Restaurateur dishes on Citi Field food
Mets' new home features new concessions in addition to classic favories
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Perhaps Danny Meyer was going to ignore it, but his 9-year-old son was not. Waiting to have their exhibition-game tickets scanned last Sunday outside Citi Field's Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the two of them couldn't help but overhear a group discussing the new park's food offerings.
They waited. They listened.
"Daddy, you've got to tell them," his son finally said.
And so one of New York City's preeminent restaurateurs, in his anonymity, spoke up, telling the group that they should try the taco stand out in center field.
"Sure enough, later on I see these guys in line for the tacos," Meyer said. "And they said, 'This is the best food we've ever had at a ballpark.'"
And that's just the idea. Meyer, the head of a culinary empire that includes the wildly popular Shake Shack and Blue Smoke restaurants, was at Citi Field on Sunday to witness the public unveiling of his latest project, a concession stand renaissance at the new home of the Mets.
He watched and listened as fans bounced from Shake Shack to Blue Smoke to his two new concepts, the El Verano Taqueria and a Belgian fry stand called Box Frites. Together, the four brands make up a center-field food court called "Taste of New York," entirely of Meyer's design. It's hardly ballpark food in a traditional sense. And fans have already begun to embrace it.
"I just went up to a bunch of people and listened while they were eating french fries and pulled pork sandwiches," Meyer said of Sunday's game between St. John's and Georgetown University. "It was like a fair. It was just a wonderful, wonderful uplifting atmosphere."
Which is precisely what the Mets wanted. Back when Mets COO Jeff Wilpon was scratching out plans for the new stadium, he had a vision for a different type of food service at the park. Wilpon had long been a personal friend of Meyer's and a fan of the restaurants that make up his Union Square Hospitality Group, once bringing the entire Mets team to Blue Smoke for a private party. So when he began planning the details of Citi Field, Wilpon didn't hesitate to call up Meyer and ask if he wanted in.
He wanted in.
Raised a lifelong Cardinals fan in St. Louis, Meyer bought Mets season tickets in 1986 in order to catch the Cards whenever they were in town, holding onto them ever since. He was there that October, watching as the Red Sox bullpen rushed out onto the field, thinking they had won the World Series. And he was there in 2006, rooting for the other side as the Cardinals knocked off the Mets in a dramatic NLCS.
"I've fallen in love with the Mets," Meyer said. "But I will never give up my ultimate allegiance to the Cardinals.
Or to food. So when Wilpon asked Meyer to come up with four concepts for a center-field food court -- the only stipulation being that two of the four had to be Shake Shack and Blue Smoke -- Meyer needed little convincing.
For his two known brands, he rolled out small-scale menus of items more conducive to ballpark eating. Shake Shack will feature the standard Shack Burger, along with Meyer's take on the hot dog, two flavors of shakes and frozen custard. Blue Smoke, despite featuring four different types of ribs at its Manhattan location, will sell only the Kansas City style at Citi, along with shrimp rolls, corn on the cob, chipotle chicken wings and a pulled pork sandwich on a brioche bun.
Designing a menu for the Taqueria was a more straightforward exercise, since Meyer created it exclusively for the ballpark. And Box Frites was an even simpler concept, selling only fries and dipping sauces -- but even that turned out to be hardly typical. To ensure quality, Meyer said that if the fries sit untouched for more than three minutes, Box Frites won't sell them.
"You just can't sustain the quality beyond that," Meyer said. "We're going to have incredibly high standards.
That goes also for Meyer's Delta 360 Club, a private restaurant for those sitting in the Delta Club seats behind home plate. In addition to the concession stands, Wilpon commissioned Meyer to prepare all the food for the full-service restaurant, which has seating for 1,200 fans.
The club also has a bar and a marketplace area, featuring brick-oven pizzas, a cocktail and wine bar, a coffee bar and a dessert bar.
"It's a massive project," Meyer said.
Citi Field will still retain many of its predecessor's old standards, including Aramark's more traditional concession stands. And it will host the reincarnation of some favorite Shea Stadium specialties, including heroes from Mama's of Corona and sushi from Daruma of Tokyo.
But the gems of the new stadium are out in center field, at Meyer's specialty stands.
"We wanted whatever we serve to be so good that you would recommend it to a friend," Meyer said, "even if it was on the wide-open streets of New York City."
On the wide-open concourses of baseball stadiums, fans normally don't enjoy such choices. But Meyer, not wanting to force limited food options upon a "captive audience," made it his mission to ensure that Citi Field would be different.
The result is hardly stadium food in the traditional sense. And for many, that's important.
"Food matters a whole lot more to people when they go to a sporting event than it did last generation," Meyer said. "And New York is this food capital of the world, yet our stadiums and arenas are really leagues behind other cities. We thought that it would be really fun to play a role in this."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.