Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward. (The 2019 victor, Kate Bernot, selected the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild National Charity Foundation.)
The previous Takeout Draft: Best Frozen Novelties drew a passionate voter base, and it turns out most of that passion was directed toward the team assembled by Marnie Shure. The people love a chipwich!
This week’s draft will celebrate the cuisine we all wish we were eating in a plastic seat right about now: Best ballpark food. While many of these items are not found exclusively at baseball stadiums, they are nevertheless inextricably linked with the experience of enjoying seven innings in the stands and the last two innings strategizing an early exit once your team falls irreparably behind. Which food and beverage lineup will get the votes, and which will be played out to “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”?
Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Aimee Levitt, Allison Robicelli, and Marnie Shure. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Let’s PLAY BALL!
Aimee: Should we stand for the anthem? Or wait for the visiting third-tier celebrity to throw out the first pitch?
Allison: I hope it’s one of the lesser Baldwins
Aimee: My first pick is obvious, but I have to do it: hot dogs!
Marnie: Yes you DO have to do it! Someone else was bound to swipe it in the first round
Aimee: It’s not a real ball game without hot dogs.
Allison: How much are they charging for hot dogs at stadiums now? $20?
Aimee: My dad used to make us walk all the way around the concourse at Wrigley Field so he could get the kosher ones, but I’m not quite so picky. They do taste better grilled, though.
Marnie: So you pass on the ones being sold at the seats, I take it?
Aimee: Well, I would eat one of those, too. But the ritual is that you get the hot dog on the way to your seat. That way you can cover it with all the condiments you want.
Marnie: Unless you like plain hot dogs, like moi
Aimee: Even so, they taste better from the concourse. They haven’t been carried around in those metal boxes for who knows how long.
Marnie: True, though the bun gets steamed
Aimee: That is true. But sometimes they get so steamed, they stick to your teeth. Oh, lord, do you think the ritual of passing things to the vendor hand-to-hand all the way down the row is over?
Allison: This has just hit me as well, and now I’m sad
Allison: Food tastes better when it comes to your seat. I didn’t pay $200 for a ticket just to stand in line.
Aimee: My paper in St. Louis got us a box at the ballpark every summer, and they had all-you-can-eat hot dogs. It was wonderful!
Allison: That’s even better than getting a salary!
Marnie: Now that hot dogs are taken, my first pick is Basic Nachos. Not the fancy loaded ones (which are still on the table for future rounds, I suppose)—the ones with the circular chips and the little cup of cheese sauce.
Aimee: In a little batting helmet?
Allison: That’s loaded nachos
Marnie: The ones in the thin plastic tray
I think it’s one of the cheapest things you can get
It’s SO salty and pairs so well with beer
They always used those circle tortilla chips, too, which I enjoy.
Aimee: Do you get it with the jalapeños scattered on top?
Marnie: Oh hell yeah! Extra, if they can swing it. Those chips are so sturdy, too. No chipping
Allison: And the chips are usually thick enough you can make a nice cheese and jalapeno sandwich. Like a canape!
And since Marnie was incredibly specific about her first round pick, it means I get to stick with my first choice: Nachos in a plastic helmet
Which are fundamentally different from Marnie’s nachos in multiple ways
Aimee: Please share.
Allison: These nachos are covered with very heavy things, like sour cream, chopped tomatoes, nacho cheese, and all sorts of “local flair” that varies from stadium to stadium (here in Baltimore, there’s obviously crab involved). However: every stadium uses the flimsiest chips possible.
Marnie: YES WHAT IS THAT ABOUT
Allison: Not a single chip can stand up to the toppings, which means you really need to eat them by scooping it up with a cupped hand and shoving it into your mouth, much like a gorilla would.
Marnie: Maybe to encourage the use of forks?
Aimee: The forks are flimsy, too
Marnie: I love the way the sour cream is piped with a cake decorator tip
Aimee: It’s art.
Allison: It’s a grotesque act that you can perform in public without any sort of judgement, a unique experience which is very spiritually fulfilling.
No one will mind you licking nacho cheese directly off of your palms. It’s just how things need to be done.
And finally, you get a hat that will surround you with the aroma of nacho cheese every time you wear it.
