09 May #SparksNotes: MLB Food Fest Edition
By: Kylie Sparks
MLB FoodFest, a baseball foodie’s dream.
There is nothing more classic than the combination of a baseball game and a concession stand hot dog, but baseball foodies know there’s more to a ballpark’s menu than that. In fact, every stadium has its own local fare, inspired by the community around it and the spirit of the team. Why get a hot dog when you could get a lobster roll at Fenway in Boston? Or Skyline Chili at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati? While the ultimate goal for any baseball superfan is to visit every Major League Baseball park, some of us want to try the FOOD at every park.
Enter MLB FoodFest.
MLB FoodFest started last year in New York City as a way for baseball fans and foodies alike to try dishes from all 30 teams, plus international fare to celebrate the London, Japan, and Mexico Series. It was such a huge hit that for 2019, Major League Baseball announced they will hold three different FoodFests — NYC, London, and Los Angeles — for fans in the U.S. and U.K. to attend. Expanded Roster’s resident guinea pig, Kylie Sparks, attended the first event of the year, the Los Angeles MLB FoodFest, and it exceeded all expectations.
The basic rules: there are four types of tickets ranging from $45 to $100 — eight items with or without beer vouchers, and the MVP 33-item ticket with or without beer vouchers, for two-hour time slots between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. All tickets come with unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. I picked the unlimited without beer for Saturday afternoon. As MLB FoodFest stresses there are no vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options, I had to bite the bullet and toss vegetarianism out the window for the day, but some boundaries were drawn — nothing “weird” (sorry Mariners and Rockies, no grasshoppers or Rocky Mountain oysters for me!) and nothing with pork in it (so no ham, bacon, pork shoulder, etc.) I came hungry and ready to conquer, and wound up trying 16 of the 33 dishes. Here are some of the best ones.
Chicago White Sox: Elote nuggets
These were definitely not just a personal favorite, but FoodFest favorite — they sold out multiple times in the two hours I was there. As I’m not a fan of mayo, I got them without the mayo drizzle, but that didn’t matter. The sweet corn fritter nuggets dusted with a mix of queso fresco and cayenne was a delightful mix of sweet, crunch, spice, and a bit of salt. I could eat these all day, and it’s a shame I couldn’t go back for seconds.
Boston Red Sox: Lobster roll
Like peanut butter and jelly, Boston and lobster go together like two peas in a pod, and this hot lobster roll was one of the best dishes at FoodFest. The ratio of lobster meat with clarified butter and a touch of aioli (that I didn’t mind in this case) inside the hot, lightly toasted roll made for a perfect spring combination and left me feeling like I was at Fenway, waiting for Mookie Betts hit a homer over the Green Monster. I’ll forgive the Red Sox for winning the World Series over the Dodgers this one time, but only because of this lobster roll.
Miami Marlins: Chicken and bubble waffle
You wouldn’t expect the Marlins to bring chicken and waffles to FoodFest, but the Marlins had one of the best overall dishes with a crispy, juicy chicken tender with just a touch of maple in the batter and a bubble waffle with a dash of cinnamon. It was the perfect segue from savory to sweet before trying the Arizona Diamondbacks’ churro dog. I’m gonna need that waffle recipe, Marlins, because that was the perfect texture and thickness for a waffle.
Tampa Bay Rays: Beer braised short rib grilled cheese with horseradish cream
Some people are grilled cheese purists, while others like to get adventurous. The Rays decided to go all out with theirs, and while I was a bit skeptical about the horseradish cream, it added a tang and bite to an elevated grilled cheese that, no pun intended, knocked it out of the park. The beer braised beef short rib was a nice combination with cheddar, and the Rays have also made me a believer in crustless grilled cheeses (more surface area for cheese!)
Los Angeles Angels: Kung Pao chicken drumsticks
In the battle for LA, the Angels edged out the Dodgers for the best Los Angeles baseball dish with their Kung Pao chicken drumsticks. While the Dodgers’ Sisig Fries with Sisig chicken and chiles were quite good with an excellent level of heat, the Kung Pao flavors with extra peppers and peanuts with a juicy chicken drumstick edged out the Sisig fries by a hair. Angels Stadium is known for its Bamboo Bowls, but I hope they add these Kung Pao drumsticks to the full-time menu. I could eat these all day long.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Japan Series beef curry; New York Yankees’ steak sandwich; Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sisig fries; Milwaukee Brewers’ Wisconsin ultimate cheese fry; Arizona Diamondbacks’ famous churro dog.
One thing I need to mention: as all dishes were made in mass kitchens, some items that had been hyped up and that I enjoyed (Sisig fries, ultimate cheese fry, Baltimore Orioles’ Chesapeake waffle fries, London Series fish and chips, etc.) missed the mark because they weren’t warm. Fries and fried dishes are very hard to keep hot and fresh in a setting like this, and several fried dishes were cold when I scanned my wristband at the kiosks. There’s no easy way to solve this issue, but it’s something for MLB to keep in mind for future FoodFests.
The final takeaway: we came, we saw, we ate, we bought the T-shirt, we did the live-tweet and the Instagram post, we conquered. The first LA MLB FoodFest was a great success, and I cannot wait until it comes back. If you’re an MLB fan who loves food, this is a must-attend event.