Take Me Out to the Ballgame
I'll stick with peanuts and Cracker Jack
"I swear to God, if I see another hot dog on these menus, I'm going to scream," said my lawyer friend after we'd traversed the concourse at the Dell Diamond during a recent matchup against the Fresno Grizzlies. We were determined to leave no stone unturned in our quest for the top-notch ballpark chow promised at the launch of the Round Rock Express' 2014 season, ostensibly an attempt to siphon food dollars away from the Salt Lick BBQ across the parking lot, or the Torchy's Tacos just west on Highway 79.
What we found was a million (approximately) variations on the hot dog.
At Fairlane's, a Fifties-style diner, there is the Marilyn, topped with relish, red jalapeños, and cheese. At Papa Murphy's, you can get a regular stadium dog along with your desiccated slice of cheese pizza. At Frank's – a hot dog stand – you can "build your own" stadium dog. Rumor has it that you can get a grilled cheese hot dog (in which a grilled cheese sandwich stands in for a hot dog bun) at the Coop & Kennel Pub, but at that point I think my brain had just edited out all hot dog options from the menu boards in my quest to find anything but a goddamn hot dog.
In my quest, I sampled a sliced brisket sandwich ($7) from Southside Market. It was cold and tough and an insult to brisket. The steak sandwich ($11) from 34 Chophouse had decent flavor and the accompanying hand-cut, house-made potato chips were crunchy and unique, but the bread hadn't quite achieved doneness, the tomatoes were mealy, and the tough slab of meat was difficult to eat in a ballpark setting. Shaved or sliced steak would have been a better, more thoughtful approach.
There is a much-lauded Jack Allen's Kitchen on-site, but you have to pay $10 for the privilege of walking through the doors of the Intel Club to dine there. While it would be really fun to watch the game while eating locally sourced Frito pie with wild boar chili ($12.99) and a bourbon milkshake on the side, I would much rather have a pre-game dinner at the Jack Allen's Kitchen five miles down the road than have to pay a premium to select from a nearly identical – but much smaller – menu at the ballpark.
There were a few bright spots: Rojo's Southwestern Hideaway offers a gargantuan boat of carnitas nachos with red and white tortilla chips ($10), along with tasty chicken quesadillas ($10 for a miserly portion) and flights of street tacos ($10). (Also hot dogs.) The Texas-centric craft beer garden was another diamond in the, uh, Diamond. There, my husband was able to score a 20-ounce draught of his current favorite, Hijack cream ale from Austin's Infamous Brewing Company ($8). Other options include Austin Amber from Independence Brewing Co. and Rahr's Blonde Lager out of Fort Worth.
Ballpark food is supposed to be portable and fun to eat. You don't have to overthink it with a bunch of bells and whistles. While hot dogs are a non-negotiable, why not offer a nice Chicago dog with fresh veggies and sport peppers, a poppyseed bun, and a high-quality kosher frank? At the same time, why not look to regional specialties that have broad appeal and are easy to eat, like elotes or Mexican-style fruit cups? Austin is full of innovative food entrepreneurs who've nailed portable, fun foodstuff and who would probably love a contract to serve the thousands of folks who head out to Round Rock from April to September. While this recent menu overhaul isn't a strikeout, the opportunity is there for the Dell Diamond to knock the food offerings out of the park.