Aimee: One that won’t fit on your head, but whatever. It’s a souvenir!
Allison: You can fit the nacho helmet on your head! You can’t fit the tiny ice cream helmets on your head, though, which coincidentally is my second pick
All food tastes better when served from a helmet. So that’s fact one.
Marnie: Back-to-back helmet picks. Strong start!
Allison: Ice cream sundaes aren’t really an out-and-about food. When you go places, normally you’ll get a frozen novelty or an ice cream cone. But the baseball hat sundae can be overloaded with toppings and eaten while you’re doing something eventful!
Aimee: Because you’re just sitting, watching other people do stuff.
Allison: Exactly. It’s the same concept as dinner theater, but with an ice cream sundae in a tiny hat
Marnie: As long as you eat it fast before it gets soupy
Allison: You can hold it by the brim and eat it while standing in the 45 minute line for the bathroom
Allison: And that brim acts as a handle to help you sip your sundae once it melts, just like a mug. A baseball helmet is a bowl with a handle. There ya go.
Marnie: Good point. My next pick is another one from the savory column: popcorn. Why? Because it also pairs great with beer. There is no popcorn saltier than ballpark popcorn
Aimee: A classic
Allison: And you can throw it in your friends’ mouths. It’s a food and a game.
Marnie: And it’s got the classic red-and-white-striped box and artificial yellow butter coloring
Aimee: And it doesn’t matter if you spill it on the ground. (Which was always my sister’s favorite part of going to the ball game.)
Marnie: Dropping it on your shirt does not result in tragedy.
Allison: Or in your shirt. Every time I eat popcorn I find a ton of it in my bra at the end of the day.
Marnie: You can pick at it for nine innings and it won’t lose quality
Aimee: It’s also not greasy like movie theater popcorn.
Marnie: Yes! It’s also an easy thing to ferry to your seat in a crowd. Less precarious than just about anything else
Allison: Plus popcorn is pretty easy to keep balanced on your seat in case you need to get up for a few minutes. A hot dog will just slip through the back of your chair.
Marnie: That too! Is popcorn....the perfect food?
Aimee: My next pick is a recent innovation in ballpark food that I think is even more perfect than popcorn: Garlic fries!
I am so happy you can get them just about everywhere now.
Allison: Hold up: what shape are the fries
Marnie: Like steak fries or thin McDonald’s style?
Allison: We’re going to need mechanical drawings
Aimee: I’ve always seen them somewhere in between. Now that I think about it, I’ll bet waffle fries would be better at holding the garlic, but I’m not going to be picky here.
Marnie: Maybe that would be TOO garlicky
Aimee: No such thing!
Allison: You’re absolutely right. We’ve possibly changed the future of ballpark food.
Aimee: If only someone in power would listen to us.
Allison: I still find it astonishing they don’t. We’re obviously the best food site on the internet.
Aimee: My next pick is another classic, from the song: peanuts.
Marnie: I was wondering when peanuts were gonna show up!
Allison: Here’s what I love about peanuts: you get to throw your garbage on the floor.
Aimee: I only ever eat peanuts at the ballpark. They just taste better there. And again, you can just throw the shells on the ground and not worry.
Allison: And it’s an activity to keep your hands occupied. As a person with ADD, I appreciate the fidget aspect.
Aimee: Also, I love how that’s the first thing you see when you walk up to the ballpark: the guys selling peanuts for cheaper than you pay inside the ballpark.
Marnie: Oh yeah, bringing in discount peanuts is key!
I have never been a fan of the “throw the shells anywhere” practice, but I realize this makes me anathema to the baseball experience
Aimee: You’re just more polite than the rest of us.
Marnie: Or more squeamish
Allison: Where else are you going to throw them? It’s been a part of the ballpark experience for well over 100 years, and yet not a single stadium has installed seat-side peanut shell receptacles. This is their problem, not mine.
That being said, if any ballparks would like to see my sketches for a seat-side peanut shell receptacle, I’m open to discussing it.
Aimee: They could sub for the cup holder
Allison: And they could be composted after the game. Again, why is nobody paying me the big bucks for my ideas.
