New food & other changes for 2012 at Nationals Park

The Strasburger 8 pound burger at Nationals ParkAfter taking their first two series on the road, the Nats bring a winning record back to DC Thursday to kick off what many hope will be a new era noted for Curly Ws on South Capitol Street; but the changes in store for the home opener at Nationals Park go beyond the team’s winning ways.

New food options

Nationals Park food offerings have once again been updated in the off-season, with the most press going to the 8-pound Strasburger, a monstrous $59 offering meant for sharing and available only for select games at the Red Porch restaurant above center field. It will make it’s debut on opening day.

The Taste of the Majors stand behind section 117 has once again received a menu update with new and constantly-changing dishes that represent the visiting team. Look for 5-way Cincinnati Chili for the opening series against the Reds.

The Union Square restaurants along the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk are adding a number of menu items, including hot dogs, pies, and Sweet Frites at Box Frites, Quesadillas and Churros and El Verano Taquería, and a fried chicken sandwich at Blue Smoke.

The former location of Florida Rock cement factory outside Nationals ParkAnacostia River Walk near Nationals ParkA turning point for the neighborhood

Many expect 2012 to be a turning point for the team on the field, and as timing would have it, it’s looking like a turning point for the neighborhood outside the stadium as well.

Outside the First Base gate, the long-envisioned river views from Nationals Park are finally beginning to take shape, as the Florida Rock cement factory that stood between the stadium and the river has finally been demolished.

For the first time, fans can walk along the river from a new bridge by Nationals Park to the new Yards Park development, including the Foundry Lofts building, which houses the first of several new restaurants.

Before and after the game

Half Street Fairgrounds at Nationals ParkHalf Street Fairgrounds outside Nationals ParkOn the opposite side of the field, the Half Street Fairgrounds makes its debut just across from the Centerfield gates, on the block formerly occupied by The Bullpen. The Half Street block is now dotted with an array of brightly-painted shipping containers stretching from M to N Streets, with each containing a different local food stand. Look for trucks from Bayou and Surfside, plus Red Hook Lobster Pound, DC Empanadas, Curbside Cupcakes, Tasty Kabob, Big Cheese, and others, with live entertainment before and after games. Fairgrounds owner Jason York told ABC 7 News they are “combining Eastern Market with food trucks.”

What hasn’t changed

Parking around Nationals Park remains a great value. Prices did not go up, and lots are as cheap as $5 if you’re willing to walk 10 minutes up South Capitol street. In previous seasons, availability has not been a problem, but lots fill fastest for sellout weekday games such as Thursday’s opener, so plan ahead.

Strasburger photo via Twitter by Tracee Wilkins

Shake Shack burgers, Box Frites fries highlight revamped Scoreboard Walk at Nationals Park

26,759 fans came to Nationals Park Tuesday to welcome the home team back to DC, and the evening didn’t disappoint as the Nationals followed their winningest road trip in years with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Miller Lite Scoreboard WalkMiller Lite Scoreboard WalkShake ShackShake Shack at Nationals ParkShake Shack at Nationals ParkShake Shack's 'Shroom BurgerShake Shack Concrete Take Me Out to the Ballgame with chocolate truffle cookie dough, peanuts and caramelBox FritesGarlic-Parmesan FritesEl Verano Taqueria at Nationals ParkEl Verano Taqueria at Nationals ParkElote Corn on the CobBlue Smoke at Nationals ParkBlue Smoke Pulled Pork at Nationals ParkBlue Smoke Kansas City Spare Ribs at Nationals ParkBlue Smoke's Salty Peanut-Jalapeno Chocolate BarNationals Park Scoreboard WalkFans had been drawn in by the return of Ryan Zimmerman, a $2 ticket promotion, great weather, a big draw opponent, and the long-awaited debut of the revamped Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk behind the right field bleachers.

The myriad updates to the popular Scoreboard Walk include a 4,000 square foot lounge area with artificial turf, chairs, sofas, trees, plants, and a large number of stylish new “shade sails.”

