Even though it goes against all logic to spend copious amounts of money on refreshments when you’ll only be at a location for two to four hours, it’s almost impossible to watch an entire live sporting event without grabbing something to munch or sip on.
I’ve only watched one Sharks game live, so if the HP Pavilion has something delicious that should be on this list, I apologize. Also, drinks are pretty much the same everywhere (watered down and overpriced), so we’ll forget about those. Keep in mind, I haven’t sampled everything available at every venue, and I know I’ll get some disagreements here. Nonetheless, here are my top ten favorite foods sold at Bay Area stadiums and arenas.
10. Frozen Doc Otis (Network Associates Coliseum): There are a couple reasons this tasty treat barely made this list. First, it isn’t technically a food — more like a slushy. And second, it doesn’t exist anymore, which is a crying shame.
One time Mac and I went to an A’s game with our empty Mountain Dew cans, all so we could gain entry to “The Dew Zone,” a section above the left field bleachers. Not only was this area available to anybody with a Dew can and two dollars, but they were also serving little one-ounce Dixie Cup shots of the Dew in the back of the section, which tasted wonderful simply due to how hot it was.
After about 10-12 shots of Dew (Side note: don’t you love the name “Mountain Dew?” If that’s the color of the dew, I don’t want to go anywhere near that mountain), we both felt a little awkward constantly hovering around the table where the A’s employee was pouring. So we walked a couple sections down the third base line, and saw the small Frozen Doc Otis stand, the same sort of area where they sell 24oz beers now at McAfee. The Frozen Otis was like a lemonade Slurpy, only not as syrupy and definitely more powerful. I have to imagine there was probably some incident regarding some high school girls consuming too much Otis later that season, because otherwise nobody in their right minds would remove this product from their stadium.
9. Clam Chowder in a Bread Bowl (AT&T Park): They actually pull this one off pretty well at AT&T, and I’ve had some mediocre chowder in my day (Disneyland chowder was a very bad choice). Good bread, lots of clams and potatoes. The only points get taken away for knowing that anybody within three rows of you wishes the smell would go away the entire time you’re eating it. Of course, if you’re sitting next to Dodgers fans, the smell becomes a huge positive!
8. Chicken Strips (McAfee Coliseum): These would be ranked higher but for lack of consistency. For every hot, crispy batch you get, you might get a bunch of lukewarm and bendy strips, only edible with absurd amounts of ranch dressing. But when they’re good, it’s one of those snack foods you’ll eat as fast as you can to prevent whoever you’re sharing them with to somehow get more than half. Wait, I’m the only one who’s done that? Let’s just move on.
7. Polish Sausage (Candlestick Park): I’ve always loved grabbing a Polish at Candlestick, where finding the condiment area after buying one is always an adventure (Where is it? Why is it so dark here?). Then after you finally find the Gulden’s, kraut and/or onions for the sausage and apply said condiments, you have to wrap the Polish up tight before traversing through the wind tunnels leading from the concessions to the stands. Otherwise, you might get a Polish blown right into your chest, with condiments flying everywhere.
Maybe part of the reason a Polish tastes so good at The Stick is because it’s so cold there, and anything hot tastes about a thousand times better. It’s like eating food you make while camping, when you can make Top Ramen and it will taste like a gourmet feast.
6. 40 Clove Chicken Sandwich (AT&T Park): I’ve never counted, but I doubt there are actually 40 cloves of garlic in this creation, courtesy of The Stinking Rose restaurant. It’s still pretty delicious, though. It’s one of those sandwiches where it doesn’t really matter how long ago it was cooked, because it’s moist anyway, and the garlic flavor is so strong. Not many items can boast that.
(Side note: I never get these things at a game anyway, but never get a pretzel or churro after the third inning. Remember, all those concession guys who walk around selling stuff in the stands have items that were prepared BEFORE the game. Bottled soda or ice cream in a cooler … no problem. Hard, dry pretzels and frigid, rubbery churros are just ways for the park to sell more overpriced drinks. Save your five dollars.)
5. Nachos (McAfee Coliseum): I give the nod to the Coliseum’s nachos due to consistency and simplicity. I’ll get the fancy kind of nachos with ground beef, sour cream and pico de gallo when I’m at a restaurant. At a ballgame all I want is cheese sauce and jalapenos. No extraneous ingredients sure to roll off the top of the dish and fall into my lap. I have a game to pay attention to here!
