Sonia Chopra, a writer and managing editor at the food website Eater — which just launched their own podcast called The Eater Upsell — says ballparks, once known mainly for hot dogs and beer, serve increasingly fun and even, God help us, quality food. The site recently published Sonia’s survey of the tastiest and weirdest dishes from stadiums around the country. When Rico sat down to talk to her about it, she started by making a bold statement.
Sonia Chopra: Baseball food is the best genre of food in the history of the universe. It’s so good, and there’s so many fun, weird things that people can do with it, and I think the food just over the last 10 or 15 years has gotten so much better. And you can only get it for nine innings, 80 days out of the year. It’s amazing.
Rico Gagliano: All right. Well, putting aside the hyperbole, let’s talk about that: How has ballpark food gotten better, in your opinion?
Sonia Chopra: I mean, when I was a kid, I didn’t eat a lot of meat — I still don’t eat a lot of meat — but when I was a kid, we would go to the games and there would be nachos for me. And it’d be this plastic thing of nachos, these round, over-salted chips, and this weird, congealed orange cheese you’d have to dip it in —
Rico Gagliano: Yep.
Sonia Chopra: — And the mechanics of the tray were really bad, and your chips would break, and it would be terrible.
Rico Gagliano: I have to tell you, I was just at a Dodger game, and that’s still there.
Sonia Chopra: That’s still there, for sure! It’s still there, but it’s not the only thing there anymore. Now we know, “OK, there’s going to be a veggie burger. We can get like, a really good slice of pizza, or we can get a salad if we wanted it.”
Rico Gagliano: But let’s talk about — you know, I think the majority of food that you’re going to be getting at a baseball stadium is not necessarily good for you or, like, diet-conscious. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. What, to you, is the best dish of all the stadiums you visited?
Sonia Chopra: Something that I think is really, really cool is the fact that you can get big-city, iconic dishes when you go to the stadium. So, you go to Yankee Stadium, you can get a parm eggplant sandwich. You go to the Mets game, you can get a Shake Shack burger. And if you’re only coming into town for a few hours, if you’re only coming to catch a game, you can still get that thing.
Rico Gagliano: You can still get the essential dishes of the city you’re visiting.
Sonia Chopra: Yeah, and it’s really cool, and it’s helping to elevate the food.These icons and these restaurants that are brick-and-mortar outside of the stadium come in, and kind of change everything inside of the field.It’s awesome.
Rico Gagliano: Actually, in the article, you mention some very famous chefs that are opening kind of “satellite” stands in stadiums. You want to give us some examples?
Sonia Chopra: Andrew Zimmern just opened a couple of places in Kauffman Stadium, so that’s kind of cool. He’s got a place that’s doing skewers. He’s got some fun hot dogs. In Atlanta, we’ve got Linton Hopkins, who has this famous burger, and at the time, they were only selling 24 a night. So, you would go to the restaurant in Atlanta —
Rico Gagliano: His original restaurant, you mean? Not in the stadium.
Sonia Chopra: Exactly, yeah. And at 10 p.m., they would say, “It’s burger time!” And then they’d serve 24 burgers, and that was it. So, people would go there at 6 p.m., start getting cocktails, and they’d have to stay to get the burger.
But then, they started doing it at three stalls in the Braves’s stadium. So you didn’t have to wait in line, you could just go to the game, buy a $5 ticket, buy this burger, and have the same food experience, but while you’re watching nine innings of baseball.
Rico Gagliano: So it’s actually more accessible in the stadium than in the original restaurant.
Sonia Chopra: Absolutely.
— Eater Atlanta (@EaterAtlanta) April 14, 2015
Rico Gagliano: All right, so that’s the best stuff. What about the weirdest?
Sonia Chopra: There’s a thing now called nachos on a stick.
Rico Gagliano: [Laughs] That doesn’t sound practical at all.
Sonia Chopra: It’s beef and cheese, rolled in crushed Doritos, and then deep-fried on a stick. And then they serve it with nacho sauce and sour cream and salsa.
Rico Gagliano: Ah. So, in a way, they make it into a sausage, kind of.
Sonia Chopra: Right, but it’s losing the crunch, right? It’s not nachos anymore, at that point. It’s like this mushy, deep-fried… and it’s cool, it’s got Doritos and everybody loves Doritos, but it’s not nachos. With nachos, you want that crunch.
Rico Gagliano: You mentioned hot dogs.
Sonia Chopra: Hot dogs.
Rico Gagliano: The smile on your face, if only people could see it. Hot dogs, probably the classic ballpark food. What is maybe the most interesting one?
Sonia Chopra: There’s one in Baltimore that has crab mac ‘n’ cheese on top of it.
Rico Gagliano: That’s interesting.
Sonia Chopra: I think my favorite hot dog is not really a hot dog — it’s called “The Churro Dog,” and it’s at the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium, and it’s a cinnamon churro served hot inside a long, chocolate-glazed doughnut.
Rico Gagliano: Oh, no [laughs].
Sonia Chopra: And then it’s topped with frozen yogurt to make it a little healthier! Not whipped cream, not ice cream, but frozen yogurt… and also chocolate sauce and caramel sauce.
Rico Gagliano: A lot of these, actually… the thing that comes to mind is state fair food.
Sonia Chopra: Exactly, yeah. Actually, in Texas, there’s a stand that’s called State Fare. And they do things for the novelty aspect of it, like funnel-cake fries.
There’s also a “pulled pork parfait” in Milwaukee, which sounds very strange, but it’s pulled pork and mashed potatoes, and they just layer it up in a cup and top it with chives, with a little spoon, and it looks just like a yogurt parfait.
— Lansing Lugnuts (@LansingLugnuts) June 26, 2014
You can really just see the stadiums thinking more about what’s going to get fans interested, what’s going to get them tweeting about the games, and Instagramming pictures, and how can they make ballpark fare that people are going to remember, more than they’re going to remember a boring baseball game.
Rico Gagliano: Yeah; I’ll check my Twitter or Instagram feed after a ballgame, and I’ll see as many photos of people’s food as I do of the game, sometimes more.
Sonia Chopra: Right. Well, here’s the thing. I’m a really big Braves fan, and I was in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and I dragged all my friends to a game… and the way that I did it was by saying there was a Waffle House in the stadium now.