The sails stretch over the lounge area as well as the queue lines for each of several new dining options, providing sun protection when waiting in line on hot summer days. These new lounge and queue areas are all within view of the big new TV screen that premiered this season behind the outfield scoreboard.

As nice as the improved amenities are, the buzz on Twitter and in the Park tonight focused on the four new restaurant options that line the Scoreboard Walk. After tonight’s debut and a sampling of all the menus, it’s safe to say that Nationals Park food options rank among the best in the majors, albeit at some fairly steep prices.

No stand was more anticipated than Shake Shack. The most famous of the four new options from Union Square Restaurant Group, Shake Shack features hot dogs, fries, shakes, and natural Black Angus burgers. The burgers live up to their reputation, with a nice coarse grind that highlights the flavor of the meat more than the predecessor at the same location — DC’s Five Guys Burgers and Fries. A single is $5.75 and a double runs $8.75.

Shake Shack also features the Shack-cago Dog, a mostly authentic Chicago-style split grilled Vienna Beef hot dog smothered in relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, pepper, mustard and celery salt. If you’ve never had a Chicago dog, this is pretty close to the real deal, though Shake Shack opts for a potato bun over the traditional poppy seed variety. It’s a bargain at $5.75.

The sleeper and my personal favorite of all the new food options may be the ‘Shroom Burger, a portobello mushroom split and filled with muenster cheese, deep fried, and served on a burger bun. Truly decadent and delicious for $7.75.

For the first time since Giffords Ice Cream left Nationals Park this spring, fans can get once again get a milkshake in the stands at Nationals Park. Shake Shack’s namesake treats are made from frozen custard and come in four flavors.

At $5.75, the shakes are indeed quite good, but the buzz was around the Concrete, a dense cup of custard blended with chocolate truffle cookie dough, peanuts, and caramel. A straw will do you no good with this concoction. Price: $6.75 plus a week at the gym.

Shake Shack has fries on the menu, but spud connoisseurs will likely shuffle down a few feet to Box Frites, where fresh cut fries can be ordered by the box with your choice of toppings or dipping sauces.

The movie theater-inspired pricing gets you a reasonable-sized portion for $7.25, or a family-sized box for $8.00. You only get to choose one of the five dipping sauces (additional sauces are a whopping $2.00 each). Blue Cheese was the surprise runaway pick among our group of tasters. Chipotle ketchup is a fine second choice. Rosemary Ranch, which sounded promising, tasted like liquid pine tree.

But for the ultimate in decadent fries, the consensus pick is the Garlic-Parmesan Frites, which are light on the garlic but heavy on the parmesan, and more than suitable for sharing at $9.75.

If cholesterol just isn’t your thing, then the new El Verano Taquería offers some fresh options and more welcome variety to South Capitol Street.

The simple menu features three types of tacos served in soft corn tortillas with lime, cilantro and fresh salsa.

Options include medium rare skirt steak, carnitas, or chicken “mole pipian,” a braised green concoction. The combo platter has all three and is a lot of fresh variety for $10.25.

El Verano Taquería also offers “Elote,” or Mexican grilled corn. This classic street food is a steamed ear of corn dipped in a lime-spiked mayonnaise sauce, rolled in crumbly cotija cheese, and dusted with cayenne pepper for $4.75. If you like your food spicy, the Elote is your best bet at the ball park. Consider yourself warned.

The new restaurants facing the Miller Light Scoreboard Walk feature distinctively designed facades, and none stands out more than the new Blue Smoke Barbeque, with an attractive weathered wood veneer that’s visible over the right field stands from about half of the ball park. Nice touch.

Nationals Park needed a good pulled pork sandwich to replace the departed Teddy’s Barbeque, and Blue Smoke delivers with a flavorful if slightly dry version for $8.75. Make sure to get extra sauce. There is no pulled chicken option, but you can get wings — one of the few dishes I did not manage to try.