Marnie: Okay, my next pick is a big ol’ soft pretzel with cheese dipping sauce
Aimee: Oh, yeah!
Marnie: It’s a really easy thing to share with the person beside you, and again, they are pretty cheap by ballpark standards
Allison: It’s spelled “cheez”, and it improves everything at the ballpark.
Marnie: The high turnover means they’re fresher at the ballpark than lots of other places
Salt and cheese, a winning combo
Allison: Even when ballpark pretzels are on the hard and stale side, they’re still good. You can dunk them in beer first, and then into the cheese.
Aimee: The beer is a running theme here.
Marnie: Sox Park’s craft beer kiosk is 90% of why I attend baseball games
Aimee: It’s sure not seeing the Sox. (Sorry, Sox fans.)
Marnie: Allison, our picks are dwindling! What say you?
Allison: I’ll take Cracker Jack. I feel like I have a moral obligation to buy this at baseball games, just to keep it alive for future generations. I don’t know if I’ve ever purchased it outside of the stadium, which makes it extra special.
Marnie: But do you ENJOY it?
Allison: I like it as a snack, sure, but I also like how it connects me to the history of the game. I’ve been a Yankees fan since I was born, and we loooooove taking about history
Aimee: Yeah, because it’s not depressing for you guys.
Allison: Not everyone can be the embodiment of excellence.
When I eat Cracker Jacks, I think about my grandfather eating the same exact snack while watching the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbetts Field
Aimee: How old were you when you were first disillusioned by the “prize”?
Allison: I started falling out of love with baseball when tickets started costing a billion dollars. It stopped being a working man’s game, and started about being hedge fund guys buying luxury boxes for tens of thousands of dollars.
Marnie: You can still attend Sox games for under 10 bucks
Aimee: Because Yankees. And because Sox.
Allison: When I moved to Baltimore and saw you could go to baseball games for less than $20 I almost had a stroke.
Aimee: There’s always the very delightful minor leagues, too.
Marnie: What’s your Round 4 pick? Is it as loaded with history as Cracker Jack?
Allison: We’ve mostly exhausted the universal ballpark menu, so is it fine for me to go regional?
Marnie: Sure, though the votes might skew away from regional picks...
Allison: Well I’m not picking stadium burgers because those are universally garbage and everyone knows it.
Marnie: THANK YOU
Allison: So instead I’ll pick crab fries, which are a specialty here in Baltimore.
Marnie: I knew it was gonna be crab something
Allison: They’re waffle fries covered in hot crab dip with Old Bay, and they are spectacular
Aimee: That sounds amazing!
Marnie: I don’t know that I’d want to eat it in the scorching hot afternoon sun, but yes, otherwise it sounds delightful
Aimee: That’s what April baseball is for.
Allison: I still find it funny that Baltimore is a working-class town, but their signature food costs a small fortune. But it’s fine to splurge on crab fries because last year you could get Orioles tickets for like fifty cents. Or free. I live down the street from Camden Yards and nobody wanted to go to their games. They were just giving away their season tickets, because what was the point.
Marnie: How expensive is something like crab fries?
Allison: I’d say about $20, which is the price of a small soda at Yankee Stadium.
Marnie: Well, I have a much more humble and inexpensive Round 4 pick, if voters are into that kind of thing: corn dog
Aimee: Anything on a stick is acceptable.
Marnie: If you eat them unadorned as I do, it might be the most substantial and easily transportable ballpark meal
Allison: I took some of my wedding photos with corn dogs. They are magnificent. It’s something that’s already fun, but then you add a stick and it somehow gets fun-ner.
Marnie: And it’s got just a tiny bit of sweetness!
Allison: You can also hold 3 to 4 corn dogs in one hand at the same time. This way you can bring a whole bunch of snacks to your seat at once, instead of having to get up every few innings.
Marnie: Good point. I always want a second one after finishing.
Allison: Stadiums should hand out corn dog bouquets to couples they put on the KissCam
Aimee: That’s very romantic. My next pick is the lemon slushie.
I always crave it in the later innings when I’ve already consumed a whole bunch of salt and it’s getting hot. They really hit the spot.
Allison: I have never seen nor had one of these in a stadium! Is this like frozen lemonade, or lemon Italian ice?
