So A-Rod finally breaks his slump with a long drive into the seats, the fans leap to their feet — and wet tuna plops into your lap. Even if there weren’t the usual spat over who makes and packs the snacks for a game, a tuna sandwich or PB&J just doesn’t cut it. At ballparks, salty, fatty, bad-for-you hot dogs and hamburgers aren’t merely tolerated, they’re required. So for observant baseball mavens, being kosher can be unfair.
The kosher baseball problem in New York was first addressed in 1998, when, under pressure from New York City Public Advocate Mark Green and Rabbi Marc Schneier, Shea and then Yankee Stadium opened small glatt kosher stands. Now that both Big Apple teams are playing in brand-new, tax-supported homes that include elaborate fast food and restaurant choices, kosher sports enthusiasts had new reason to hope that their needs wouldn’t be ignored.
They weren’t. New Jersey-based Kosher Sports set up four identical glatt kosher stands at the $800 million Citi Field — called “Debits Field” by older wags — and Ouri’s Superior Kosher Caterers in Brooklyn did the same in the $1.5 billion Yankee palace. The season’s on, and the 4 and 7 subway lines are jammed. So how’s the food?
In general, Citi Field thrashes Yankee Stadium in the variety and success of its nonkosher food-stand offerings: authentic tacos, Blue Smoke barbecue, a branch of Danny Meyer’s wildly successful Shake Shack. It’s no different for kosher food, I’ve discovered, and the reason is simple: Kosher Sports at Citi Field cooks dogs and sausages on a small grill in front of you, while Ouri’s somewhat wider selection is prepared off the premises, packaged, sealed and reheated. No matter how excellent the original recipes or ingredients, no fast food can survive such treatment with taste, texture or essential ballpark “snap” intact.
On a recent visit, the lines at both sets of carts are long right before the games begin, but they move steadily. Except for an occasional yarmulke, I couldn’t tell from the customers’ assorted ages and races that these stands are special — though once, near an Ouri’s, a minyan formed during the seventh-inning stretch.
At times, the always-friendly staffers struggled to get orders straight and make change. This is especially true at Ouri’s, because none of those carts have a cash register, just a lock-box. Also, all Yankee food stands except Ouri’s list calories after each item. Confidence was not exactly inspired, and after a companion and I bought and sampled almost all of Ouri’s food on offer — each stand was out of something, and even early on, none of the four had burgers — I am terribly sorry to say my confidence vanished.
The glatt frank ($5.50), mildly spiced and somewhat sweet, was lukewarm, watery and limp; the squishy bun didn’t help. Too bad, because a hot dog is baseball’s bottom line. Barely heated chicken nuggets ($8) had long ago lost juiciness or savor and were hard to chew. Strips of rubbery beef layered on a flaccid hero with sweet pickle ($12) was almost impossible to negotiate, and the reddish mass of shredded shawarma ($12) on a similar roll had the feel of a perverse Pablum.
My Yankee advice? Try the toothsome knish, but make sure it’s hot, and then the respectable falafel plus tahini and greens ($8), if the pita’s edges haven’t gone dry. There’s also a fruit stand — yes, in Yankee Stadium — near Gate 4 for dessert.
Fewer kosher selections are offered at Citi Field, but they feel closer in merit and price to the temptations around them. I’ve always wished the fine Abeles & Heymann dog ($4.75) had a bit more garlic and spurt, but it went down well because the roll tastes like real bread; two pieces of quickly grilled pastrami placed on top to make a “pastrami dog” ($6.50) improve the bare frank enormously. A plump A&H beef “Italian” sausage on an even better roll ($7.25) is topped with sautéed tricolor bell peppers. But bring your own mustard or ketchup; no packets are provided, and I was pointed to common condiment stations whose kosher qualifications are doubtful.
Many ticket buyers are grateful to have kosher options, yet I wish the “pleasure factor” were higher both in the food that’s served and in patrons’ expectations. Dietary restrictions need not be culinary limitations, even in a ballpark, and there’s no reason for kosher cooking anywhere not to shine.
Writer and editor Jeff Weinstein, for more than 15 years the restaurant critic for New York’s Village Voice, covers cultural and gay issues at www.artsjournal.com/outthere.
Location: sections 115, 130, 401, 428
Recommendations: pastrami dog, sausage and peppers, knish
Beer served: yes (Budweiser)
Ouri’s Kosher Caterers
Location: sections 130, 211, 320, Gate 4 (spots may vary)
Recommendations: falafel, knish
Beer served: no