citi Field Loaded Tater Tots (cheddar cheese sauce, bacon bits and scallions — I think you know these were amazing), Pancetta Mac and Cheese (if you’re sitting in a suite, you are very fortunate indeed) and the Mama’s Italian Special Hero (tasty). I had previously sampled the New Yawkah Sandwich available in the Promenade Club (corned beef topped with sweet potato fries, bacon, pickles, slaw and thousand island dressing on a pretzel roll) so I chose not to sample it at the tasting event. Trust me when I say it is fantastic.
I asked Chef Flowers for his three must-try items.
“The number one showstopper is going to be our All-Star Meatball Hero,” Flowers said. “The second one is definitely our Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich. And the third is the New Yawkah sandwich in the Promenade Club.”
If meat isn’t your thing, no problem. Citi Field has several vegetarian options available including Veggie Burgers and Veggie Dogs, Vegetarian Tacos (roasted portobello mushrooms, zucchini, corn and poblano peppers in fresh corn tortillas) at El Verano Taqueria, the Caprese Panini (in the Caesars Club) and the Ricotta Crostini (freshly made cows milk ricotta cheese, whipped and finished with honey and truffle oil, served with grilled crostinis) at Pat LaFrieda’s Chop House. Melissa’s Fruit Cart can also be found at both sections 104 and 318 if you’re into that sort of thing.
On the sweet side, I sampled a few dessert items as well. I actually don’t have much of a sweet tooth (I prefer salty/crunchy/savory), but the few items I tried were absolutely worth the caloric sacrifice. If you’re lucky enough to be sitting in a suite for the game, not only will you be able to have that amazing Mac and Cheese Trio (Pancetta, Lobster, Three Cheese), but you can try an assortment of homemade mini cupcakes in a variety of flavors. The standout? S’mores. Yes, s’mores in a cupcake form. The cake tasted like graham cracker, with marshmallow in the middle and topped with dark chocolate. It was as good as it sounds. Mama’s of Corona had delicious homemade cannolis. (The woman who served me assured me that ricotta is the lightest and healthiest of the cheeses, so cannolis are practically guilt-free.) But the real blockbuster dessert item that blew everybody away was the bite-sized Raspberry Cheesecake Doughnuts with White Chocolate Dipping Sauce available in the Acela Club. These indulgent delights were perfection.
Every culinary detail on display at the event demonstrated a commitment to make this All-Star Game memorable not only for the baseball but for the cuisine as well.
“When the fans come here from all over the world, I want them to leave here thinking that we have the best food and beverage operation in all of baseball and all of major league sports,” Flowers said.
Photos by Diane Bondareff/Invision for ARAMARK