Aimee: More like an Italian ice. It comes with one of those dixie cup spoon-stick things.
Marnie: The taste of those spoon sticks is summer incarnate, as I believe we’ve discussed in the past. And those are pretty cheap too. (I’m a ballpark cheapskate, if you couldn’t tell)
Aimee: If you get lots of cheap stuff, you can eat through the entire game.
Marnie: ding ding ding!
Allison: Baseball needs to have room for kids who want to go see a game with their allowance.
Aimee: It’s called every other team besides the Yankees. And the Cubs, too, I guess.
Allison: There should always be cheap seats, and always be a few cheap snacks.
Aimee: When I was in high school, my friend and I would go to the minor league game for three bucks or something like that. We sat on the grass. I can’t remember how we got water, though.
Allison: Stadium water fountains are unpleasantly warm, like bathwater.
Aimee: Those are probably gone now, too.
My last pick is something I’ve never actually had at a ballgame, but it’s something I know I would love, and that’s a lobster roll.
Marnie: Are those available outside of Camden Yards?
Aimee: Yes! I was doing research on this!
Allison: I love lobster rolls, and wish they were ten times bigger. Finishing a lobster roll is one of the saddest feelings I’ve ever known. Lobster Rolls are “a thing” on the east coast
Aimee: Especially at Fenway Park. Also in Tampa Bay. (I keep forgetting they have baseball there.)
Allison: And at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
Aimee: Of course they serve lobster at Yankee Stadium.
Marnie: I’ve never eaten a lobster roll for under $19, so I can only imagine how steep they are at the ballpark
Aimee: It’s my dream, though, and in my dream, I can afford a ballpark lobster roll.
Allison: It costs seven thousand dollars
Marnie: That is a very classy final pick, and it’s one that will take some maneuvering to outshine. So I’m going to swerve into the dessert beverage category. Hot Chocolate!
If this sounds insane, consider that I once went to a baseball game on April 26 and it never got about 28 degrees.
Allison: Oh, Chicago.
Aimee: I believe that. I once went to an early season game solely because it was Floppy Hat Day, and it took hours to thaw. I still have my floppy hat, though!
Marnie: The hot chocolate is never as good as what you’d find at a real restaurant, but it’s always there when you need it most.
Aimee: When you’re freezing your ass off, even in your winter coat. Because it’s allegedly “spring.”
Marnie: And you can spring for a souvenir cup, which is the quintessential ballpark experience
Allison: You drink the hot chocolate before or after the beer?
Marnie: Definitely after—if you have any cash left
Aimee: That’s why the good lord gave us credit cards.
Allison: You should pour your hot chocolate over a baseball helmet sundae
Aimee: Then you’d get baseball helmet soup.
Allison: Baseball helmet STEW, Aimee. Dessert stew.
Marnie: Tell me that is not your final pick
Allison: I am closing out our ballpark food draft with “regional beef sandwich”
Aimee: Very general and very specific all at once.
Allison: I have a mixed marriage: I’m a Yankee fan, my husband is a Mets fan. When we did manage to get baseball tickets, we’d always go to CitiField because no one wants to see the Mets.
And at CitiField, you can get a steak sandwich from Pat LaFreida that is to die for. At Yankee Stadium, they have one from Loebel’s, which is this 100+ year old butcher shop in Manhattan that has some of the best steaks in the city.
In Baltimore, they have something called pit beef, which I wrote a big thing on for The Washington Post. It’s bottom round instead of steak, but also cooked over a grill.
Aimee: Gee, I really feel like a Midwestern peasant now.
Allison: I think just about every ballpark has their own version of a hot beef sandwich. Philly’s got cheesesteaks, Chicago’s got Italian beef
Marnie: Ah, so you’re advocating for beef sandwiches in all their forms
Allison: The basic form is always beef and bread. Then people jazz it up however they like.
Where on the cow the beef is from changes, but it’s never ground like a burger. Whatever beef you got at your stadium, I’m eating it. Because stadium burgers are trash.
Marnie: Beautiful note to go out on
Aimee: Take me out to the beef game…
Marnie: Take me out to the cowwwww….
Who won this week’s Takeout Draft? Vote in the comments.