Monday, October 14, 2013

DC Concession Stand Showdown

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Jack Norworth wrote "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don't care if I never get back." Fair enough, but DC Outlook cares about how those snacks taste. We traveled all over town, in search of the best and worst concessions in the area. Here's how the competition stacked up...

Bender Arena: AU's friendly confines stress value over flavor; and warm customer service almost makes up for one of the chillier hot dogs in recent memory. I'm used to cold buns, but Bender's small dog (it doesn't come close to filling a standard bun) was served barely lukewarm. That's a shame, because it was actually quite juicy. Best of all, it's cheap: A large fountain drink (Sprite, flat) and a hot dog runs only five bucks.

Grade: C- (Love the price, but cold is cold.)

Bender Arena Hot Dog

Charles E. Smith Center: I miss their roaming vendors from a couple of years ago (I'm lazy. Sue me.) but the home of the George Washington Colonials offers enough upside to make the trip downstairs bearable. $4 hot dogs are nice and big (but come with cold buns... brr.) Pretzels are better, bigger (huge) and a dollar less. Friendly staff is a plus; but they're not always open for all events.

Grade: B-

Smith Center Hot Dog

Smith Center Pretzel

DC Armory: Don't expect miracles at this venerable DC arena, home to the DC National Guard, Rollergirls, and various other events: After all, it's not "open to the public" on a regular basis. Do count on good prices ($4 for a hot dog or fries) however, and friendly service. Tasty dog, although its foil wrapping left my bun very soggy. Fries are well-cooked but poor in taste. Perhaps if they were drowned in ketchup or vinegar...

Grade: D+

French Fries & Hot Dog at DC Armory

M&T Bank Stadium: Home to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, M&T hosts 55 different concession stands; but I stayed close to home (Section 151) and kept it simple. For $15.50, I got a Black Angus Burger ($8) and Souvenir Cup of Diet Coke ($7.50 with a free refill sticker.) The soda cost $.50 less than the same size at Verizon Center, so kudos there; but the burger left me wanting a bit. The beef was good and well-sized; but I had to scrape off a ton of shredded lettuce in order to find it. Two tomatoes and an ice-cold bun topped it off. For $3 more, they'll add a small cup of french fries; but stadium fries usually arrive cold, so I passed. Decent burger and relatively good value for a busy, pro stadium.

Grade: C+

Black Angus Burger at M&T Bank Stadium

Regal Cinemas: It's not a sporting venue; but concessions are concessions, right? $4.75 nets you a well-flavored hot dog, albeit with a cold bun (at Regal Gallery Place.) Normally the waits are long and awful; but I got my order lickety split and with a smile. Perhaps miracles do happen, even at your local cinema. Too expensive, but better than below-par popcorn.

Grade: C

Hot Dog at Regal Cinema

RFK Stadium: The epitome of average, aided somewhat by a mistaken application of barbecue sauce (instead of ketchup.) Decent size (not too big, not too small) with a good bun and sufficient flavor to the dog itself. The big surprise was the aforementioned barbecue sauce, which provided a much-needed jolt of spice. Maybe this catches on: Who knows?

Grade: C

Hot Dog at RFK Stadium

Rock Creek Park Tennis Center: Pizzeria offers a slice of pepperoni pizza for a not-so-cool $8. Add $4 for a small cup of soda, and we're talkin' 12 bucks for a bare-bones dinner. Most Citi Open fans can probably afford it; but that still doesn't make it kosher in my book. The pizza's OK... decently sized with so-so flavor; and service was stellar (at least from the young lady who helped me.) Next time? I'll see what's on tap at the Media Center (free food!)

Grade: C-

Pepperoni Pizza

Pizzeria at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center

Verizon Center: With so many great dining options around Verizon, it's a sin to eat inside the arena... especially if you visit Nothing But Net on the Club Level. Horrible service slams the final nail in its coffin, just seconds into ordering. Customer: "Hi, how are you?" Angry Cashier: No words, just an angry stare. Customer: "I'd like the Fish & Chips, but is it possible to have Crab Shack Fries instead of regular? I'll pay the extra $.50." Angry Cashier: Long pause, followed by a look of dismay. "Yea, it's a dollar." Forgive me, I assumed if a regular order of fries cost $6, and Crab Shack cost $6.50... Why even argue? It's so much easier to just nod in agreement, isn't it?

$11.50 later (bad service doesn't come cheap) another cashier handed me a regular order (right off the pass & heating lamps... Lord only knows how long it was sitting there) minus the "Crab Shack." When I asked about it, she pointed (so much for small talk) to my cashier, who was pouring Old Bay seasoning into a ketchup cup. I wonder if that's executive chef Kevin Holler's "secret recipe?" Or better yet, the new, innovative menu I keep reading about elsewhere? The good news? At least I didn't have to subject myself to indifferent, rude service anymore.

The food itself was... as you might expect, pedestrian. Fries were cold, and two thin pieces of fish weren't far behind. The fillets were obviously frozen, but at least the fish was flaky. That said, I left a full one on top of the cold fries on the floor by my seat... where they belonged. Ugh.

Grade: F (How many times have I sworn never to eat here again? One of these days...)

Fish & Chips at Nothing But Net