By Jason Notte
If Major League Baseball teams are going to charge a premium for concessions, fans should at least get a premium product for their money.
It's just an accepted fact that concessions at a big-league baseball game are going to batter fans' wallets between innings. This year, the average cost of a draft beer on the concourse is $6.15, according to Team Marketing Report. Throw in a hot dog ($4.13) or a soda ($3.71) and you've already increased the cost of your ticket ($26.98 on average) by more than a third.
So why settle for those bottom-shelf items? In some markets, regional fare and expanded selection help fans compensate for the cost a bit. You can get a hot dog anywhere, but the food and drinks in the following 10 markets have local flavor that peanuts and Cracker Jack lack:
Heavy hitters: Gilroy garlic fries.
Tons of other ballparks, including Safeco, boast about their garlic fries. None do them as well as brewer Gordon Biersch does in San Francisco. That pile of parmesan cheese, herbs and fresh ground garlic over a hot stack of potatoes won't make you many friends among those in talking distance, but it's a decent way to warm up during those cool spring and fall spells by the bay. It also says a lot about a facility when its menu includes a Dungeness crab sandwich on sourdough and the fries are still the best item being served.
Heavy hitters: Sausage sandwiches.
This is one of the few places in the league where you don't have to go to the game to get the best item at the concessions stand. Fenway is ringed with carts hawking sweet Italian sausages cooked to a crisp on flat grills, and the more you can load it up with spicy mustard and sauteed onions and peppers the better. We warn that prices get a bit higher once you've passed the ticket checkpoints on Yawkey Way, so we recommend hitting vendors slightly removed from the park's gates for real value. Look for the best deals on Yawkey about a block away from Boylston Street or on Lansdowne Street just down the slope from the Cask 'n Flagon.
Heavy hitters: Primanti Brothers sandwiches.
Why waste fries as a side dish? Since the 1930s, the Primanti Brothers have been stacking them in Pittsburgh's signature sandwich with steak, cheese, cole slaw and tomatoes and defying out-of-towners to take it down. Though it's available throughout Pittsburgh, it's best enjoyed with PNC Park's view of the bridges and rivers. The combined experience makes 20 straight losing seasons of Pirates baseball a little easier to stomach.
Heavy hitters: Tony Luke's cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, "The Schmitter."
There are few ballparks that catch local flavor nearly as well as the Phillies' home, but fans are faced with a tough decision. Ballpark tourists gravitate to Tony Luke and giggle their way through orders asking for whiz (hot Cheese Whiz) and wit (with onions). Locals know better and go with Philly's less-official sandwich: roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe. A sweet tooth and a relatively paltry $2.50 will get you a package of Tastykake peanut butter Kandy Kakes or Butterscotch Krimpets -- just added to concessions this year thanks to countertop mini fridges that prevent melting -- but the king of all Phillies concessions is still "The Schmitter." First made by Philly's own McNally's Tavern, this beast is built out of layers of steak, cheese, fried onions, tomato, grilled salami and special sauce on a broiled Kaiser roll. That's a lot to handle when your gameday diet normally consists of hot dogs and beer, so give the Schmitter a few innings to digest.
Heavy hitters: Ivar Dogs, sushi, "The Man."
When you're rooting for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in more than a decade and has won more games than it has lost only twice in the past eight years, stadium comfort is important. Local seafood chain Ivar's provides plenty of it with Ivar Dogs -- slivers of fried cod topped with tartar sauce and cole slaw. The sushi rolls and maki at Safeco were once novel, but are becoming a more regular sight in the majors as the rest of the league goes upscale. The best-kept secret, however, is "The Man" sauce at Porter's BBQ, made with a closely guarded recipe loaded with spices. On most nights, it has more kick than the Mariners' lineup.