The start of baseball season feels kind of like Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. When a new Yankees team takes the field, it's like a present being unwrapped -- each player's potential a toy to get excited about. And when Yankee Stadium opens its gates, it's a cornucopia of food and drink and snacks.
This year is no exception. If anything, 2017 offers even more excitement than ever before.
Along with the roster, flush with exciting, young, fresh talent, Yankee Stadium underwent a bit of a facelift over the offseason. New social gathering spaces, different vantage points from which to watch the games, and most exciting (at least for me): a plethora of new food options on the menu.
In conjunction with Legends Hospitality, the Yankees welcomed new partners into the fold on the concourses, expanded the menus of existing offerings, and worked with in-house chefs to come up with food choices that would leave fans satisfied, and yet hungry for more.
The changes are a bright spot, whether you're the type of fan who needs to check out every new spot, or if you just come to watch baseball and eat the occasional hot dog. For even the most determined ballpark eater, though, it's all but impossible to try every new food option the Stadium has to offer in one day.
But I like taking on the impossible, and I'm here for you, loyal reader. So here's my inside scoop (pun very much intended) on some of the most enticing new items on the menu.
So Much Food, Only Nine Innings
Is there any better way to enjoy a baseball game than in your seat with a cold drink and a hot dog?
No, that's not a rhetorical question. I was really asking. And so were the Yankees and their partners at Legends Hospitality.
"There's always going to be the person that wants a hot dog and a beer, and we love them, and we've built the Stadium around them," said Legends Hospitality senior executive chef Matthew Gibson.
"But then there are the foodies, and tourists that come to New York City, that want to come to the Stadium and really do care about the food here and want to experience it in a different way."
Through surveys -- which are included on every receipt issued at concessions stands -- Gibson and his staff learned that guests wanted more diversity in their menu choices, as well as new and interesting spaces to gather to enjoy the game and the food in front of them.
To accomplish both, new to Yankee Stadium this season is the AT&T Sports Lounge located behind Section 134. The Lounge features DirecTV service in a bar-like setting where fans can check in on other sporting events while also keeping a close eye on their Yanks. Oh, and right next door is Stadium newcomer Mighty Quinn's, a New York-born barbecue joint that has grown into one of the most buzz-y restaurants around.
Famous for their slow-cooked, wood-smoked meats, the chefs at Mighty Quinn's worked with Gibson and the rest of the Legends staff to offer Yankee Stadium guests food that mixes smoke rings with championship rings.
"With a partner such as Mighty Quinn's, they come in with a portfolio of what they do, and that's what they've built their business around," Gibson said. "So then we help them figure out how we can bring that to the masses here. Like, instead of doing a plate of brisket, maybe they do something more handheld, like a brisket sandwich."
That's what I found at Section 132. I grabbed my brisket sandwich -- which somehow tastes even better than it looks -- and then checked out what else Mighty Quinn's offers to the carnivores in the crowd: a burnt end sandwich -- caramelized ends of the brisket simmered in house-made BBQ sauce -- chicken wings, pulled pork sandwiches, and the brontosaurus rib, a massive full pound of beef on the bone that is smoked for 16 flavor-inducing hours.
Obviously, you have your omnivores and herbivores in the crowds, too. And I like a good lean meat or veggie burger as much as the next person, so it was only natural that my next stop was to another new addition to the Stadium, Bareburger, which brought its organic and sustainable menu to Section 132.
For meat lovers, Bareburger offers The Standard, a juicy beef burger with Colby cheese, and the El Matador, made with bison and topped with pepper jack cheese, pickled jalapeños and pico de gallo. Anyone who loves leaner meats can grab a SoCal -- a turkey burger with Colby cheese, pickled red onions and guacamole. And the vegetarians and vegans in the crowd can line up for the Guadalupe, a black bean burger with pickled red onions, spinach, guacamole and spicy pico de gallo on a sprout bun.
Each offering is above and beyond what you'd expect -- juicy, flavorful, beautifully presented -- which perfectly matches what the Yankees strive to offer at every level.
"We knew we wanted new food offerings and high-quality food offerings because we want everything we do here to be of the highest quality," said Marty Greenspun, Yankees senior vice president of strategic ventures. "That's what we focused on in bringing in our new partners. Each of our new partners had that same high-class mantra, and that's why we picked them."
