Thursday, May 17, 2012

Scouring the Coliseum for a Decent Meal

By Luke Tsai
Thu, May 17, 2012 at 12:53 PM

We’re more than a month into the baseball season and, hey, the A’s are still hanging tough! Last week I headed over to the Coliseum to catch a day game, taking advantage of the $2 ticket deal they have on Wednesdays.* Meanwhile, I hoped to snag something decent to eat and, for the love of Billy Beane, I didn’t want to pay “big-market” prices.

*Am I the last person to find out about this? The seats aren’t the best — I don’t think I saw where a single fly ball landed — but $2 is $2.

Alas, times are tough for fans looking for even an adequate meal at the ol’ O.com. It’s not just that options at the Aramark-run concessions stands are mostly limited to subpar versions of standard ballpark fare — over-cooked burgers, limp hot dogs, sad little frozen pizzas. And it’s not just that everything is overpriced (I drew the line at $4 for bottled water, though $8.75 for a beer is also pretty ridiculous).

No, to me, the most depressing part was the overwhelming sameness of it all. Walking through the field-level “food court,” I passed stand after indistinct stand — one that was only labeled “Heineken” sold French fries and popcorn chicken; another that was marked “Dreyer’s Ice Cream” seemed to specialize in barbecue. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to any of it.

I’m told that only a few years ago things weren’t quite so bleak — that you used to be able to get a better-than-decent barbecue sandwich from the since-departed Kinder’s BBQ stand, for instance. And is it Kosher to even mention the legendary fish sandwich from those journalist-murdering folk at the Coliseum’s Black Muslim Bakery outpost?

Welcome to how the other half lives.
  • Welcome to how the other half lives.
Well, the fact remained that I needed to get some lunch. For a quick minute I contemplated getting some of the barbecue that was on offer at the ice cream stand, but the too-sweet, industrial smell of the sauce put me off. Likewise, I passed on the souvenir helmet full of popcorn (for $6, knock yourself out).

Instead, after asking for directions from a helpful usher, I ventured upstairs to the West Side Club for a glimpse of how the other half lives — you know, the other half that can afford tickets that cost more than $2. Here, the clientele gave off a genteel, distinctly white-collar vibe, and the overall atmosphere was reminiscent of a Holiday Inn hotel lobby, complete with tinkly piano music. Along one wall were black-and-white photos of great moments in Oakland sports; on the other side were tables that overlooked the field, affording diners a reasonably good view of the action below — but to sit there, you need to eat at the full-service restaurant, whose menu items range from a prime rib dip sandwich to chicken sope.

Making me a sandwich at Deli 215: It wasnt her fault.
  • Making me a sandwich at Deli 215: It wasn't her fault.
I chose to take my chances at Deli 215 (you know, in Section 215), a takeout counter inside the Club whose advantages included the fact that the line was significantly shorter than the ones downstairs. The prices weren’t cheap, but I decided that I’d rather pay $9 for a deli sandwich than fork over a comparable amount for greasy mystery meat downstairs. So I opted for the classy-sounding “Piedmont.” The long and the short of it: It’s a turkey sandwich. And, to round out my meal, I headed back downstairs to pick up an order of garlic fries ($6).

$15 of sadness.
  • $15 of sadness.
The verdict? About two innings had passed in the time it took me to gather together these humble offerings, and by the time I got back to my seat, the fries were stone cold. These were sad and rubbery steak fries, anyway, pre-apportioned and sitting there for Lord knows how long. The chopped garlic on top was likely the kind that comes from a jar. But I won’t lie; I ate it all — I’ll eat just about anything if you smear it with enough garlic. (OK, I lied — I ate maybe half.)

The sandwich, too, wasn’t particularly good. I liked that I was able to substitute the standard wheat roll for Dutch Crunch, but the sandwich was more dry than it was anything else, featuring the kind of turkey meat that turns straight to dust in your mouth. This was topped with lettuce, tomato, some grayish pickled red onions, Swiss cheese, and an avocado spread. The spread sounded like a good idea, but honestly, I couldn’t taste it. My kingdom for a dollop of mayo.

Anyway, after I removed the plasticky cheese and a couple of mealy tomato slices, the sandwich was tolerable. If you set, say, Subway, as your bar, you won’t be too disappointed.

A beautiful day at the ballpark.
  • A beautiful day at the ballpark.
The game itself was a bit of a snoozer, a 5-2 loss wherein the A’s hitters looked mostly hapless, striking out ten times. Still, I went home reasonably sated — no indigestion! — and “only” $15 poorer.

But what say you, reader? Our beer and spirits writer seems to have had a (marginally) better experience at the Coliseum. Still, I’m curious: Are there hidden gems, food-wise, that I missed out on? Please, let me know in the comments section.

Otherwise, I’m determined to follow my own advice: Next time I head to the ballpark, I’ll be packing a picnic.

Got tips or suggestions? Email me at Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com. Otherwise, keep in touch by following me on Twitter @theluketsai, or simply by posting a comment. I'll read ‘em all.

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