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Stadium Fare Runs Culinary Gamut : From Soggy Pizza to Fire Dogs, It's a Picnic at the Park

May 05, 1987|DAVID NELSON

Sometimes something can be lost in a language barrier of sorts when a fellow from New Jersey is trying to order a piece of pizza in Southern California.

You see, pizza in New Jersey also is known as pizza pie. Make that pie for short.

When a chap from New Jersey ordered a slice of pie at the Square Pan Pizza kiosk by Gate C at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the woman behind the counter bellowed: "We don't have pie here!"

I understood the problem, so I translated and this fellow got his piece of Square Pan pizza. He wished he hadn't. What he got was a heavy rectangle of spongy dough smeared with some kind of tomato sauce, covered with rubbery cheese and sprouting rounds of pepperoni here and there. The pizza wasn't much, in other words. But because it sells well, the decision in this case would have to be " chacun a son gout " (each to his own taste), which the Great Dugout Diner, Tom Lasorda, might translate as "this stuff is goo."

In truth, though, the quality of the fare at the stadium seems to have improved during the last couple of years in inverse ratio to the Padres' performance. Service America Corp., the folks who once made me wait in a line for half an hour and then pitched me a frozen hot dog, have made some impressive changes, both in menu and preparation. There's still no quiche, but it's starting to look and taste like big-league chow.

I doubt that you'll find anybody named Jean Pierre flipping hamburgers at the burger, french fry and onion ring stand on the Plaza level, but you will find a quarter-pound plain or cheese-enshrouded burger that's at least as good as those peddled by fast-food joints. Ditto the fries. And the onion rings are enough to make you feel 16 again, unless you are 16, which renders the sensation kind of pointless.

Just as Babe Ruth might have said "What, twice glory?" after slamming two home runs, we might take a look at Service America's ploy of placing different types of food in different parts of the stadium and say "How haute , cuisine?" In other words, you have to rise in the world to find the fanciest fare, all the way to the Roof Garden, the bastion of ballpark gourmandism.

Here, high atop the stadium, we find the deluxe (Service America's description) burgers, one-third-pounders priced at $3 plain and 25 extra for cheese. There are also roast beef sandwiches with barbecue sauce or that brown liquid often called "au jus; " a mild German or spicy Italian sausage sandwich; creamy, respectable potato salad; and the dreaded Fire Dog ($2.50), an extra-large and extra-spicy wiener. This last creation could be recommended to morose fans on the grounds that it has the ability to take their minds off the scoreboard.

The Italian sausage also sizzles like a Tony Gwynn grounder mowing through the infield. After the second bite or so, little bits of pepper and spices start exploding on the tongue, and it's not a bad sensation. There's even a little cup of marinara sauce to tame the heat, if so desired. But skip the roll, a soggy wonder that in gustatory appeal outranks few things at the stadium other than a bin of sweat socks.

Other than these items, everything that's edible can be found on the Plaza Level. The big item here is the hot dog, available at just about every concession stand and generally very respectable; the dogs now roast in sight and are served steaming hot and juicy, ready to be doused with onions and relish. Regular dogs go for $1.25, and foot-longs for $2; plan to pay extra for chili and/or sauerkraut. Potato chips are Eagle brand, and are good.

At these stands, beer sells for $1.75, sodas start at 75 and candies cost $1 each. The list goes on with helmet sundaes, frozen malts, ice cream sandwiches and soft serve cones.

Several specialty booths peddle burritos (chili and cheese, $2.25) and taquitos (three for $2). It is at these booths that big spenders can order a Corona or Beck's, poured from the bottle at $3 apiece. As yet, there's no lime for the Corona, but any catering company that has progressed as far as the Fire Dog is sure to catch up soon.

The lazy person's way to feed at the stadium is in the stands. It still may be the best, as long as it is understood that options are limited. In the stands, protein is defined as the hot dog, except on busier days, when the term expands to include the pizza that intrepid hawkers sell to fans too busy watching the game to notice what they're chewing.

But limited choice still means choice , and all the classics are here, including popcorn that seems to have been popped fairly recently and tastes like it does at the movies; pink cotton candy for deserving tots who are seated more than five rows away from this writer; sodas; peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Cracker Jack, as everyone knows, is the ultimate of ballpark cuisine, and it was interesting to learn that they don't sell it at Candlestick and Fenway parks.

The point of going to the stadium, of course, is to enjoy the game. But everyone does seem to eat and eat and eat, and the expansion and improvement of the menu can only help on those days when looking at the scoreboard takes the steely determination of a Casey at the bat.

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