It will be interesting to see if the Barbecued Beef Bologna sandwich takes off in DC. This southern staple features pickles and raw onions atop a single thick slice of bologna that’s been grilled and topped with barbeque sauce for $7.75.

It tasted like… well.. bologna.

Blue Smoke’s signature item is Kansas City Spare Ribs, which were meaty and nicely carmelized. They are a fine choice, but with three modest ribs running $10.25, and relatively light on smoke flavor, it left me longing for the Rough Rider at the dear, departed Teddy’s Barbeque.

The surprise treat of the night? Blue Smoke’s Salty Peanut-Jalapeño Chocolate Bar. It isn’t very spicy, but the complex dark chocolate and salted peanut flavors are more than satisfying, and it’s certainly the only $4.75 desert
at Nationals Park that’s suitable for sharing.

Nationals’ COO Andy Feffer took a lot of heat today for appearing to imply that the new Scoreboard Walk was more important than the game.

I find it hard to believe that any journalist actually believes that. Others have more legitimately complained that the new restaurants are not DC-centric. While I agree with the latter criticism, I can’t deny that the fan experience has been improved.

What do you think?

R.I.P. Teddy’s Barbeque

Baseball fans know that change is an inevitable rite of spring. One can only hope that the gains outweigh the losses — that for every lost Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, there’s a Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper to get excited about.

The Rough Rider at Teddy's Barbeque, Nationals ParkSo, too, is the case with the rest of the ball park experience, especially at Nationals Park, which is revamping some of its foodservice offerings for the fourth consecutive season, eliminating both Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and my personal favorite, Teddy’s Barbeque.

Teddy’s Barbeque was a mid-season acquisition in 2009, and was home of the Rough Rider — a jumbo beef short
Xtreme Loaded Dawgs at Nationals Park in Washington, DCrib brined for 12 hours then smoked for 12 hours more. Five Guys you can get anywhere, but the Rough Rider was ours — the Park’s closest thing to a unique signature dish. It looked like something Fred Flintstone would eat. It was delicious, and there was always a line.

The big steel smokers still stand in the same centerfield location, but
The Nach-Yo Dog at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs, Nationals Park, Washington, DCbeginning this season they’re being used only for hot dogs — or should I say Dawgs.

Yes, Teddy’s Barbeque has been replaced by yet another hot dog stand. I can confirm that those smokers impart a great flavor, but the real twist at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs is the toppings.

Choose from The Deli Dog with kraut
The Big Kid Dog at Xtreme Loaded Dawgs, Nationals Park, Washington, DCand thousand island dressing; The Heater with buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese slaw; the Nach-Yo Dog (top right) with pico de gallo, peppers, cheese and sour cream; the Frito Pie Dog with chili, cheese, and Fritos; or the most outrageous of them all: The Big Kid Dog (bottom right) with macaroni and cheese and Fritos on top.

Whether you find the concept cute or disgusting depends on your perspective, but one thing’s indisputable. The flimsy buns can’t hold all those wet toppings, so grab plenty of napkins.

New restaurants at Nationals Park, Washington, DCWhile it feels like we’ve traded down in the centerfield concourse, the team has been working to upgrade the fare just up the escalator at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk, with the addition of four new stands from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in New York.

Coming soon are four established concepts imported from New York’s Citi Field: burgers and custard from the Shake Shack, pit barbecue from Blue Smoke, Belgian-style fries from Box Frites, and Mexican food from El Verano Taquería.

Nats fans should welcome any attempts to upgrade the foodservice and the fan experience, yet these off-season moves leave a bad taste in my mouth. It feels like we’ve traded away a unique signature player for some journeyman ones that will just help Mets fans feel more at home at Nationals Park.

UPDATE: While the new Miller Scoreboard Walk restaurants aren’t open yet, Teddy’s Barbeque has been set up under a tent up there. Unfortunately, they do not have the Rough Rider rib, but they do have the pulled pork and pulled chicken. Location is on the upper level directly across from the scoreboard under a white tent.

Rough Rider photo courtesy of Flickr member Kevin Harber

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