The royal nosh

I’ll admit I am baffled by concession-stand economics. My little mind cannot wrap itself around the concept of charging $3 for a soda or $7 for a beer. Yes, I have heard people say that stadiums and team owners have operating costs. But to them, I say—I have operating costs as well!

Let’s say friends come to my apartment. Do I charge them $7 for a beer just because I have bills to pay and they are captive in my home? Do I sell them on how much fun my new backyard BBQ is going to be for all of us this summer, all the while looking to break their $10? I think not. But, hey, that’s just me. There may be several perfectly good reasons food and drink are so expensive at stadiums. All I know is, when I go to a bar, a single beer doesn’t come close to costing $7. But rather than go hungry and thirsty at a game (where I always fear death by trampling), I fork out my money and chomp bitterly on an overpriced hot dog and guzzle très cher yellow beer. Not an ideal last meal, but better than none.

The good news, however, is that food at stadiums seems to be getting better. So while I’m exclaiming, “I can’t believe I’m paying $15 for a stinking taco salad and beer,” I might also be saying, “Hey, this stinking taco salad is pretty good!” Or, “Hey, they have taco salad! And dark beer!”

Undoubtedly, the trend to concessionize has, in part, helped hungry sports waifs, like me, get access to more choices of (usually) tastier food. No longer do stadiums operate like small communist countries run by pork producers and makers of “lite” beer—no offense to either. A recent trip to Arco Arena proved just as much. The concourse was littered with mainstream vendors like Papa John’s Pizza, Java City, Dreyer’s and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Microbrews were plentiful, available every 50 feet or so. And a full circular jaunt revealed more tasty choices from Gordon Biersch, Royal Wine Cellar, Mikuni Sushi, El Pinto, and The Original Sopapilla from New Mexico.

Hot dog! What choice!

The aroma of Gordon Biersch garlic fries was everywhere. While I was tempted to get a batch for $4.25, the line was really too long, even in the second quarter. I passed by El Pinto’s wooden stand, which was offering burritos and taco salad (taco salad!). For a precious $7, I got a large taco shell, which was crispy and not greasy, and held generous amounts of salty shredded chicken, big lettuce greens, diced tomatoes, grated cheddar cheese and big dollops of thick sour cream and guacamole. While it wasn’t an award-winner, El Pinto passed the satisfaction test.

Also passable was the beef tri-tip sandwich available at the regular concession stands. Carved to order, the tri-tip came on a French roll au jus style, with little packets of BBQ sauce on the side. At $6.50, the sandwich was clearly lacking in heft, but for light meat-eaters, it wasn’t a bad way to go.

The sushi enthusiast in our party got dogged. Before halftime, Mikuni had already run out of every single roll and rice bowl, from which there were theoretically several to choose. Unforgivable, Mikuni no-sushi! Consolation was found in a solid slice of Papa John’s cheese pizza ($3.75), with a bubbly crust, and a nice, but not overwhelming layer of cheese. There was no consolation, however, in the Arena dog, brought to us by Wienerschnitzel. The cheapest of the dog offerings, this $3 dog was the most soul-less, half-hearted attempt at putting meat in a bun I’ve seen in a while. Midway through, Sushi Guy put his dog down. I picked up where he left off. After two bites, I peeked inside the bun to check if there was a hot dog there. I saw the dog. I chewed, sensing hot dog texture, but blanked on the taste. They should rename it Spunkless Vegetarian Ketchup and Mustard Dog and sell it for $1.

By far, the best and tastiest deal was the stuffed sopapilla, a puffed-up pillow of fried dough the size of your hand. At $4.50, you can have chicken or beef, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, black olives, salsa, sour cream and guac. The chicken was tender stewed white meat, while the other ingredients tasted fresh and were in good proportion. “Dessert” sopapillas, with chocolate or honey and powdered sugar, were a tasty bargain at two for $3.

In my dreams, I could go to a basketball game for about $20. Microbrew beer would be $4.50, and I could get my choice of pad Thai or smokin’ good BBQ for about $6. I say: Now, there’s a meal worthy of a trampling!