Major League Baseball held its inaugural MLB Food Fest this week, with all 30 teams serving their most unique or representative ballpark foods. Beside the allure of getting to try food from around the country without having to actually travel, I went to see whether the league’s most interesting dishes lived up to the hype.
This is the part where I say that my intention was never to try and eat all 30 foods, only the ones that were most off the beaten path from what you usually find at a stadium. That goal was sacrificed for other aims as I went, but for the most part that was the strategy.
The Cubs brought Chicago Dogs to show off, which is great, but most people are familiar with what a hot dog and assorted toppings tastes like. The Blue Jays, Tigers, Royals, and Padres all brought some sort of nacho dish. Also great, also pretty standard as far as “here are some nachos with some other stuff on them” goes.
Between bites of food that became harder and harder to eat as the night went on, MLB made sure everyone there was surrounded by as many food-themed displays as possible.
A popcorn ball pit welcomed people near coat check, a DJ in a rainbow Astros jersey upheld his music responsibilities in front of a sign that said “World Series Chomp-ions,” and to even get to the main room of the event people had to walk through a room of hot dog art (complete with a rideable hot dog seesaw) and a chalkboard that posed the most important question of our time — “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”
Here is everything I ate with an estimated grade and a final verdict. None of these are a judgement on the team itself. Except for when you imagine that I’m judging. Then I’m definitely judging.
Crab Grilled Cheese — Washington Nationals
After a quick lap around the room to eyeball what was on offer, I decided to start with the Nationals’ crab grilled cheese consisting of crab cake, tomatoes, and American cheese. It’s not too out of the ordinary but interesting as far as ballpark fare goes, and ...
... I make the face Padma makes on Top Chef when she can’t actually spit the food out on camera but wishes she could. It’s fishy and I couldn’t get further than two bites into it.
That’s one more than the number of rounds the Nationals have seen in the postseason though, so I’ll count it as a win. Otherwise, a bust of a beginning.
Grade: 2/10. The potato chips it came with were good.
New England Lobster Roll — Boston Red Sox
I am adrift, my strategy is already in tatters and I have the taste of fishy crab in my mouth. In an attempt to reset the process before things go completely off the gastronomical rails I look towards something familiar. My eyes land on lobster rolls from Boston. That will work!
Doubling down on seafood might not have been the smartest choice, there were definitely risks. Lobster roll is also not that interesting. But it was an above-average scoop of lobster and butter on bread and it made me forget about the crab, so it served a greater purpose here. I down all of it.
Grade: 7/10. Tastes like July and winning the AL East.
Churro Dog - Arizona Diamondbacks
Back to the interesting stuff. The churro dog consisted of more sugar products than someone should probably eat in a whole day nonetheless in one food item but its awesomeness made up for it. A chocolate iced donut filled with a churro, topped with frozen yogurt, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and drizzled caramel, it was a handful but the best thing yet.
By introducing dairy into the proceedings I’d officially tipped my stomach off to what I’d gotten us into and it was concerned.
On top of that premonition of stomach things to come, Big Papi saw me try to take a first bite of this thing cleanly, which I failed at, and subsequently wished I could melt into the bench I was sitting on as quickly as the churro dog was melting in my hands. Never meet your heroes, or try eating churro dogs in front of them.
Grade: 9/10. Don’t care what anyone besides Big Papi thinks of me. I ate it all.
Flamethrower — Cleveland Indians
Ah, a normal sandwich topped with unusual frills. A bridge to other more questionable eats. The Indians went with a pulled pork burger with bacon jam, coleslaw, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. This was not the last time I ate Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on this night but it was a great introduction to the Cheeto-related food category.
The only knock against it comes because even though there are Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on it it’s not exactly spicy enough to be legitimately dubbed the Flamethrower. That’s a quibble but just coming up with a fun name does not an ace sandwich make.
My stomach seems OK at this point. Things could be back on track.
Grade: 6/10. Bacon jammed right onto my list of favorites on the night.
Pork Katsu - Los Angeles Angels
Part of the player-inspired menu for Shohei Ohtani that is available at Angel Stadium through next week, the katsu came together well. It’s not quite flavorful enough to be one of the most memorable dishes of the crowd, but as a fifth inning snack between your standard hot dog and a late-inning popcorn or desert I endorse it.
Stomach wise, I am immediately thankful for the palate cleansing white rice involved and eat all of it.
Grade: 5/10. Short but sweet.
Cheeto-lote - Los Angeles Dodgers
I pivot to the other Los Angeles team, and their Cheeto-smothered play on elote. A lover of all elote I’m most excited to to try this coming into the night. It’s thick with chipotle mayo, parmesan, tajin, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The spice from the Cheetos and the mayo threaten to overtake everything else, but in the best way. Once again, I eat the whole thing.
Friend of the Kardashians Jonathan Cheban is making the rounds being filmed for something or other, and when he glances over at me digging into this chunk of corn he flashes a look of such disdain that it makes me proud. However, my stomach is starting to take a turn.
