March 19, 2008
Concessionaires Ready Their Pitch

Here's another reason I'm not a professional baseball scout: A year ago, when the Sacramento River Cats introduced their starting lineup of that season's concession foods, I picked the tall and muscular "Sicilian po' boy sandwich" to be Rookie of the Year.

I looked forward to becoming reacquainted with the big guy today when the River Cats unveiled this year's lineup of concession foods. Alas, it wasn't around. Though promising at the outset of play last year, the po' boy quickly faded, disappointed concessionaires and fans alike, and soon got shipped out, says Grant Miliate, executive chef for Raley Field's food and beverage operator, Centerplate. "The sales weren't there, so we dropped it." A cold and cruel game, baseball.

But spring draws near, and hope once again springs about the diamond. This year's food lineup at Raley Field is loaded with a whole bunch of other promising rookies. The "baseball burger" ($7.75), half a pound of ground chuck with grilled red onions and a red-pepper relish, looks like it could be around awhile, even if it is shaped as an oval. The "garlic steak sandwich" ($8), marinated with Italian herbs, served in a grilled bun saturated with butter, and finished with grilled red onions and arugula, looks like it has the power to last into extra innings. But despite my sorry forecast from a year ago, I'm putting my money on the hot pastrami sandwich ($7.75) as this season's Rookie of the Year. Despite the pastrami sandwich's noble lineage, I've never been much of a fan. Too much bulk, too little finesse, too often. But the one being introduced at Raley Field has more going for it than most - lean yet tender pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand-island dressing, all layered with considerate balance between slices of fetching marble rye bread.

I'm sticking with the hot pastrami sandwich even though it wasn't generating as much buzz at today's lunch as the most highly priced rookie on the scene, a sweet and creamy crab sandwich that will sell for $12. A mix of Dungeness and rock crab, blended with mayonnaise and seasonings and served between slices of buttered and toasted garlic sourdough, the sandwich was inspired by a similar treat at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Though it costs $15 there, it nonetheless looked popular enough to draw a crowd here, especially at $3 less, figures Miliate.

Two themes characterize the dietary changes that baseball fans will find at River Cats games this year. One is the expanded beef offerings, as represented by the hot pastrami sandwich, the garlic steak sandwich and the baseball burger, among other choices.

The other is the park's new slate of "eco-friendly" menu items - dishes made at least in part with locally produced and either organic or naturally raised ingredients. One is a chicken-breast sandwich made with hormone-free meat from Fulton Valley Farms in Sonoma County ($7.50). Natural-raised chicken also goes into the new "Buffalo chicken salad" ($7.50), which gives diners two jolts of spiciness, one in the wing sauce on the chicken, the other the chipotle-chile-pepper dressing on the side. There's also a portobello-mushroom sandwich ($7.50), and a hamburger made with antibiotic- and hormone-free beef from Niman Ranch of Oakland ($7.50).

Raley Field's hot-dog lineup consists entirely of seasoned veterans, though a sausage infused with jalapeno chile peppers is expected to be ready to play by late spring. The park's weekly $1-hot-dog night, however, is moving from Thursdays to Fridays at the urging of parents who want to take advantage of the promotion on an evening not followed by a school day.

The River Cats will start rolling out the new concession lineup when they play a pre-season scrimmage with the Stockton Ports on April 2. The season gets under way in earnest at Raley Field when the River Cats play host to the Las Vegas 51s on April 11.

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