A Bite-by-Bite Recap of MLB’s First Ever FoodFest

MLB FoodFest was a foodie’s paradise. (Photo via Matt Ziance)

By: Matt Ziance, @MattZiance

March 14, 2018 – I remember this day like it was yesterday. It was an extremely busy day in the office. The Stanley Cup Playoffs were right around the corner, Manchester City was on an absolute tear through the Premier League and MLB gave all baseball fans a reason to smile…

TICKETS TO THE INAUGURAL MLB FOODFEST WERE OFFICIALLY ON SALE!

Thank goodness for Slack! In my office, we name our channels based on the sport property they represent. We have #SinBin (Hockey), #TheBreakfastClub (Soccer) and #VictoryLane (NASCAR). One of the most visited channels, though, is #FoodFight. In #FoodFight, a group of young professionals discuss current food trends, food-related podcasts and even show off what you indulged in the night before. When the topic of an MLB FoodFest was brought to our attention, I immediately texted my girlfriend and let her know to clear her schedule for Sunday, April 22, because we were going to The Big Apple to have the best Sunday, EVER.

Flash forward to more than a month later, when we hopped on the train and headed towards NYC. I was only thinking a few things that day:

  1. Don’t eat ANYTHING all day
  2. Remember to pack my Pirates jersey
  3. Don’t eat ANYTHING all day

After a few hours of walking around the city, we got on the subway and within 20 minutes we were standing outside the building, phones in hand, snapping away. I was absolutely giddy at this point. It reminded me of the time I saw Mark McGwire hit HR No. 52 on my 8th birthday, a whopping 7,182 days prior. I was ecstatic and had a smile from ear-to-ear that didn’t go away until the next day.

After asking a security guard where we can enter, he pointed to the side of the building and to my surprise (we arrived 25 minutes prior to our timeslot) there was a line of over 200 excited baseball fans, looking to get their taste on. Most were fans of the Mets and Yankees and I was one of few Pirates fans. I didn’t realize until a Phillies fan looked at me and said, “Go Flyers!” (Insert eye-roll emoji here)

We waited in line for roughly 30 minutes and then we got inside. MLB made sure that every piece of the event space was themed appropriately. From the popcorn ball pit to the ‘Museum of Modern Dog’, this place was an absolute dream to every person who has ever picked up a baseball or watched The Sandlot.

We got our over 21 wristbands on and walked up a short flight of stairs to our first stop. No, no. Not the food stations, rather, the first photo-op of the day, the hot dog seesaw!

After a few minutes, I finally put my phone away and went to the water cooler to grab the first drink of the night, the Earned Run Ale, a session pale ale that you can enjoy at Washington Nationals home games. On a normal day, this beer was average. But today, this beer was SPECTACULAR.

After talking it over with some friends the night before, I knew which ballpark delicacy we needed to try first. We hustled down the hall and got in line at the Houston Astros station. This is where we tried the magical, Chicken Waffle Cone. If I could start every day with a waffle cone stuffed with mashed potatoes and popcorn chicken, drizzled with honey mustard sauce…I would be 400 pounds, but a very happy 400 pounder. 10/10 – the 2nd best dish we tried all day long.

After we finished the first dish, we thought, “Why don’t we just get a bunch and find a place to enjoy the rest of the day?” So that’s what we did. We split up and each came back to our meeting spot (Right under a neon sign that said ‘WORLD SERIES CHOMP- IONS’) with a number of food items. We had everything from Hot Dogs and Grilled Cheese, to Tri-Tip Nachos and Toasted Grasshoppers.

Below you’ll find a recap of the experience:

National League

NL East

Mets – NY Deli Pastrami Sandwich

Simple, yet delicious. There are few things better than spice rubbed & smoked beef brisket on rye bread with a little mustard. When you have one of these in New York, you know you’re going to enjoy.

Phillies – Bull’s BBQ Slider

Philly might be known for cheesesteaks and crab fries but watch out, because the Bull’s BBQ Slider is coming for the title! It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but the meat and BBQ sauce made for a delicious bite!

Braves – Pig Pickin’

There was A LOT going on with this one. Inside of a tortilla shell, there was a mixture of curly fries, mac n cheese, pulled pork, Coca-Cola BBQ coleslaw, roasted corn pico de gallo and fried pork rinds. This might have tasted better if it wasn’t dish No. 20 for us.

