Home of the Seattle Mariners, Safeco Field is gearing up for the Major League Baseball season. In a city of foodies, that means the stadium’s foodservice provider Centerplate needs to bring its A-game. Centerplate is doing just that with upgraded sandwiches and barbecue, dim sum and a doughnut machine. The stadium is also bringing back the breakout hit of last year’s offerings, grasshoppers.
General manager Steve Dominguez said many Mariners fans make the stadium’s food and beverages a big part of the game.
“We’ve got guests who are coming two hours before to watch batting practice, have a beer, have a hot dog,” he said. “It’s definitely a five- to six-hour process, which is why we also take time with the food. It’s a dining experience for the guests.”
Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell is continuing his role, now eight years running, as consulting chef for the stadium and he has updated his Dynamite Chicken concept with a fried chicken sandwich, hot wings, and garlic fries made with fresh garlic and Parmesan cheese.
New to the stadium are a couple different types of barbecue, including a Longbone beef rib.
“It’s a pretty gigantic short rib,” stadium chef Taylor Park said. “The bone itself is close to a pound, and on top of that you’re going to get another 12 to 16 ounces of meat.”
Park said Safeco has two smokers in the back of the park where the ribs are smoked for 16 hours to make them fall-off-the-bone tender, and slathered with barbecue sauce from Jack Timmons, whose Jack’s BBQ is a local favorite featuring delicacies from central Texas, including burnt ends, Frito pie, beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches and smoked jalapeño-cheddar sausage.
The longbone ribs are $18.50, and other barbecue items range from $8 to $13.
Also new this year is a partnership with Taiwan-based chain Din Tai Fung, which has four line-out-the-door popular restaurants in the Seattle area. It’s taking over Safeco Field’s International Wok space and will serve pork wontons with spicy sauce, wonton soup, steamed bao buns stuffed with pork or a tofu-based vegetarian option, garlic string beans, chicken fried rice, hot and sour soup and boba tea. Prices range from around $8 to $15.
Dominguez said the city of Seattle is not only his customer base, but also the home of his competition.
“We’re not only competing with other professional teams in the area. We want [Mariners fans] to not go to a restaurant before coming to Safeco, so we need our prices to be competitive with downtown Seattle.”
So does the quality of the food.
“We find where we need to make some changes and go into the market and see if there’s anything locally relevant … to see what people around the ballpark are eating.”
For example, when the porchetta sandwich introduced last year didn’t meet sales expectations, Dominguez said he noticed that Rueben sandwiches were appearing on many Seattle menus, so they worked with Franz Bakery, a local favorite to come up with a marble rye baguette for them. Park and his team braise corned beef and make sauerkraut and pickles for their $13 Rueben sandwich.
For a new $13 meatball hero, they drew inspiration from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, a local deli with a cult following, to make a pork meatball with a garlic-caper-parsley spread with mozzarella and house-made tomato sauce on a baguette.
Park also introduced his version of a Cubano, also $13, with smoked pork shoulder and a garlic-mustard-cilantro mojo as well as fresh cilantro on a toasted baguette.
A new $20 lobster roll is on the menu, made with claw meat and garlic celery aïoli on a King’s Hawaiian roll.
“That probably cost us $11 to make,” Dominguez said, but he wanted to stay competitive in the market, where competitors sell lobster rolls for $22 to $24.
The seventh-inning stretch is dessert time for baseball fans, Park said (as well as a final rush for beer as service ends at the 8th inning), and for this year Centerplate has introduced a conveyor belt-driven mini doughnut machine.
“We think it’s going to help us hit that eighth inning sugar rush,” Park said. An assortment of them is for sale for $8.
Coming back for the second year are chapulines, or grasshoppers, of which Centerplate sold 25,000 orders last year at $4 per order of 30-40 insects.
“That was one of those things where you find lightning in a bottle,” said Dominguez, who added the traditional Oaxacan snack to Safeco Field’s menu on a lark.
“We didn’t think we’d sell one order,” he said.
The grasshoppers are imported from Mexico, pre-prepared, vacuum-packed and sealed. Then Park and his team add a bake-on chile-lime seasoning and heat them up.
“It’s a quick grab-and-go item,” Park said. “People pick them up and do the Instagram photo with them. It’s hilarious.”
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