In the early 1990s, Arlington Stadium, as it was called, was the site of a few of my more memorable first dates. Baseball courtship was fabulous. Wannabe lovebirds could enjoy watching the Rangers from the cheap aluminum bench seating. No need for a pre-date dinner. You could nosh on inexpensive hot dogs and doughy, previously frozen giant pretzels, and then you could wash all that down with shared cups of cheap beer.
But that was a couple of years ago. (OK, decades. Hush.) Arlington Stadium was demolished in 1994, when lots of other stadiums also built in the 1960s began to seem dated and dangerous and were put out of their miseries. Often with taxpayer help, cities began erecting gleaming sports palaces with as many amenities as any theme park. Naturally, the new ballpark located in the same region as the home of the Ewings offers a lot more than hot dogs and pretzels. With a team of five chefs and 25 culinary support staffers, plus the hundreds of souls who do the order taking, cooking, and serving, Globe Life Park whips up and dishes out everything from vegan hot dogs and sushi to Tex-Mex faves and steak. And to wet your whistle, your options are no longer limited to Coors and Miller products. Pretty much any microbrew you can think of –– and dozens of wines –– is at your disposal. Liquor is sold only in Globe Life’s clubs and bars.
For the past 20 years, I’ve been part of a group of several dozen diehard Rangers fans who tailgate on opening day. This year was no exception, and, fortunately, the game’s 3 p.m. start left us plenty of time to tailgate and still go in an hour early for a foodie’s-eye view of the park. New items this season include a plethora of bacon offerings and State Fare, a kiosk specializing in fried stuff, sort of like a food truck by the State Fair of Texas.
Our first stop was Just Bacon, the stand for all of your bacon necessities, including bacon-maple beer, bacon-corn sauté, bacon cotton candy, a bacon quesadilla, a bacon lollipop, and bacon on a stick, a generous slab of thickly cut Danish bacon with a very light, sweet/salty glaze.
“Grease on a stick,” commented one taster. More like “ham on a stick.” The meat, fork-tender and lardy, was about 10-by-3-inches thick and was way too big for its comparatively smaller skewer. Also, the fat cap amounted for at least a quarter of the cut’s entire weight.
The most visually appealing item was the bacon-corn sauté: a bowl of corn and real bacon bits. But only bits. Garnished with cilantro, daintily chopped red onion, and a desiccated lime that produced very little juice when squeezed, the bowl was all corn, little bacon.
“It wasn’t unpleasant,” said a taster. “But I think they were trying too hard.”
The bacon-maple beer, which was $12 but provided two full cups, started off with a lovely sweetness, but it faded quickly, hustled away by faux bacon with unpleasant hints of smoke. “Like licking a hickory tree,” said a taster. Another said it would take $100 worth of the beer to make him like it.
The bacon cotton candy wasn’t bad, just weird. Served in a bag no bigger than a lunch-sized portion of potato chips, it tasted like fake bacon on top of fluffy, sugary stickiness. Of all the items, it was the one that had our tailgate talking the most. Everyone wanted to try it, but nobody wanted to buy it again. The list of ingredients includes sugar, dairy, soy, and several things I can’t pronounce. Not bacon.
At State Fare, we found fried versions of many popular, otherwise healthy (healthy-ish) items. The chicken-fried bacon was delicious. The same pig on a stick that we thought was too lardy was made much more palatable with the addition of chicken-fried breading. Although the recipe includes Old Bay Seasoning, State Fare’s breading was a little on the mild side. However, the accompanying jalapeño gravy was more than spicy enough to make up for the lack of oomph.
“The gravy’s good,” said one tester, swigging bacon-maple beer to cool his mouth. “But it obliterates the taste of the bacon.” (This is the same guy who also said the beer was more palatable after tasting the gravy.)
The chicken-fried corn on the cob was terrible. The breading didn’t fully adhere to the cob, and the whole thing was difficult to eat. Additionally, the frying process dried out the corn.
“It kills everything you love about chicken-fried things and also corn on the cob,” said a tester.
Funnel cake has always been a go-to treat at Rangers games for me, because what’s not to love about powdered sugar on top of sweet, fried goodness? Finding funnel cake at the ballpark every year, however, has been like chasing a mirage. Thanks to your hero, me, I took notes. You can find funnel cake at Globe Life Park at sections 32, 236, and 340.
Even better! Globe Life also has funnel cake fries. (You can find them at sections 25, 32, and 41.) They’re basically funnel cakes but chopped up into thick-cut fry-type sticks. They’re all delicious.
Plan to wait an extra five minutes –– every order is freshly prepared. My only complaint with the fries was the packaging. Although the cardboard box was more portable than a plate, there wasn’t as much surface area for a coating of powdered sugar.
The food quality ratchets up dramatically in a suite or the Capital One Club, where tickets cost three times the price of a regular ticket. For those prices, the food (which is included in the price) should be absolutely fabulous. And it is. Last year when my season ticket-owning friend couldn’t use her seats, I got a taste of the suite life in the club. If it’s possible, I might have eaten my weight in cold shrimp, prime rib served from a carving station, and, for dessert, dainty little custard cups and mousse tartlets. This year, the organization added a sushi cart to the array of food. After the third inning, most of the high-end eats are replaced by more traditional ballpark cuisine.
The Captain Morgan Club (where they’ll let anyone in) and the Jack Daniels Club (open to everyone after the first pitch) also have a higher class of comestible. You can purchase fish and chips, a Nolan Ryan rib-eye sandwich, brisket sliders, a BLT croissant, and many of the new fried items in the Captain Morgan. The Jack Daniels offers a carved meat station along with hot dogs and burgers.
And, yes, you can still get a Boomstick. Section 29.
And like most Texans (most Americans, actually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Rangers merely pay lip service to health-consciousness. There’s an entire section near centerfield where the Rangers’ 16 health-conscious fans can buy salads, fresh fruit, and a gluten-free veggie dog. Why don’t you jog the stairs while you’re at it, Jack LaLanne?
“Sales don’t lie,” said Casey Rapp, operations manager with Delaware North, the current food services vendor at Globe Life Park. “Very few of the healthy items are purchased at the ballpark.”
[box_info]Globe Life Park
Bacon-corn sauté $8
Bacon on a stick $7.50
Chicken-fried bacon on a stick $8
Chicken-fried corn on the cob $5
Funnel cake fries $6
Bacon cotton candy $7.50
Bacon-maple beer $12[/box_info]