Nationals – Crab Grilled Cheese

I recently became a grilled cheese fan. I never used to like it, but that’s beside the point. THIS was EXCELLENT. The big chunks of jumbo lump crab meat, meshed with American cheese and tomato all on a thin slice of sourdough bread was outstanding. Definitely lands in my Top 5.

Marlins – Bacon-Wrapped Plantain

I had high hopes for this. A buddy of mine texted me telling me this was one of his favorite items, so the bar was set! I know everything with bacon is supposed to be SO MUCH BETTER, but this underperformed for me. The bacon was slightly undercooked and although it had a nice balance of sweet vs. salty, this was definitely not a home run.

NL Central

Pirates – Pulled Pork Pierogi Hoagie

I’m a Pittsburgh guy. Anytime you can add a pierogi to the top of a sandwich. You do it. No questions asked. I’m a homer, but this was the 3rd best food item I devoured. Cross the Clemente Bridge and head down to PNC Park to grab a pulled pork pierogi hoagie while you watch the Buccos!

Cardinals – Nathan’s Famous All-Natural Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog

Did someone say, “Bacon?!?” There’s something so delicious about biting into the casing of a ballpark hot dog. When you add bacon to the equation, you have a real…weiner.

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Brewers – Cheddar Beer Bratwurst

This was fine. Just fine. Nothing spectacular. A nice brat. Would probably have tasted better if we were watching a game from inside the ballpark.

Cubs – Chicago Dog

I like hot dogs. I go to Cape May every summer and one of the only places I eat at is called Tommy’s Hot Dogs. This was a good dog. A very good dog. The balance of flavor from the poppy seed bun, relish, mustard, onion, celery salt, sport peppers, and pickle paired well with a juicy hot dog. I’ll be grabbing a few of these the next time I head to Wrigley.

Reds – Fry Box

Is there such a thing as too much cheese? I think so. This dish offered wedge fries, gravy, bacon bits and green onion topped with enough cheddar cheese to measure the length of one of Ken Griffey Jr’s monstrous home runs in a Reds uni. I’ll watch highlights of Junior until the day I die, but I won’t be eating this dish again.

NL West

The infamous Churro Dog! (Photo via Matt Ziance)

Diamondbacks – Churro Dog

AND THE WINNER IS… The Churro Dog from Arizona. We had 10 minutes left in our session and saved this until last. Unfortunately, no one told me that they stop serving for at the 15-minute mark. I asked politely if I could have one, but the server said, “No.” I went back a few minutes later and told her how this was the only dish we didn’t get to try. She whispered, “Go to the corner and don’t say anything.” I waited patiently, with a full stomach, as smothered ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and whipped cream in the middle of a long john donut, with a churro and vanilla yogurt. Without saying a word, as my eyes lit up, she handed me the plate. My girlfriend will tell you that I sat on a ‘dugout’ bench, still smiling ear-to-ear as I shoveled the last bit of the donut into my mouth, knowing that I just tasted VICTORY.

Rockies – Helton Burger & Fries

Todd Helton was great. This burger was good. If you’re looking for a good cheeseburger, this was it. I will say, the fries were the best fries of the day. Crispy. Salty. Delicious.

Dodgers – Cheeto-Lote

I was expecting big things from a dish I’ve never seen before… and it delivered. How does an ear of corn, a staple summer dish, become even better? Well, when you smother it in chipotle mayo, parmesan cheese and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Dust, it’s an easy sell. This was a Top 5 food choice and as I’m writing this, I wish I had more by my side.

Giants – Crazy Crab Sandwich

Just like our friends in Washington, the sandwich did not lack the crab! We had this midway through our dining experience and it was near perfect. Crab, garlic butter, sourdough bread, tomato and mayo made for a delightful mini sandwich. Well done, Bay Area!

Padres – Seaside Market’s Tri-Tip Nachos

As one of the many nacho options at the Food Fest, this blended with the others. It was ok. Solid ballpark food, but nothing amazing.

American League

AL East

Red Sox – New England Lobster Rolls

Living in New England, I love lobster. LOBSTER! LOBSTER! LOBSTER! I had high hopes for this dish and I regret to inform you, that this was one of the least satisfying lobster dishes I’ve ever eaten. It probably tastes better while watching the Sox at Fenway, but in an event space in New York City, I’ll pass the next time this comes around.

