Ballpark Food: As American As Hotdogs With Bacon And Pesto

It's not just peanuts and Cracker Jacks anymore. As we head into summer, Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast tells NPR's Rachel Martin how to size up ballpark dining options from sushi to gelato.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's take a moment and review the lyrics to a classic American song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME")

MARTIN: OK, take me out to the ballgame, got it. Take me out with the crowd, right? But then what? Because it's not just peanuts and Cracker Jacks anymore. Here in Washington, at Nationals Park, you can buy all kinds of artisanal foods from gourmet hotdogs with bacon and pesto, to Italian gelato. But is it worth getting out of your seat to satisfy your highfalutin appetite? To help us strategize our ballpark meals, we are joined by Dan Pashman of the WNYC podcast The Sporkful. Hey, Dan.

DAN PASHMAN: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart because I go to baseball games to eat. So...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...Tell me what is the best strategy so I can maximize my culinary options?

PASHMAN: Well, if you go to baseball games to eat, I think the best strategy might be for you to just go to restaurants.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

PASHMAN: Look, you're right that recent decades have seen an explosion in fancy foods in ballparks. And for a while, I think, our judgment was clouded by the novelty of it.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PASHMAN: Because we were like, oh wow, you can get ribs and sushi at a ballpark. This is cool and exciting.

MARTIN: Yes.

PASHMAN: But I'm here to disabuse us of the notion that these fancy foods are so great because first of all, they're very expensive and probably not as good as the versions you would get at a good barbecue restaurant...

MARTIN: True.

PASHMAN: ...Or a good sushi restaurant.

MARTIN: True.

PASHMAN: On top of that, you need to get out of your seat and wait in line, often for a long time...

MARTIN: Yeah.

PASHMAN: ...To get them. The real novelty at a ballgame is sitting in your seat and being treated like royalty. Having people parade past you and offer you all different kinds of foods without you even needing to get up. So I say go out to the ballpark, only eat the foods they bring to you.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: That is novelty.

MARTIN: But that limits my culinary experience. Like, there aren't that many choices when it comes to just the delivery option at a baseball game.

PASHMAN: Well, there are fewer choices, true. But, I mean, I would argue just as the acoustics in the state of New Jersey enhance the music of Bruce Springsteen, so too does the air in a ballpark enhance the taste of a hot dog.

MARTIN: (Laughing) What about other side dish options? Because these games are long. At some point, I'm going to need a little pick me up, a little snack.

PASHMAN: Well, that's right. And you quoted the song yourself, Rachel. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. Now, I did notice...

MARTIN: Cracker Jack.

PASHMAN: ...At the top, that you said cracker jacks.

MARTIN: Yeah because's more than one in a box.

PASHMAN: Well, then you have many Cracker Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: You may have 10 or 15 or 20 Cracker Jack, but there's no such food as cracker jacks.

MARTIN: I had no idea. The things you learn.

PASHMAN: I know. I do love Cracker Jack, although I do have a sneaking suspicion, albeit anecdotal, that they have declined in quality since my childhood.

MARTIN: How so?

PASHMAN: Well, especially I feel like, you have less caramel coating than they used to have. And that upsets me, not because I need so much of sugar, but because that coding is crucial to forming clusters.

(LAUGHTER)

PASHMAN: Those clusters hold the peanuts at the top of the bag. Otherwise they all fall to the bottom and you get no peanuts until you get to the end of the bag.

MARTIN: But if you're craving more peanuts, you could always just buy a bag of peanuts, I suppose.

PASHMAN: Well, you can. And to me Rachel, that is one of the quintessential ballpark experiences. But cracking open peanuts, not always so simple. And there are different ways to do it. So I reached out to an expert.

MARTIN: I bet you did.

PASHMAN: A guy named Niles Brisson, third generation head of Peanut Processors Inc. down there in North Carolina. Here's how he does it.

NILES BRISSON: To me, it's between my front two teeth. I never put the shell of my mouth, I just put my teeth on it and just get a little bit of pressure and as it opens up, I can take my fingers and keep pressure on it and it will pop right open.

MARTIN: (Laughing) I feel like I massacre it. I just stick in there, I just chomp down because I like the salt on the shell actually.

PASHMAN: You know, you can eat the shell, you can eat the whole thing.

MARTIN: You can? Good. Because...

PASHMAN: It's all fiber. But Niles says only Yankees do that.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Oh, I've learned so much. Dan Pashman is the author of the forthcoming book "Eat More Better: How To Make Every Bite More Delicious." He is also the host of the WNYC podcast The Sporkful, which you can find at sporkful.com. Have a good time at the ballpark, Dan.

PASHMAN: Thanks, Rachel. Take care.

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