FOOD: Spring-training food-and-drink lineup
Published March 1, 2012
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.
Grapefruit League ticket-holders will tell you that spring training in Southwest Florida is as much about food as it is about fanfare. From Cracker Jack to craft beer, there's a smorgasbord near every scoreboard in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota county stadiums. And for those of us baseball rookies who can barely differentiate between a fly and a foul, snacking is our sport of choice in March and April. So, take me out with the crowd ... and over to the concession stand.
Charlotte Sports Park (Tampa Bay Rays)
2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte. 206-4487; tampabay.rays.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=tb.
McKechnie Field (Pittsburgh Pirates)
1611 9th St. W., Bradenton. 747-3031; milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t3390.
Ed Smith Stadium (Baltimore Orioles)
2700 12th St., Sarasota. 893-6300; baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/spring_training/ballpark.jsp?c_id=bal.
At Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, a frosty libation and a half-pound burger should keep your belly growl-free until the Tampa Bay Rays' ninth inning.
In-between runs, hit the mixed concessions and portable carts, including the Hot Corner Grill with its $3 corn dogs and $5.75 jumbo beer brats. The First Base Fiesta has $4.25 jumbo hot dogs, $4.50 Chick-fil-A sandwiches and $6.50 super nachos. A thatched-roof Tiki Hut even peddles draft or bottled premium and domestic beers from $6.25 to $6.50, along with $6 well cocktails and $8 frozen specialty drinks.
"People love our food. Even if you don't like sports, you'll have plenty to eat here, and one of our signature items is the Home Run Burger -- a half-pound burger with all the trimmings," said Corey Brandt, the park's director of food and beverage and stadium operations. "There's the Pale Ale Brat, which you can get with or without my Kraut Mix (sauerkraut grilled with beer, butter, onions and a secret seasoning). And of course, we have the ever-popular steak and cheese sandwiches out in center field."
Before settling into your bleacher cushion, trek to Joe Cracker Sportsgrille on El Jobean Road for "pre-game starters" like onion strings and crispy Parmesan calamari, and indulge in the homemade burger bar. After a margarita or two, inquire about the shuttle service from the restaurant to the ballpark. On Tamiami Trail, it's Hooters for wings and Alli-gators Florida Grill and Bar for icy pitchers.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates take the diamond at Bradenton's McKechnie Field, grip a double bacon cheeseburger in one hand and a Corona tall boy in the other.
Funnel cakes are powdery sweet at the Boardwalk, and the Bucco Bar (tiki hut) is stocked with a full liquor selection. The Bullpen Bistro on the right field line has Kayem's 1/5-pound all-beef hot dogs and soft pretzels, and Pirates Cove Grill on the main concourse sells chicken tenders and Tropicana lemonade in 32-ounce souvenir cups. Carts roll along the first and third base lines, showcasing Italian ice cups, Hampton Farms peanuts and Gold Medal popcorn.
Turkey legs go for $9, ice cream helmets (four hand-dipped scoops) are $5, and a burger jumbo meal with chips and a 32-ounce soda is $12. Order a beer bucket with five 16-ounce Budweiser bottles for $30 and quench the entire crew.
"There are a lot of new, exciting things happening at the field right now. This is actually the first year we have a full-service bar. Last year was our first year with a tiki bar, but that only had beer and wine," said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates. "We have some Pittsburgh-brewed beers, which is important, like Iron City, and people love that because we have a lot of Pittsburghers down here."
Adjacent to McKechnie is Popi's Place, a breakfast and lunch joint on 17th Avenue by Domino's Pizza. A nine-minute walk from the stadium leads to Turner Donut on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue West, and a five-minute drive takes spectators to downtown's bars and cafés.
Baltimore Orioles lovers flock to Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium for the soft-shell crab sandwiches and domestic drafts.
Inside the home plate entrance to the ballpark is Café 54 with its sandwiches and wraps, and a diverse concession menu boasts fried clam strips, shrimp baskets and grouper bites. There are bratwursts with sauerkraut for $6, and crab cake sandwiches and Polock Johnny's sausages for $7 (the latter is no doubt recognizable to Baltimoreans).
"The Orioles definitely offer some unique concession stand items, like our signature Maryland crab cakes," said Monica Barlow, director of public relations for the Baltimore Orioles. "Fans coming in from Baltimore really appreciate the authenticity."
Across Tuttle Avenue at the 12th Street intersection is the Grand Slam Plaza, a strip mall with El Patio Latino for Peruvian cuisine, La Nostra Pasta for Italian, Kay's Restaurant and Bar-B-Q and Uncle Wen's China Express. Also, on the west side of the stadium is Gus's 12th Street Café with omelets and grouper.
Drooling yet? Whether you're a snowbird rooting for a northern team, a Hillsborough County resident cruising over the Skyway for a Rays fix, or just a local with an annual pass, you've got a bevy of ballpark goodies to keep you gorged.
This story appeared in print on page spring-training ballparks
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