My relationship with Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick this season is more Dr. Pavlov-and-his-dog than pitcher-and-fan. Here’s the underlying science behind it: He pitches, and I get depressed. And like distraught people all over the world, I turn to one of my most loyal companions, my longest-term crutches, for solace: junk food.
So at a game last week at Citizens Bank Park, when Kendrick rendered a lead-off Jimmy Rollins home run moot by giving up four runs in the top of the second, my father and I decided to drown our sorrows in the kind of food that ballparks have always specialized in: fatty, straightforward and vaguely industrial. But instead of opting for a dirty-water dog and an overpriced Bud in one of those missile-like metallic bottles, we checked out some of the new options the stadium’s offering this season.
Our first stop was one of the new taco-and-nacho stands, this one in section 122. It looked familiar enough—though the sign advertising $8.75 Coronas shot a wave of pre-prandial heartburn up my gullet—but, in fact, there’s something different going on here: Everything is made to order. Ancho-braised pork came piled high atop a mesa of chips, dusted with shredded cheese the same approximate color as the molten “nacho cheese,” sprinkled with appropriately starchy black beans. A squiggle of sour cream set off the discs of pickled jalapeño, while little red avalanches of salsa trickled down the sides. And while the pork itself could have been more moist, it was one of the tastiest ballpark-nacho experiences I’ve had in years, and almost good enough to make me forget my pitching-induced malaise.
If the pork nachos were a solid base hit, the BBQ chicken nachos were a home run. Featuring more or less the same combination of toppings as the pork, the chicken itself was drippingly moist but not too wet, sweet and just the slightest bit spicy, and exceptionally tender.
Chicken and pork tacos—nice options, actually, for $4.25 each or two for $8—were simple and tasty, similar in flavor to the nachos but easier to manage. And here’s what’s interesting: Because the team working the stand here was doing more than just the usual numbing work of slapping meat on a bun and wrapping it in foil—because they were so intimately involved in the preparation of each customer’s dish—we enjoyed a bit of social give-and-take, a brief, five-minute relationship. It was, even by non-Philly standards, remarkably pleasant.
No repartee, mind you, could have saved the black bean burger in section 128. Its texture, somewhere in the unfortunate netherworld between sawdust and a Styrofoam packing peanut, was actually a highlight when compared to the flavor. Imagine French-kissing a plateful of day-old bean dip flecked with corn. Brutal.
But that was the only letdown, really. The new Italian Market Panini, at the appropriately named Paninis in section 133, was like a carnivore’s dream grilled cheese, palm-thick with Genoa salami, capicola, pepperoni, red onion, pepperoncini, provolone, tomato and an “Italian vinaigrette.” And while the toasted bread was soggy by the time we brought it back to our seat—they’re not cooked to order—I was won over by the generosity of the meat and the perfectly calibrated greasiness of the strings of melted cheese. Paired with a Lagunitas IPA, or even a draft of Leffe from Bullpen Brews right behind, well, the bullpen, it was a winner.
Unlike the Phillies that night. They ended up going down 12–6. Fortunately, we saw the writing on the wall early, and decided to throw health and lipid-count numbers to the wind, heading on over to Dessert Plaza, around section 140. I slurped through a vanilla milkshake that, despite its immense sugariness, was thick and rich and hand-spun by yet another friendly employee.
Personally, though, my choice would be to check out Gina’s Cupcakes at the Turkey Hill stand caddy-corner to the Schmitter. The cannoli cupcake, with its thin layer of ricotta beneath the fluff of icing—itself dusted with cannoli-shell crumbles and mini-chocolate chips—was both clever and instantly lovable. And the red velvet cupcake, with its cream-cheese-kissed white frosting, was enough to make me remember that, though this season may be over in terms of hoping for the playoffs, you should never stop going out to the ballpark. I didn’t need that cupcake, all Phillies-proud in its magenta base and white frosting, to remember that. But it sure did help.
Citizens Bank Park
1 Citizens Bank Way. 215.463.1000
Cuisine: Ballpark food, with some unexpectedly personal touches.
Hours: See Phillies schedule for home games.
Price Range: Under $10.
Atmosphere: Depends on whether the Phils are winning or losing.
Food: An array of nifty new vending options.
Service: Much friendlier than you’d expect!
PW's Taste of Philly 2014