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Big A Eats: Something Tells Me I'm Not in Sheboygan

May 23, 1991|MAX JACOBSON

Whenever I go out to the ballgame, I go hungry. If the game is at Anaheim Stadium, that's usually the way I leave.

Call me picky. My home park is Fenway, and the repeated trauma of watching the Red Sox blow the pennant or the series has blocked most of my memories about what I ate there. Yastrzemski striking out with the bases loaded. Bucky Dent winning the playoff with that pop fly. I think it was pizza.

Things improved fast when I moved away. While attending college out in the Midwest, I had some of my best meals ever in major league parks--and rarely found myself emotionally involved. Sheboygan bratwurst with sauerkraut and brown mustard at Milwaukee County Stadium. Terrific kosher hot dogs in Chicago. And best of all, the Arthur Bryant's barbecued ham sandwich I snuck into a Royals game one night. Now, that's eating.

Ogden Food Services, the company responsible for the concessions at Anaheim Stadium, offers none of these primal delights, but it does try to overwhelm you with sheer volume. Specialty foods are sold in a row of stalls clustered behind home plate on the lower level. There's Mexican, Italian, even Japanese. It's called the Food Faire. If it weren't for all the baseball caps and beer, you'd swear you were in a shopping mall.

This approach to baseball food requires a little getting used to. You wouldn't want one of your middle managers catching you eating, say, a California roll, anywhere near the third base line. Think of the impact this could have on your career. Even in Yomiuri Stadium, where the Tokyo Giants play, real men do not, repeat do not , eat sushi at the ballpark. (They eat yakisoba instead.)

Those farsighted people at Ogden have had the presence of mind to put yakisoba (fried buckwheat noodles) on the menu at their Japanese food concession. Making the stuff edible does not seem to be a priority. No matter. Most people seem to prefer the California roll ($5.75 with extra rice) anyway. It's about a foot long and twice as thick as you'd find in a sushi bar, with surimi-- pollock dressed up to taste like crab--pinch-hitting for the real thing. It has a fair bit of avocado inside and, by and large, very little discernible taste.

There's plenty of American food, of course. Peanuts ($1) and Cracker Jack ($1.25) are available for a song. Just a few stalls down, you find the stadium's vaunted cinnamon roll ($1.50), for which, I'm told, there can be up to a three-inning line. I got off lucky, I guess. The night I ate one, the Yankees were in town, and all the pitching changes made the innings longer.

The roll is a good one, a sticky, yeasty pull-apart bun studded with chopped pecans, and best of all, you get it steaming hot. If you have a sweet tooth, it's the best thing to eat in the park, provided you eat it right away. If you have to carry it all the way back to your seat, you might as well crack a pack of Cracker Jack.

Hot dogs are a major disappointment here, especially compared with the David Berg and Vienna Red Hots you get in the Midwest. But there are good sausages ($4.25) at a special concession that is always crowded with stand-up eaters. Too bad they are more than double the price of the hot dogs.

Chef Jack's Special Sausage is the best thing to eat in the entire park. There really is a Chef Jack--he's Angel owner Gene Autry's personal chef--and he did create this recipe. It's sort of a mild, crumbly Italian sausage with a sweet spice, maybe basil, in the meat mixture, and traces of liver in the finish. Eat one with sauteed onions and mustard, but consider bringing your own bun. The bun it is served on is dry, nothing at all like the pliant bun this good sausage deserves. Ditto for the reasonably good knockwurst.

Moving down the stalls, you encounter things such as greasy, flavorless fish and chips ($4 for a "boat" with wedges of fried potatoes alongside) and stuffed potatoes ($2.25). This potato doesn't taste half bad, but it's an internist's nightmare topped with your choice of butter, sour cream, chives and huge scoops of bacon bits. If you have the works, you'll have to eat for several minutes before you even get to the potato.

Crave Italian? You can eat a slice of pizza ($2.25), a thin, tired layer of tomato and cheese riding on some dreary frozen dough. That should take care of your craving.

If it doesn't, you can go upstairs to the Plaza Level, where Pasta House serves such delights as spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna ($4), a dense square of noodles and ricotta served with a mealy, school-lunch meat sauce. On the side, you get a piece of garlic bread leathery enough to play catch with.

Frankly, I'd rather go back to Fenway and watch the Red Sox blow another pennant.

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