But it wasn't only new partners getting in on the food game. A longstanding favorite at the ballpark, Lobel's, offers a steak sandwich that has become legendary. This season, the butchers and chefs are expanding on their signature offering. Gibson explained that the steak sandwich was being tinkered with -- the new gravy they use is divine -- but he was also excited about new Lobel's items, including a Meatloaf Burger, Hickory Molasses Glazed Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Loaded Steak and Potato Fries, which use fresh, never frozen, potatoes topped with bits of steak, cheese and sour cream.
"It's just off the charts," said Lobel's co-owner Mark Lobel. "You eat one [order] of those and you really don't even need to eat anything more."
All true, but I think I'll keep trying.
Quality is key, and in just about any neighborhood in the Bronx, you can find some of the highest-quality delis and Italian restaurants outside of, well, Italy. Bringing that local flavor to the corner of East 161st Street and River Avenue was a main goal for this season. To that end, Legends brought in The Mozzarella Joint, where fresh-pulled mozzarella sandwiches and mixed vegetables transport a taste of Arthur Avenue to Yankee Stadium.
"We're always asking ourselves, how do we create iconic, signature dishes?" Gibson said. "I hope the fresh mozzarella becomes one of those. I mean, we're in the Bronx, fresh mozzarella just makes sense here."
Wholeheartedly agree, Matt. When I tried the hand-pulled mozzarella, not only was it hot and fresh, but it was easily some of the best mozzarella cheese I'd ever eaten -- not just in the Bronx, but anywhere.
The Mutz is available in the new Masterpass Batter's Eye Deck in center field, which is also where you can pick up one of the new Caramelized Onion French Dip Sandwiches or Double Cheeseburgers.
Crafting an All-Star caliber burger, it turns out, was a self-imposed challenge for Gibson, and he plans to use new flat-top grills to achieve this dream.
"We're utilizing the grills to figure out how to make a better burger," Gibson said. "The Dingers sliders are so good, so it was about how can the guests see us making it fresh? And how do we make it something other than a dry slider on a piece of bread? So we smashed in the onions, we grill the French's mustard, and all this is taken from some of my favorite burgers around the country. So it's kind of like Frankensteining a burger together to get fans excited. And I think when they smell it and they see it being cooked right in front of them, that'll happen."
Those Dingers he's talking about? Officially they're the Yankee Dingers, they're available at the new Frank's RedHot Terrace and Toyota Terrace, and they're beyond scrumptious.
"Our Yankee Dinger is sort of our ode to a White Castle burger," said Angela Tassie, vice president of marketing and business development for Legends. "It's kind of a small burger with a steamed bun, and the way they prepare it is delicious."
Also on the menu at the terraces are four varieties of Fresh Hot Baos (Chinese buns) -- Braised Pork Belly, Rotisserie Prime Rib of Beef, Charbroiled Chicken and Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower -- which are one way that Legends Hospitality answered another call from fans.
"I think from a variety standpoint we took a look at what we served last year and we got a lot of feedback from the fans and they wanted more than just burgers, even the outrageous burgers, which we had a few of last year," Tassie said. "So we took a step back and decided to go a more ethnic route. We added new Asian food with some healthy options."
Gibson and Greenspun were also excited about the way the Yankees have expanded their health food options. Both pointed me toward Melissa's Farmers Market, a holdover from previous seasons, which now offers grab-and-go salads and fruit for the health-conscious fan.
And although my friends made fun of me for "indulging" in a fruit salad, I stand by my assessment that the tangerine I had from Melissa's was among the best I'd ever eaten, ballpark or otherwise.
Normally, fruit is a good ending place for me -- or beginning or middle, if we're being honest -- but when you're at Yankee Stadium, how can you pass up ice cream in a miniature helmet?
Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's is new to the Stadium this season, and while I had to stick to classic vanilla (peanut allergies), it was creamy and delicious -- the perfect end to an admittedly gluttonous day.
The Yankees delivered the sweetest of presents on Opening Day in the Bronx, winning their home opener with veterans -- Michael Pineda authored six-plus innings of perfection on the mound -- and newcomers -- Aaron Judge blasted a home run to left field -- contributing to an exciting victory.
Did the Yankee Stadium concessions do the same?
For me, the answer is pretty simple: Yes.
Stadium classics blended seamlessly with new, tasty options. And if not for my stomach having little to no room left -- and the fact that the game was over, and eventually, Frank Sinatra stops singing and they make you leave -- I probably would have gone back for seconds and thirds.
Two thumbs up could never be enough. But for now, it's all I've got -- well that, and probably a couple extra pounds.