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Yes, Teddy’s Barbeque has been replaced by yet another hot dog stand.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

Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smoke makes MSN’s “Home Run Hot Dogs” list

Yesterday MSN’s Delish.com published it’s list of Home-Run Hot Dogs: The Best Dogs from America’s Baseball Stadiums, and cracking the top 24 was our own Nationals Park Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smoke, “All the Way,” of course.

I’ve written in praise of the Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smoke before. It was nice to see it crack the list, but it definitely deserved a spot higher than #22. Writer Kiri Tannenbaum chose to give higher billing to a variety of dogs topped with oddities like blue cheese, bacon, brisket, tortilla strips, and even mayonnaise.

Comments are open, if you’d like to let Kiri know what you think.

Flickr photo by Steve Masters

Some cheers and a few jeers for the new food options at Nationals Park

When the Washington Nationals brought in the Levy Restaurant group to replace Centerplate a year ago, expectations were high for a major improvement in concession variety and service.

Perhaps they needed a year to get their bearings, because Levy has followed the incremental changes of 2009 with a number of very large wholesale changes for the 2010 season that begins today at Nationals Park.

THE GOOD

Nationals Park Red Porch RestaurantRed Porch Expansion. Rows of seats were removed to create more in-stadium dining tables for the centerfield Red Porch restaurant, and the menu was expanded to include new items like a Southwestern Steak Salad that’s big enough for two. You can reserve one of these tables in centerfield for one hour of any game during the season by calling 202.640.7947. [2011 UPDATE: The Red Porch no longer takes reservations.]

Flippin PizzaNo more Papa Johns. Since RFK days, Nats fans — especially Nats fans with kids — have suffered with tiny, doughy, Papa John’s mini pizzas, while Club level ticketholders enjoyed the option of Flippin’ Pizza slices.

Thankfully, Papa Johns has been banished from Nationals Park, replaced by Flippin Pizza stands selling actual slices on every level of the Park (behind Sections 115, 214, and 311).

Nationals Victory Knot PretzelVictory Knot Pretzel. Only available in the Red Loft, this popular item imported from other stadiums where Levy runs concessions is a 2 pound pretzel in a pizza box with three sauces for dipping — a sweet cinnamon creme, a spicy chipotle honey mustard, and savory beer cheese. You definitely want to share this item.

Healthy Cart. Give the Nats high marks for listening and trying. Fans on restricted diets, or who just want to eat healthy — even at a ball park — will find gluten free items, chopped vegetable salads, low fat wraps, and yogurt parfaits at this cart which moved to a better spot on the very busy main concourse behind the 3rd base stands. Alas, on Saturday afternoon, when the lines were 15 minutes deep at every concession stand from hot dogs to beer, the Healthy Cart was the only visible vendor in the Park with no waiting.

THE BAD

Ridiculous waits. You really want to cut these people some slack since it’s the beginning of the season, but 2 years of experience tells us not to chalk this up to “working the bugs out.” As in previous years, we saw people reach the front of the line and still have to wait 5 minutes for simple food orders while a more-than-capacity staff stood around waiting for the next guy to fill the order.

Hard Times Cafe at Nationals ParkReally, people. The limited menu at your food stand is designed to keep things efficient and fast. So why do I wait several minutes for a hot dog after I’ve reached the front of the line? A notable exception continues to be the Hard Times Cafe concession, where every employee seems to understand why they are there, and the line always flies.

Signage.The menu signage continues to prioritize adherence to corporate design standards over actual usefulness. The reimagined Taste of the Majors stand is a case in point. Gone are the wonderful garlic fries and other goodies from major league parks. Now pretty much all they sell is foot-long hot dogs. The menu, unfortunately, lists “DC Dog,” “Phillies Dog,” “Braves Dog,” “Mets Dog”… You can wait in line for 15 minutes to get to the front before finding out what the difference is between these various foot longs. By the 4th inning of the exhibition game, the staff had already given up on explaining the menu, and was just asking people when they got to the front what they wanted on their hot dogs.