Grade: 9/10. Elote all day.
Bacon Wrapped Plantain - Miami Marlins
I can say with almost absolute certainty that this is the best way the Marlins will impact baseball this year. The best part of the Food Fest exercise as a whole is that it provides a venue to highlight teams’ most local and interesting foods, those that best reflect their market not just because of what people associate the team with but what local chefs and traditions have to offer as well.
The plantain is gooey-good and the bacon is crispy and I once again eat the whole thing. The brief “things on a stick” portion of the night was a roaring success. This is the last time I will feel like anything is a success.
Grade: 7/10. Can’t complain about plantains.
Chicken Waffle Cone - Houston Astros
I take a look and immediately bypass it because I don’t actually have time to schedule bypass surgery. I’m sorry chicken waffle cone, I just couldn’t do it.
Grade: N/A. See you in another life brotha’.
I have meat sweats.
I have Cheeto sweats.
I have anticipatory sweats from what’s to come and what I’ve gotten myself into.
There are still things that look so good that I must try to eat! Christie Brinkley is here to promote her brand of wine and her smile reminds me that it feels like my teeth are currently made entirely out of corn remnants and that I forgot to bring floss. I waddle to the bathroom because it feels like I have eaten all I possibly can and a kind reporter gives me a piece of floss. Getting the corn out of my teeth is a major step towards feeling like I can rally. The meat sweats continue.
Kurd Marczuk - Minnesota Twins
Somewhere on my way to the Adobo Bao I picked up a fry box from the Twins’ stand (breaded cheese curds, bratwurst, and gravy) and took a few bites of it. I know this because there are pictures on my phone of a partially-eaten basket of them. Other memories of this are nil. Nothing against the Twins, but there was a definite point where my brain started shutting down.
Grade: 5/10. Looked delicious but apparently not delicious enough to stick in my mind?
Adobo Bao - New York Yankees
The Yankees’ bao looks pretty but turns out to be dry. No Judge-like fireworks to be found. If I had eaten this earlier in the night it probably would have been more disappointing but the dryness and general blandness is actually welcome at this stage. Chicken and pork rinds on a spongey bun seems like just what the doctor ordered to soak up everything else. If any doctor would order this level of intestinal torture, that is.
Grade: 4/10. As bland and meh as the Yankees’ facial hair rules.
Pulled Pork Pierogie Hoagie - Pittsburgh Pirates
My notes after a bite of this one read: TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH. It’s a mouthwatering combination of pulled pork, full-size pierogies, and crispy onions, and I ate at least five more bites than I should have at this stage. It’s massive, it’s greasy, there’s filling falling out, and still I keep eating. I can’t do more damage than I’ve already done. Let me have the delicious food.
Grade: 8/10. Pierogie hoagie holy moly.
Chicken and Donut Slider - Texas Rangers
I try to put aside my disappointment at the Rangers not bringing their Dilly Dog. I’m at exactly the right level of self-torture that I would have eaten at least half of one no matter the taste. The dish they did bring is fried chicken in between two glazed donuts, buffalo ranch, and honey.
You have my attention, Texas.
This is a heart attack on a bun. I’ve eaten more than 10 dishes at this point, and yet I remain enthusiastic. I can feel the donuts slowing my heart rate and plugging arteries and yet I eat. It’s amazing. If you eat this after the fourth inning in Texas you will not get up until the game is over. That’s both a warning and a yummy promise.
Then, I realize I’m eating so much of the chicken because I’m putting off the inevitable: the grasshoppers.
Grade: 8/10. Heart attack on a plate but, like, the good kind?
Toasted Grasshoppers — Seattle Mariners
The Mariners don’t even list the ingredients, because I guess to them if you’re already going to eat grasshoppers the secondary flavoring isn’t that important. They’re toasted with chili lime seasoning and I’m not afraid of them. I’ve eaten a tarantula and I’ve eaten fire ants. I’m looking forward to them and in the end they’re ... just fine. A little chewy, possibly too seasoned, and as insects go I could take them or leave them. My stomach, however, is glad to end on something without sugar or carbs or dairy or salted meat.
Grade: 5/10. Have eaten better insects.
I find a seat, nurse a beer, and try to figure out the best way to convince my stomach that everything’s going to be fine. I feel like a weight at the bottom of the deep end of a pool. I halfheartedly try a bite of soft serve ice cream (topped with crickets and yes, Cheetos) that people bring to the table and can’t even bring myself to process what I’m eating. I watch the helmet of ice cream melt slowly all over the table and digest just as slowly.
If you go watch any of the teams above I encourage you to at least try these offerings, even if that’s all you have room for on a given night. It’s baseball’s local market bias writ large, and it’s mostly delicious. Teams foregoing standard concessions for fancier or more creative foods is a given in this sports landscape, but if those creative foods stem from local restaurants or city traditions rather than just an idea a chef comes up with to lure fans, than all the better.
I walk back through a room filled with hot dog art and think about whether any of my pants will fit me in the morning.