Savor metrics: What's tasty at the ballparks this season
(MCT) — As a neutral Chicago fan, I plead indifference to both Cubs and White Sox, but I've enjoyed enough games at each ballpark to judge its food experience.
I will say U.S. Cellular Field offers a more accurate depiction of Chicago's dining multiculturalism. You'll find Polish (Bobak's), Chinese (Wow Bao), Mexican and South Side barbecue, a diversity you won't find at its North Side stadium counterpart.
The Cell was where I first sampled Mexican elote ($5) — the creamy, tangy, spicy "salad" of corn cut from the cob, dressed with mayonnaise, chili powder, lime, butter and sharp cotija cheese. (And then I discovered that outside the ballpark, I could get twice the portion at half the price.)
This season, Sportservice — the stadium's food service provider — added a dozen new menu offerings to their lineup, and all aren't just recycled variations on a protein theme. One highlight is the Burger Barn stall behind Section 113.
What caught my eye is the Stuffed Burger ($10.50), based on the beloved Minnesota-originated "Juicy Lucy." Its hallmark is the cheese stuffed inside the patty, which oozes out when bitten. There's no cheese eruption with the Cell's version, as the scant cheddar is incorporated throughout the loose-grain beef patty. But it's also stuffed with bacon, so the burger tastes smoky and feels substantial, improved with the addition of grilled onions. A fried egg addition is available for $1: It's the first time I've seen someone crack a shelled egg at a ballpark concession stand.
Also new for 2012 is the Chicago street fair-staple cevapcici ($8), found behind Section 537, and Anglicized here as "Balkan Sandwich." The vendor was skimpy with the meat, two stubby casing-less sausages of minced lamb, beef and pork (the prevailing taste is vaguely lamb-y). Otherwise, it's a fairly faithful version to the Bosnian/Serbian national sandwich: pita warmed on the griddle, crisp raw onions, plus the sweet, cooling red pepper "ajvar" sauce spooned from the jar and onto the hot cevapcici sausage.
The Hooters chicken wings at Section 542 ($8) were a sore disappointment: pre-fried, non-breaded drumettes and wings that generously name-drops the Hooters brand name only because they employ the hot sauce. The Honey Thai option didn't work either, too candy-sweet of a sauce. But also logistically, eating eight chicken wings at a ballpark isn't the tidiest affair.
On the opposite end of the neat-eating spectrum is Wow Bao at Section 138.
Back for a third season at the Cell, the markup on these steamed Chinese buns is absurd (two for $6). That said, they're more interesting than any other food at the stadium. The Spicy Mongolian beef is your best bet: minced Angus beef flavored with a complex chili and ginger sauce. BBQ pork bun is a respectable facsimile of the Cantonese dim sum mainstay, char siu bao, the pork chunks in a hoisin-sweet glaze.
The best dish I tasted at U.S. Cellular Field isn't new, and doesn't even have a Chicago connection aside from the star outfielder for whom it was named. But it's worth trekking to Section 152 (appropriately by left field) to sample the Cuban Comet Sandwich ($8), a tribute to Sox great Minnie Minoso. The Cubanos sold here are first-rate. They're stuffed with ham that's stuffed further with finely shredded pork, surrounded by a cocoon of melted Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, and a heavy dose of citrus-garlic mojo sauce. The pressed sandwich bread picked up a sheen from the grill top, and bites through with an emphatic crunch.