Any of you who know me know that I am a fairly massive sports fan. I’ve written about sports since long before I ever tried to write anything about food. So, here is a brief attempt to merge the two subjects, with my personal top 5 list of foods I’ve consumed inside or outside stadiums.
Please note, most of the sporting venues I’ve ever been to are either in the DC area or Ohio, so this list does reflect that. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments. Here we go.
Number 5 – Cleveland Stadium Mustard. Nothing covers up the undercooked and gray disgrace that is an Ohio State Buckeye hotdog like Cleveland’s own Stadium Mustard. This mustard is sort of halfway between standard yellow mustard and full-blown grainy brown mustard. Do not, I repeat, do not let anyone from Southern Ohio spoil your hotdog with any of that dreadful Skyline Chili and instead, chop up some white onion and cover the onions with an ample coating of Stadium Mustard. And for the full Aaron-at-baseball-game-in-Ohio experience, be sure to immediately spill some mustard on to your shorts as soon as the hot dog ready or the game is about to start. Random fact about the stuff: according to its website Stadium Mustard has the honor of being requested on three space shuttle missions.
Number 4 – Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles Barbeque at DC United matches. Now sure RFK Stadium is a complete dump and for the past few years DC United couldn’t get out of its own way, but there is still no better tailgating scene in American soccer than Lot 8 at RFK Stadium for any DC United or US National Team match. The Screaming Eagles and the Barra Brava, the two main supporters clubs for United fans, each host tailgates that regularly feed and beer hundreds of soccer fans. On top of the two organized tailgates, scores of fans in the lots bring their own grills and make their own goodies on a slightly smaller scale. If it’s a big game such as a playoff match or World Cup Qualifier, the scene in Lot 8 is unbelievable. Even if you don’t consider yourself a soccer fan, you should at least head to one game just to take in the scene. There is nothing else quite like it in American sports.
Number 3 – Fried Cheese Curds from State Street Brats in Madison, WI. This sneaks in because it is easy walking distance from Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium. God bless Wisconsin. Nutrition as a concept simply hasn’t arrived there and hopefully it never will. It’s a cliché, but the only food groups in Wisconsin are beer (ideally Leinenkugel’s), sausage, and cheese. It’s remarkable. And few places have mastered these food groups like State Street Brats. I like sausage as much as the next guy but the thing that makes this place unique is the delicacy that is deep-fried cheese curds. Now, I’d arrived in Madison ready to disprove the hype that preceded my first cheese curd experience. But the hype was true. Fried cheese curds are a pantheon-level drinking food. They’re the perfect size and the perfect mix of salty-greasy deep fried’ness and the inherent goodness that is cheese. Not something you should eat too often, but these are definitely a must-try if you’re in Wisconsin.
Number 2 - Bratwurst and giant creampuffs outside Ohio Stadium on football Saturdays. As long as you’re wearing scarlet and gray, there is no more welcoming place on earth than the tailgating scene outside Ohio Stadium. Tailgates in the stadium lots can resemble massive luxurious spreads complete with DirecTV to small groups of folks huddling around simple grills behind an SUV. It’s hard to walk more than 10 yards without someone putting either a beer or bratwurst in your hand. People are extraordinarily nice and that includes even when the weather gets cold and people get exponentially more drunk. Another speciality to look out for are chocolate buckeyes, a chocolate and peanut butter candy that looks like a buckeye, since if you ate an actual buckeye nut, you’d be poisoned. Another local speciality are the Schmidt’s Cream Puffs typically available on Lane Avenue near the stadium. These are not to be missed.
Number 1 – Ben’s Half Smoke with chili, onions, and mustard at Nationals Park. Of course, no one goes to Nats games expected to see scintillating baseball out of the home team. That’s not happening for at least another year or two. For now Nats fans must be placated by the food at our own Nationals Park. The current leader of the Nationals Park food scoreboard has to be the Half Smoke with chili and mustard from Ben’s Chili Bowl. For those outside the DC area, a half smoke is local DC-area sausage that’s halfway between a standard hot dog and a more smoky polish sausage. At Ben’s, located on historic U Street in DC and at the stadium, they cover the sausage with their own homemade chili, chopped up onions, and a small bit of mustard. Not only is it incredibly good, but you’re eating a real bit of true DC culture and history.