Bottomless popcorn. A new gimmick this year is the Bottomless Popcorn available at any Nats Dog stand. For $5.75, you can get a huge bucket of popcorn — enough to make anybody sick. For $7.00, you can get the “Bottomless Popcorn,” which comes with free refills throughout the game. The catch? You can keep coming back for refills, but the Bottomless bucket is about 1/3 the size of the regular-sized bucket. Is this a smart way to please your customers and keep lines short? Adding insult to injury: my sister just asked for the smallest size popcorn, and was sold the bottomless variety.

Nationals Park Chicken & Waffle sandwichThe Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. OK, I’ll admit I haven’t tried it, but I really am scared of this thing. Available at the new Change Up Chicken stand behind Section 130 on the main concourse, it features fried chicken on top of waffles, covered in syrup. Defibrillator not included.

Running out of food. When you charge $11 for a sandwich or $9 for a hot dog, I assume your margins are high enough to account for a little waste, so it’s really frustrating when you run out of food in the 5th inning. The Dupont Deli behind section 227 used to have some very nice salads, but notoriously was supplied with only 4 or 5 of them to last the whole game. This year, the salads have been replaced with hot panini sandwiches — grilled cheese, italian, or turkey. They were out of grilled cheese before Saturday’s game even started.

In Praise of the Ben’s Chili Bowl Half-Smoke

I must admit that I was among those uninformed who just didn’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong. When it was first announced that the new Nationals Park would feature Ben’s Chili Bowl among the restaurant concessions, I was pleased. I’d always wanted to pay a visit to the legendary Ben’s, but despite best intentions, had yet to do so.

The crowd in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl at Nationals Park on opening night.

Plus, I figured anything we could call our own and help make Nationals Park a uniquely DC experience was a good thing.

Then I got my first glimpse of the famous Ben’s half smoke chili dog on opening night, along with the horrific lines at the the Ben’s Chili Bowl stand behind the 3rd base line, and thought this doesn’t look that special, and certainly can’t be worth the wait.

Well, let the record state that I am now officially a convert. I took a group of people
from my office to Nationals Park on a chilly May evening, and from our perch that night in section 418, I indulged in my first Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke (all the way, of course). Perhaps it was the altitude in the upper right field gallery, but I felt a little closer to heaven.

A Ben’s Chili Bowl half smoke “all the way” (with chili, cheese, onions, and mustard) has been a staple of each subsequent visit to Nationals Park.

A word to the wise: If you’re heading the the park an want to indulge yourself, don’t be intimidated by the long lines at the Ben’s Chili Bowl stand. You can get yourself an authentic Ben’s half smoke at ANY “Nats Dogs” stand or cart throughout the stadium.

Extra napkins recommended.

Photos by flickr users Scott Ableman and stvmasters

Five Things That Need Work at Nationals Park

Last week I wrote about 5 things I love about the new Nationals Park. Truth be told, I could have gone on to list dozens more items, from food to views to little design details, but most of these things have been well documented by the press.

Perhaps the best compliment I could give to Nationals Park is that my list of points for improvement is so short, especially when I confine the list to things that the Lerners have control over changing.

#5: Game info on the scoreboard.We know the scoreboard operators will do a better job at keeping up now that they are used to their new toy. That’s not my complaint. The problem is that despite the vastly increased scoreboard real estate, in some cases we don’t seem to have as much info as we had at RFK. Specifically, information about a batter’s previous at bats doesn’t have a permanent spot on the scoreboard and doesn’t stay on the screen long enough. In addition, the pitcher’s pitch count shown does not distinguish balls from strikes — a great bit of info we had on 2 screens at RFK Stadium. If this info appears anywhere, I missed it.

#4: A Sign to Ease the Congestion, Please. The great new food options along the 3rd base line have created a terrible traffic jam in the first couple of games at Nationals Park. The lines have been so bad for Ben’s Chili Bowl that the entire concourse
is reduced to gridlock. Savvy fans have already figured out that this isn’t necessary, so how about educating the rest of the crowd? Put up a big sign with arrows above Ben’s that says “Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smokes are available at all hot dog stands.”

