A New Day for Stadium Cuisine

A New Day for Stadium Cuisine  
By Rob Kachelriess



No peanuts and Cracker Jacks here. The Las Vegas Ballpark in Downtown Summerlin is quickly becoming known for its food as much as its baseball. As fans pack the stands to watch the Las Vegas Aviators play ball, they’re munching down on meatball sandwiches by Ferraro’s, mac ‘n’ cheese by the Goodwich, and chicken avocado salads by BBQ Mexicana. These are all local restaurant concepts, producing a new take on traditional stadium food with an ingredient-driven gourmet touch.


“I like to call this major league food in a minor league park,” says Garry DeLucia, executive chef of the Las Vegas Ballpark. DeLucia knows what it takes to keep large crowds fed and happy after previously working with the T-Mobile Arena and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He now oversees the entire culinary operation at the Las Vegas Ballpark, which opened in April at Downtown Summerlin. The sleek 10,000-seat venue has 14 food and beverage concession stands, plus a few more that carry drinks only. “It’s fun. It’s a great atmosphere. We have a good time here,” he adds.


From the beginning, the Howard Hughes Corporation—the developer of the ballpark and the Summerlin community—wanted the stadium to set new standards for a minor league baseball venue. And food was an integral part of that mission. “We really wanted to focus on elevating the classics,” says Summerlin Vice President of Marketing Danielle Bisterfeldt. “We taste-tested more hot dogs, buns, pretzels and anything you could imagine to make sure we were getting the best quality we could deliver at the ballpark.” The team reached out to chefs across the country, but realized the best talent was right here in Las Vegas.


Brian Howard, the chef and owner of the acclaimed Sparrow + Wolf in Chinatown, was recruited to handle the ultimate ballpark staple—the hot dog—with Flydog. He considers himself a connoisseur of the classic American snack. “Two things I eat when I go to every city are hot dogs and pizza,” he says. “I’ve definitely had my fair share and, with the emotional connection between baseball and hot dogs, there’s just a nostalgia there.”


Although hot dogs have never been served at one of his restaurants, Howard says he’s a “sausage maker by trade,” dating back to his days on the Strip at Comme Ca in the Cosmopolitan. Ingredients and preparation are key. He puts a twist on a traditional Chicago dog by using a smoked cheddar brat and curry aioli with peppers, tomatoes and relish on a poppy seed bun.  Another dog, called the Heater, utilizes a hot link made from Berkshire pork and is topped with Calabrian chili relish, kewpie mayo, spicy mustard and parmesan cheese on a potato bun. The Hercules, a take on a Coney Island dog, buries a foot-long Hebrew National in dry-aged beef chili, pickled mustard seed and sweet onion jam.  Yet, the most enticing option could be the Jetsetter, mixing exotic flavors like banh mi pickles and cilantro mayo with a wagyu beef frankfurter from Snake River Farms. “They run a no-waste program,” says Howard of the northwest supplier. “They took all that trim and turned it into a hot dog. It’s absolutely delicious. The fat-to-protein ratio creates this really magical emulsification and flavor profile you’re not going to get out of a regular mixed pork or beef frank.”


The hot dogs are refrigerated in custom carts throughout the stadium. None sit in water. Instead, they’re seared on a griddle-top to retain taste and texture. It’s up to the in-house stadium team to make sure Howard’s vision is carried out during every game. “We have a kitchen where we produce most of the food. And then the food gets distributed to the stands where it’s finished,” says DeLucia about coordinating with outside chefs and concepts.


That level of care and attention-to-detail is also seen in the lineup of Italian cuisine by Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and its extension brand Pizza Forte. “We do a Roman style pizza, which is not quite a Sicilian but a little bit thicker than a New York style,” says Domenico “Mimmo” Ferraro, who runs the family business with father Gino. “We’re doing the same quality of pizza we’ve done in Ferraro’s restaurant, as far as the ingredients go, for the last 34 years.”


Three different pizzas—Margherita, cup-and-char pepperoni and an Aviator’s special of meatballs, ricotta and basil—are served in the Pizza Forte cart on the main concourse. A Ferraro’s entree cart near the outfield offers a warm meatball sub with fresh mozzarella, pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan, as well as hot pressed-to-order panini sandwiches with imported meats and house-made herbed focaccia bread.


Ferraro’s regulars will be eager to see the restaurant’s Insalata Mimmo available. “It’s an heirloom tomato salad with avocados, fresh mozzarella and red onion in a balsamic vinaigrette, finished off with fresh basil and a balsamic reduction,” says Ferraro. “That’s been on the menu at the restaurant for close to 20 years and it’s the most popular salad.”


That’s just the beginning. BBQ Mexicana, a ballpark version of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s grab-and-go concept at Mandalay Bay is already earning raves for its burnt ends burrito. The mac ‘n’ cheese bar by the Goodwich lets customers choose from jalapenos, bacon, potato chip pieces and other toppings. Giada, the namesake Vegas restaurant by celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis, is making meatballs, arugula salad and lemon ricotta cookies available to guests in private suites—and Giada’s signature frozen rosé (or frosé) is available stadium-wide.


Other drinks with a localized touch include Aviator Ale—a mild, hoppy, golden ale—by local brewery Tenaya Creek and a selection of cocktails by mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim. Tito’s Turbulence with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Summerlin Swizzle with Bacardi rum and a house Margarita with Herradura Silver are prepared carefully with juices and ingredients to not overwhelm the natural taste of the base spirits. The Sunsplash, made with citrus juices and Ketel One Oranje, is served exclusively at the Hangar Bar near the ballpark’s already famous swimming pool in the stands.   


Although every element of the stadium, from the comfortable mesh seats to the high-tech video wall, was designed with high living in mind, prices are kept at attainable levels, whether it’s the tickets or food. A Hungry Hot Shots children’s meal provides a hot dog, potato chips, apple and juice box in a little suitcase for $7, while the party decks have an all-you-can-eat picnic spread of burgers, baked beans, nachos, cookies and more for $25.  “Something for everyone is how we see it,” explains Bisterfeldt. “That’s the whole story behind the ballpark. It’s the best hospitality experience we could offer.”