Blue Jays – Big Smoke Jerk Chicken Nachos

Another team, another nacho dish. The jerk chicken had a nice kick to it, which saved it from being on the bottom of my list.

Yankees – Adobo Bao

Anytime I can eat a puffy steamed bun, I’m game! Anytime you add chicken and pork rinds to the puffy steamed bun, you have a winner! This didn’t make the Top 5, but it was right on the outside. Definitely getting 5 of these the next time I head to Yankee Stadium.

Orioles – Chesapeake Waffle Fries

I lived in Baltimore for a summer, so anytime a dish (or drink) has Old Bay in it, I’ll most likely love it. When you had hot crab dip to the equation, I’ll definitely love it. Because of this dish, I will never eat fries without crab dip ever again. Period.

Rays – Reuben Cuban Sandwich

Reuben’s are good. Cuban’s are good. This Reuben Cuban was phenomenal. This was one of the first dishes I tried and I wish I could’ve went back for more! Make your way to Tropicana Field to try this!

AL Central

Indians – Flamethrower

The Flamethrower had a lot going on. Bacon jam, pork belly, pulled pork, BBQ sauce, mayo, coleslaw, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and green apples filled this milk bun. I can see how this is a fan favorite because of the size, but if I ate an entire one of thee, I wouldn’t make it past the 3rd inning.

Twins – Kurd-Marczuk

I’ve never had cheese curds before Sunday. This dish was filled with breaded cheese curds, Kramarczuk’s Bratwurst and brown gravy. I’ll eat cheese curds again after trying this dish, for sure!

Tigers – Chicken Shawarma Nachos

Nachos with meat. Nothing wrong with them, but nothing was memorable enough for me to even write a short blurb about them.

White Sox – South Side Horseshoe

What do you get when you mix Italian sausage, fries, cheddar sauce and garlic texas toast? A delicious, one-of-a-kind sandwich. I still believe a Chicago dog wins the battle of the Windy City, but this was a very close 2nd place.

Royals – Brisket-Acho

Although there were a lot of nacho dishes, this was pretty great. A solid mixture of sliced brisket, cheesy corn, baked beans and coleslaw made for a nice Kansas City twist! I’ll definitely be making these at home for a ballgame this summer.

AL West

Angels – Japanese Pork Katsu

I was not a fan of this. It seemed like a dish you would order on a Friday after school with your buds. Not really a meal I would enjoy while watching Trout trot around the bases after a homer.

Astros – Chicken Waffle Cone

One can never go wrong with chicken and waffles. (Photo via Matt Ziance)

DING! DING! DING! In the words of the late Stuart Scott, “Winner, Winner. Chicken Dinner.” This was tied for the best meal of the day! Like I stated above, you can’t go wrong with popcorn chicken and mashed potatoes. When you add a waffle cone and honey mustard sauce, you have the best meal in the majors!

Mariners – Toasted Grasshoppers

One of my favorite sunflower seeds growing up were the Jim Beam BBQ Seeds. Occasionally, you would eat an entire shell and that’s what these tasted like. Coming into the event, this was definitely a hot topic on social media. I was a little hesitant to try them but you only live once, right? These had a tremendous spice mixture on them and although I won’t buy them at a game, I’ll eat them all if someone would buy them for me.

Athletics – Monte Khrush Davis Cristo

Belgian Liege Waffles, check! Ham and Turkey, check! Gruyere cheese, check! Strawberry preserves, check! I’m not going to lie, I had this towards the tail-end of my day, so a lot of flavors were mixing together at this point. This wasn’t the best thing I had all day, but the Belgian waffle escalated this to a Top 15 finish.

Rangers – Chicken & Donuts

I see your chicken and waffles and raise you chicken and donuts! (Photo via Matt Ziance)

I almost forgot about this one. Not because it was bad, but because there were so many great food items at the MLB Food Fest! This was delicious. I want to say it landed in the Top 5. You can’t go wrong when a donut is involved. Find me someone who says otherwise and I’ll show you a liar. Combining fried chicken, a donut and a drizzle of honey made for a delightful end to a perfect day.

That’s it. The list is finally over. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed eating all of the food yesterday. It’s about 24 hours after the fact and I’m still full. When next year’s MLB Food Fest comes around, be sure to buy your ticket early! This is one decision that you will never regret!