Ballpark food has come a long way in the last 20 years.
Gone are the days of just hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks. From Gilroy Garlic Fries in San Francisco and Rocky Mountain Oysters in Denver to Walleye in Minneapolis and Safeco Field's own Ichiroll, fans are now looking for more than just the traditional fare when they walk through the gates.
This even applies throughout the world of minor league baseball. In an effort to give fans more gourmet (and vegetarian) choices, the Tacoma Rainiers brought Levy Restaurants into the fold this season to help spice up the menu. Levy Restaurants provide food at Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field and several other minor and major league stadiums across the country. The Levy crew came up with five solid additions to the culinary lineup in Tacoma. In the true spirit of baseball, we fill out our lineup card with the best fare available at Cheney Stadium.
Hitting leadoff - the spot usually reserved for the fastest baserunner and someone who can easily get into scoring position - is the Best Dog in Baseball. The grilled, steak dog sits on a butter-seared, split-top bun. What really makes this dog hit for average is the "Tacoma Toppings" - grilled unions and a beer mustard that will make you forget all about the wait in the concession line while you're missing the action. The dog, which costs $7.50 with all the fixings, is the park's best selling item on the menu. The combination of the crunchy unions and the mustard - which is made with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - solidify the dog's top spot in the batting order.
Named for when it's "smashed" in the panini grill, this sandwich ($8) hits a home run. The Italian meatballs were tender and moist, with the perfect ratio of bread crumbs to meat. The Marinara sauce is held in place with two pieces of mozzarella cheese, which melt nicely when the sandwich is "smashed" in the press, giving the Texas Toast a satisfying crunch when you take a bite.
Cleanup hitters are usually bigger guys who hit for power but have a tendency to strike out often. Not the case here. The Veggie Burger is a lean, mean, power hitter who connects more often than not. A bit unexpected? Perhaps. But the power is in the handmade patty.
The Veggie Burger ($8) is made from black beans and brown rice, and you won't find tofu or tofurkey anywhere near this hitter's wheelhouse. There are also hints of beets and jalapeno, which give it an incredible amount of flavor. Slap a slice of cheddar cheese, a shot of barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato on a whole wheat bun and you'll change your manly opinions about vegetarian food and its place in the American ballpark.
Hitting sixth is the Smoked Brisket Sandwich ($8), a solid contributor that gets the job done. The brisket is smoked in house for 14 hours and topped with Levy BBQ sauce. The meat was tender and the sauce wasn't overpowering.
The Ballpark Loaded Nachos ($7.50) pick up the bottom of the order and connect -as long as you make sure to get a scoop of the homemade chili, which is made onsite 10 gallons at a time.
The Cheney Stadium menu is sure to get any fan excited about food. But remember why you go to the ballpark, people. To watch the game!