The Mariners’ home opener is coming up, and we never go to the ballpark without getting something to eat. Several things, usually. We had a chance to preview some of the new items created by guest-chef Ethan Stowell as well as guest mixologist Anu Apte.
A catering company called Centerplate actually manages the concessions, not just at the baseball stadium (now re-named “T-Mobile Park) but at 250 sports, entertainment and convention venues around the country, including racetracks (Saratoga), airports (Dulles), ten NFL football stadiums and four baseball parks, including the Mariners. For all of its nationwide reach, Centerplate’s emphasis is on local food, since there’s nothing as local as rooting for the home team, after all. And after culinary superstar Tom Douglas (who has his hands full), there’s probably no more “local” chef in Seattle than Stowell.
There’s a difference between running a 60-seat restaurant and feeding 40,000 people at a ball game, but the concept of hospitality has to be the same, according to Centerplate. We’re just upping the ante with local ingredients, but it’s not just about selling food,” said a Centerplate spokesman a couple of years back, “it’s about engaging people.”
There are over 150 places to buy food and drink at the the T, with even more coming. (In fact, it’s no longer called the Safeco Field but T-Mobile Park; the new signs were going up this morning.) Because of its leisurely pace, baseball is particularly suited to grazing. So what’s Stowell going to do? Sliders, brats, burgers, po-boys. “I feel comfortable ordering 1,500 pounds of pork [for the $9.75 BBQ brisket] because the biggest battle is high quality ingredients.”
The beef comes from Painted Hills, the pork from Carlton Farms. And, best of all, the freshly-shucked oysters for the Oyster Po’Boy will come from Taylor Shellfish Farms. Battered in panko and deep-fried, they’re topped with spicy remoulade, shredded iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato and served on a Franz Pioneer bun. And only at the complex behind center field formerly called the Bull Pen, now renamed The ‘Pen.
“I’m excited to be back again after nine years,” Stowell says, using local products and fresh ingredients. “It’s a growing trend, even if (frankly) ballpark fare is basically street food.
Says Steve Dominguez, a regional veep for Centerplate (the food service concessionaire), “We like to think that our offering at Mariners games is like operating a hyper-local restaurant for thousands of fans at once.” The Centerplate team spends the off-season traveling the country to see what’s new on the restaurant scene. “Our fans and guests are looking for menu items that authentically represent the community, culture, and flavors around them.”
Apte, whose influence is felt far beyond Belltown (Rob Roy, Navy Strength, No Anchor), created a cocktail called the Magenta Mojo: Tito vodka, Lillet, Pamplemousse Rosé, hibiscus extract, a dash of Peychaud bitters, and club soda. Low alcohol and refreshing, it was. And it comes with a glow-in-the-dark magenta ice cube. Want a couple for parties at home? About a buck apiece. Just the cocktail at the stadium? Set you back $12.50, it will.