Not loving it live

Local sports fans expend a lot of energy convincing themselves and everyone else that Sacramento is world-class. Last year was particularly brutal. After enduring all the jibes about being a rinky-dink cow town, we ended up losing to the Lakers in a heartbreaking series. This year, we endured “ballgate” and the joke on Jon Barry that went too far. Can we ever escape our Hicksville stigma? If we win it all, that will silence all the critics.

In the meantime, I have a few suggestions. First of all, lose Rupe the Hoop. That guy is embarrassing. Second, can’t we get a mascot that’s a little more clever? I don’t have anything against the concept of Slamson, but the antics are juvenile.

But the thing that really grates is the abysmal food-concession situation at Arco Arena. Yes, the Maloofs have opted to manage the food operation themselves instead of contracting out. But it’s stuck in a 20-year-old rut. That’s particularly galling. This is Northern California, where people expect great food when they go out. SN&R reviewed the food at Arco last year, but it hasn’t improved at all.

In the last 15 years, most sports arenas and ballparks have recognized the evolving palate of their consumers and have gone upscale with the cuisine. Even though hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer are great standards, most of us like the option of something different. What does Arco offer? Hot dogs, nachos and popcorn are the most available choices. You could get carved turkey or tri-tip sandwiches if you’re willing to wait 30 minutes or more. Mikuni Sushi has a small booth in the arena, but it frequently sells out before the game even starts. You also can get an underwhelming piece of Papa John’s pizza.

You’ll face another half-hour wait at the El Pinto stand. What do you get? At a recent playoff game, the concession ran out of carnitas before game time. I opted for a chicken burrito ($7). This supposedly featured rice, beans, lettuce and cheese. But the fat cylinder was mostly shredded, bland chicken slathered in a salsa that offered heat but not much flavor. If any rice and beans were in there, they must have been pulverized into an amorphous mass. The best bet is probably the Gordon Biersch garlic fries, but I prefer to fill my stomach with something resembling an actual meal.

Maloof spokeswoman Sonja Brown said the Maloofs have spent a considerable sum upgrading the food-concession equipment. She contends that the variety of food served at Arco is superior to that of many other arenas. As an example, she said the bun served with the dogs is now a gourmet hot-dog bun. She also pointed to the Skyline restaurant, which she said has “top-level, top-quality food. Many people have standing reservations for every game.” That must be true because I’ve never been able to get in there to eat.

A quick review of press from other arenas around the country, however, reveals a little more variety than what Kings fans get. Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego serves the same Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but it also offers Rubio’s fish tacos and made-to-order sandwiches. And the Gordon Biersch stand sells burgers as well as those garlic fries. Pittsburgh’s ballpark has an Outback Steakhouse with a carryout window. Orlando’s arena offers pasta with marinara sauce and garden salads. Portland fans have it great: The Rose Garden sells veggie burgers, fresh fruit, pad Thai, and somen-noodle and green salads.

Closer to home, the hated Lakers definitely have bragging rights when it comes to food. Aramark operates the food concessions at both the Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland and the Staples Center and claims to be the largest provider of food services to sports venues in America. The average Joe heading to a Lakers game can choose from several brand-name concessions: Camacho’s for tacos, burritos, tortas and nachos; and Panda Express for egg rolls, teriyaki bowls and combo plates. Patrons also can get a doughnut from Krispy Kreme or head to Wetzel’s Pretzels, Domino’s Pizza or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Non-branded items show as much diversity. You can get a hot dog and spruce it up with a variety of toppings or go lighter with a chicken Caesar or oriental salad. In the mood for a sandwich? Go traditional with pastrami or roast beef or try a trendy ahi tuna version—with or without fries.

Now that the Kings are consistent playoff contenders and even have a shot at the NBA crown, it’s time their arena followed suit. The fans deserve better—especially when they’re dropping three figures per ticket.