Nationals Park Fan Photos#3: Update the “Fan Photo” options. The new “Fan Photo” photographers roaming the park are a fun addition that I hope generates some big revenue for the team (look for the photographers in the green shirts). Unfortunately, if they take a photo you like, there is a surprising paucity of nice framing options commemorating the inaugural game or inaugural season. Instead, the outdated offerings include a $150 option framed with dirt from RFK stadium, and a $34 acrylic-enclosed Nationals History that starts “The Washington Nationals have played only two full seasons through 2006…” C’mon Stan. I’d love to throw you more of my fan money, but…

#2: 41,888 Cupholders please. Much was made in the press about how Nationals Park would have 41,888 seats and 41,888 cupholders. Unfortunately, Nationals Park does not deliver on the latter. There were reports of many seats without cupholders. The main culprits are the angled rows where the number of seats is reduced as you get closer to the field, such as in section 110 along the 3rd base line. It seems to me that the team could come up with a solution, such as installing two cupholders on the back of a single seat.

#1: Explain the rules to Teddy! If Teddy is every going to have a chance to win the presidents race at Nationals Park, he can’t be kept in the dark. Last week’s opening night debacle, in which Teddy ran straight into center field rather than around the warning track with the other presidents, suggests to me that somebody on the inside is trying to mislead our 26th president. This is unfair! Teddy Roosevelt is among the smartest and most physically fit presidents in U.S. history. Give him a level playing field and Teddy will win!

Photos from flickr users randomduck, tbridge, Scott Ableman, and afagen

Five Things I Loved About Nationals Park

Cup holders in every seat at Nationals ParkI know it’s just one game, but a few things about the opening day experience at Nationals Park left me quite hopeful about the notion that this is where I’ll be watching baseball games for the rest of my life.

Here are five of the reasons:

#5: Big Cup Holders. The team’s food policy states that you can bring 1-liter bottles of water into Nationals Park. Not being a soda guy, I picked up a case of 1-liter water bottles last week in preparation for the season. As you can see, that big 1 liter kahuna fits perfectly in the new cupholders.

Thankfully, my seat actually has a cupholder. Some seats did not, but that’s another story for another day.


#4: Four-Way Chili. Savvy Nationals fans back in the 2006 season at RFK Stadium knew how to find their way to the 300-level terrace food court, where Hard Times Cafe Hard Times Cafe at Nationals Parkhad a brief run as the food vendor of choice for the discerning palate. Now Hard Times Cafe is back at the new Nationals Park, serving fine Chili Nachos and “Chili Mac,” known to true devotees of Cincinnati chili as a “4 way” (chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions). You’ll find Hard Times Cafe at Nationals Park next to Red, Hot & Blue in the left field food court.

Helmut Sundae
#3: Helmut Sundaes. One of the great injustices of the past 3 years is that I’ve been taking my kids to major league baseball games without buying them helmut sundaes. Maybe it’s me, but for a kid, helmut sundaes are as much as part of the sport as the 7th inning stretch. Now at Nationals Park, we finally have the real deal.


Washington Nationals 10th Man#2: Home Town Fans. OK call me crazy for dreaming, but opening day gave me hope that Nationals Park will deliver the best home field advantage in DC sports. Home colors, home traditions, home angles, and most importantly, home town fans. Sunday was the first Braves game I’ve been to when I didn’t hear the tomohawk chop, and when Chipper hit that homer, the place went dead silent. That’s the way it should be. Here’s to cheering only for the home team at Nationals Park.


Let Teddy Win!
#1: Racing Presidents (What Else?). I started this site because the racing presidents are the first truly unique hometown tradition that we can call our own. They are great fun, and give kids of all ages another reason to become Nationals fans.

I was incredibly pleased to find that the team has made them a huge part of the fan experience at Nationals Park. The presidents race itself has been expanded, plus Teddy, George, Tom, and Abe greeted us at the centerfield gates and reappeared near the kids zone after the 4th inning. The Nationals had no idea how big the racing presidents could be when they were first created, but it’s equally clear that they are astute enough to build on this great fan tradition.

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