4. Round Table Personal Pizza (McAfee Coliseum): I know this sounds like a lot of love for the Coliseum, but this one (pepperoni or cheese, it doesn’t really matter) is in here for a couple reasons. First, because the Coliseum has fewer sophisticated food options, you end up sampling all the ballpark standards. The funny thing is, whenever you end up going for the personal pizza, it’s almost like you’ve given up. Hey, you can get pizza anywhere, especially from a chain as ubiquitous as Round Table.
On the other hand, the pizza is always hot, it isn’t horrendously expensive, and Round Table is always decent. Now if a ballpark became Little Caesar’s or Domino’s territory, I’d take a different path to my seat just to avoid the fumes.
I know you can pretty much get pizza at any ballpark nowadays, but the Coliseum also gets the nod because they were the first to have it around here. It’s funny to think about it now with AT&T’s ridiculously varied menu (which to be fair I’ve probably only sampled about 50% of — but I’m fine not knowing how ballpark sushi tastes), but the Coliseum was waaaaaay more modern than Candlestick before 1993. I remember my dad and I catching an afternoon Giants game and an evening A’s game on the same day back in 1990. At the Giants game, the options were pretty much limited to Polish or hot dog. Nothing else was even approachable. Even the cheeseburger in the photograph above the concession stand looked like it was made at a Circle K.
At the Coliseum there were all kinds of things I’d never even thought of having at a game. Chicken strips? Cotton candy? Pizza? I didn’t know what I had been missing. My dad and I both had pizzas in what back then was a great ballpark with spectacular views of the Oakland Hills. That night was the first time I realized Candlestick wasn’t the best facility in the world. Not coincidentally, it was also the first time I’d watched a game anywhere else.
3. India Palace Chicken Masala (Oracle Arena): India Palace is actually a restaurant in Berkeley and Lafayette. I’ve never been there because I haven’t frequented Berkeley too often since I was in college and had friends there, but if their food is anything like what they dish up at Oracle I definitely need to check the restaurant out.
I’ve had the samosas and the chicken masala, and both were delicious. Plus, the portions are generous and not too expensive for game food. It’s kind of strange eating a plate of Indian food at a live sporting event, but since you’re sitting inside on really expensive, cushioned seats, it doesn’t seem as out of place as one might think.
2. Cha Cha Bowl (AT&T Park): I can’t go to a Giants game anymore without getting one of these. This isn’t really ballpark food at all; it’s a meal with some substance (and weight) to it. When you get that bowl jammed full of jerk chicken, rice, black beans and mango salsa, don’t forget to add some hot sauce. A little sauce goes a long way, because there is a ton of rice in this dish.
The only bad parts about getting a Cha Cha Bowl are the location (only one spot to get them, behind the cable car on the centerfield arcade area) and the fact that you won’t want to eat anything else the entire game. Actually, that may be a good thing, considering you’ll need to sell your car or an organ or two to buy a couple beers at AT&T. The initial shock of paying double figures for a single item can be off-putting at first, but both the quality and quantity found in a Cha Cha Bowl are more than worth it.
1. Gordon Biersch Garlic Fries (Candlestick Park): I know everywhere has these things now, but nowhere are they better than at Candlestick. I remember when they first came to The Stick after Magowan and company purchased the team and tried to make the Candlestick experience a little more modern. They put a new fence in, new paint around the park and new food items. (No more Harry M. Stevens concessions … yay!)
When the Giants moved to AT&T they took all those new food items with them and added some more, but the garlic fries are still the stars of the show for hungry fans. Unfortunately, the garlic fries have suffered a bit since branching out from The Stick. AT&T’s fries feature far less garlic, and finding a batch of hot, crispy fries can be as difficult as getting Randy Winn to put the team ahead of his own stats.
Luckily, the 49ers still play at the Stick, and the garlic fries are the same as they were when they were introduced in the mid-1990’s. The true test of a batch of garlic fries is twofold. First, are all the fries hot (or at least warm), and second, is there enough garlic to burn my mouth for at least another inning or half of a quarter? At The Stick, your last fry ends up serving as a scooper to hold roughly 35 chunks of garlic from the bottom of the container, and you will smell like Gilroy for at least a full day after eating the best ballpark creation in the Bay Area.