On a sweltering Tuesday night, I’m in a minor league stadium looking for this year’s top prospects. Oh, not some battering outfielder or flamethrower pitcher. I’m eyeing the new food offerings at Rocket City Trash Pandas, Double-A’s Los Angeles affiliate.
The concessions at Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama go way beyond past years like hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts. Although they have them, if you’re nostalgic. But just as today’s luxury minor league stadiums are a vast improvement over the giant concrete ashtray versions of the ’80s, food has also come a long way since José Canseco’s days.
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Easy to find and get to food at Toyota Field. The open-air lobby has at least four different branded retail stalls, each with their own branded merchandise. There are also several mobile vendors dotted throughout the stadium that are smart and user-friendly, as are many of the entertainment and sports facilities – check out the new Orion Amphitheater in nearby Huntsville.
Before heading to the recent Trash Pandas game against Montgomery Biscuits, a Tampa Bay Rays Double-A club, I did a little scouting on the Pandas website. website “Learn Before You Go” The page lists current Toyota Field concession menus (no pricing). There are at least nine new products in 2022. They range from pot-roasted sandwich to smoked turkey with hazelnuts and trendy walnut pie.
We first called Southern Chicken Sandwich. Fried chicken, peppered cheese, braised kale on a brioche bun, served with French fries and sold at the Gravity Grille concession stand. At $12, it’s great value for fast casual food in the current Huntsville market. Chances are you would pay the same or even more for a similar meal in a restaurant. The chicken was skillfully fried and full. And the peppery-creamy flavor of the peppered cheese paired well with the poultry. Bun, fresh. Next time I would leave them without cabbage because they were sluggish and bitter. But I am picky about greenery and not a fan at all, so there is distrust.
My favorite item we ate all night was also the one with the best name “Eat the enemy’s dog”. They did this at a mobile stand called Sprocket’s Grill with a grill and a steaming table, located on a raised platform to the left of the field. At each home counter, Toyota Field’s food and drink staff serve up a special hot dog filled with locally inspired rival Pandas.
Homestand against a team called “Cookies” is a hanging twist ball for this concept. This “Eat Your Opponent” dog was a butterfly-smeared “dog” served on puff pastry smeared with thick gravy and sprinkled with enough pepper to satisfy both Cecil and Prince Fielder. Heavy and soulful. And for the price of $7.75, that’s stealing food from the stadium.
I shelled out for my own “Eat Your Own Dog” opponent dog at the bar-like railing behind the customer stall. From below, the hiss of fastballs and the flapping of catcher’s gloves could be heard. While I was there, a drunken 20 year old bro taunted Biscuit players in the bullpen, yelling at them, unprovoked, “You’ll make more money driving a herbivore!” Then one of the Biscuits invited the bro to come down to the bullpen and repeat his statement. Surprisingly, the bro did not accept this offer. Instead, he lumbered back to the lobby to continue pleasing his parents elsewhere.
Let’s get back to food. French fries from Gravity Grill are another concession star. Heaping pile of golden fries in a pitcher topped with tender pulled pork, mustard sprouts and drizzled with spicy red barbecue sauce and Alabama creamy white sauce. Interestingly, french fries hold up a bunch of stuffing a little better than nachos, I think. Thus, the latter are not a lost hope, as they can easily be eaten with a fork. For $11, French fries could be fed all over the field, or at least in combination with a double game. And the iPad-sized cardboard baskets that many Toyota Field concessions are sturdy enough you can (carefully) handle with one hand if you need to.
In addition to the standard hot dogs, Toyota Field also offers a $6 Conecuh dog that places an Evergreen, Alabama staple on the bun of a bun. Too high bun to dog ratio for me. However, the dog itself was better than the standard. Stadium mustard, condiments, other supplies, napkins and plastic utensils are located at the station carts next to the concessions. Everything is quick to use.
As far as seating is concerned, there is a cluster of seven or so pub tables in the lobby behind the seats at home plate. Again, with an open design, you’ll never be separated from the action on the field or the sounds of batting that are such a charming part of a professional baseball stadium. There are also a few tables elsewhere in the park. And one more railing/bar/stand with stools, located above the fence of the right field. There are picnic tables in the muddy area of left field, but I’m told you need special tickets to hang from them. For tickets, I opted for the cheap $8 lawn seats instead of the reserved $17. Although I never went out there, there is a grassy area in the right foul zone where you can spread a blanket and hang yourself, and quite a lot of people were doing it that night.
In the late afternoon we went to a South Philadelphia cheesesteak from the unluckily named Dumpster Dive concession stand. Twelve dollars for a Philadelphia served with another pile of fries. (Toyota Field’s fries budget must be approaching the New York Yankees’ payroll.) Southern Cheese is junk food elevated, with a steamed bun barely holding up to a pool of Cheese Wiz and shaved fries.
In 2022, it will still be possible to get food in a souvenir helmet at the baseball stadium. Toyota Field headwear and mixed dishes include pulled pork nachos, beef brisket, and jackfruit with fries for $22. The chicken-striped helmet contains eight tenders and, according to one concession worker, “a lot more fries than you normally get.”
Toyota Field drink options range from $3 bottled water/soda to $6 house beer and $8 (16 oz) draft beer to $16 (24 oz) “margarita-flavored ice cream”. Signs posted on the counters of many liquor kiosks indicated a limit of two alcohol per person. The sign also noted that to legally purchase alcohol, a person must be born no later than today’s date in the year 2000. A cruel reminder that my adult journey has taken me from being once younger than most professional baseball players to now being older than many managers.
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