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Ballpark binge: The O.Co food tour

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An elite (eleat?) group of A's fans got to live the dream: An all-you-can-eat behind the scenes concessions tour at the Coliseum.

From left to right: Iris, Andrea, Vivek, Jay Satenspiel (O.Co head of Concessions), Kenny, Carson, and Katie.
From left to right: Iris, Andrea, Vivek, Jay Satenspiel (O.Co head of Concessions), Kenny, Carson, and Katie.
Amy MacEwen

If you've had the privilege of attending an A's home game this season, you may have noticed that the food is different. This offseason, the Coliseum finally canned Aramark as their concessions vendor and switched to Ovations. But how different is it? What has changed? Is it better or worse? And, ultimately, where is the best food in the Coliseum? These are questions that the discerning ballpark food connoiseur needs to know. On July 22, I set out to get those answers. Of course, as just one man (and a vegetarian one at that) there was no way I could do it alone. So I was able to recruit five seasoned ballpark food veterans.

The Tasters

Iris (martini_momo): A die hard A's fan, veteran of AN, native of Hawaii and a big time fan of jalapeno poppers.

Kenny (Twinsen): Kenny swore off of all food at the Coliseum years ago after yet another soggy hot dog and stale nacho. When he heard about a chance to try out a new food vendor, he left his vacation in Yosemite and drove 3 hours to get to the food tour, hoping to rekindle a lost love.

Carson (towel): A regular at the Coliseum, this season he has mostly stuck with the hot dogs. Time for him to branch out.

Katie: Katie is a lurker on AN. But when it comes to ballpark food, she ain't lurkin'. A native Tennessean who finds herself in San Jose nowadays, she's grown to love the green and gold.

Andrea a.k.a. Señora Frijoles: My wife's reward for putting up with all the time I spend on this site. She usually tries to bring her own food to the games but was quite familiar with the Coliseum food of previous seasons. In this case, familiarity breeds contempt, but like Kenny she was curious about the new food vendor.

And myself, of course. As most of you know, I go to 20-30 A's games every year, and as a vegetarian I scour the ballpark for options. In years past, I was left wanting.

The Tour

Our food tour started out with us being whisked through the entrance, through the bowels of the Coliseum, and into the West Side Club. There, we met Jay Satenspiel, a Regional Manager at Ovations and charged with launching and acting as the General Manager Ovations' operations at the Coliseum. Jay is a hardworking, wise-cracking transplanted New Yorker who worked his way up the old fashioned way to where he is today. Jay has been in the concessions game for a long time. His first job was vending peanuts at Shea Stadium. In 1997 he left New York to move to Raleigh and operate concessions at his first venue. He takes obvious pride in his work, saying "I love what I do. Every day I'm blessed." I can tell he means it. Jay is not a fluff type of guy.

"[The Coliseum] IS OUR BIGGEST ACCOUNT AND IT MEANS THE WORLD TO US." -Jay Satenspiel, Ovations Regional Manager and GM of Concessions at O.Co Coliseum

After introducing himself, he gets to the meat of why we're here.

The Coliseum is Ovations' first MLB facility, and second NFL facility. So, while most folks deride the Coliseum, he loves it. When he told people that he was going to Oakland, he said their reactions were " 'You goin' where? Oh my God.' But this is a great facility, a great organization. The building has so much to offer. This is our biggest account and it means the world to us."

After landing the Coliseum account, Ovations immediately set to work overhauling the entire food concept. Jay had some practice doing the same at four spring training facilities, but as a year-round venue accommodating far more fans, this was his biggest challenge yet.

The biggest differentiator that Ovations has is their "American Fresh" concept. Ovations takes pains to make everything fresh. "Before when you bought a hot dog, it was made a couple hours before the game, wrapped in a bun and a wrapper and sitting in a warmer. By the time you bought the hot dog, it was three hours old. Everything you eat here is fresh," says Jay. His still-strong New York accent is selling me on this.

Other overall changes they have made is opening beer portals (temporary beer-only stands) on crowded game days to help move lines along. And finally, they have made it a priority to provide significant food options in the 2nd deck. As Jay said, "One of the issues is if I was in the second level, I would always have to go down to the first level to get some decent food options. We want to change that."

As we were wrapping up the intro, Jay made best friends with all of us by giving us each $50 of food and drink vouchers and let us inmates loose in the asylum.

Gastropub: Craft beer and brick oven pizzas (West Side Club)

The tour started in the West Side Club, home of the new "Gastropub" featuring craft beer and brick oven pizzas. The West Side Club is behind home plate on the second deck and open to all fans at A's games. You can walk right in from the side.

The Gastropub is the keystone of the new food options. As Jay stated,"It's one of the places we made a huge change, a huge impact. Fresh brick oven pizzas. Nobody has that. Nobody."

Today's menu: The special pizza changes every homestand.

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Wasting no time with it, we immediately order one of each and some craft beers (among them, 1982 ale and a couple of local Linden Street selections). You have to wait about 10 minutes for the pizza, because they make it fresh.

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Jay wasn't kidding about this.

Kenny: The real far and away winner of this was the newly installed brick oven pizza spot right in the West Side Club. The meat and margarita pizza were both perfect. Plus with the large selection of mostly locally brewed craft beer, I'm going to be coming back time and again to my new favorite spot for some meat pizza and to drink my way through all the beer choices.

Carson: On the pizza side the Margherita was better than most around this side of the bay. But I didn't hate the BBQ pizza by any means.

Katie:We all agreed the freshly made and wood fired pizza was the best new offering. If I had that as option to eat everyday, I might do it too (like Jay said he does).

Iris: The best thing by far was the made-to-order pizza.  Crisp flatbread crust with stretchy cheese, crispy clusters of bacon and pulled pork with just the right hint of spice and sweet.  Definitely worth the price tag.

Andrea: The pizza was the best thing in the stadium.

The pizzas were the runaway winner of the new food options, and the best pizza I have had at any ballpark. Also, the price was about what these types of pizzas would cost anywhere in the Bay Area, so it felt nice not to be gouged at the stadium.

"WHEN SEATTLE CAME THROUGH, WE HAD FISH AND CHIPS. WHEN WE GOT SF COMING FROM ACROSS THE BAY WE JUST DO GARBAGE."-Jay Satenspiel

Other selections in the Westside club included a restaurant, where the menu items change regularly. depending on the visiting team. Again, this is open to all fans, and if you get a good seat you have a view of the game. As for the actual menu items, Jay mentioned that "When Seattle came through, we had fish and chips. When we got SF coming from across the bay, we just do garbage." He learns quickly.

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Today's selection against Houston was a special ceviche

Burrito District (Section 220)

After polishing off the pizzas, we moved on to the "Burrito District" (adjacent to the West Side Club on the third base side). This was a new stand featuring burritos, tacos, and nachos along with frozen margaritas and daquiris.

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The burrito was massive. It came with either chicken or beef, and all the typical burrito fixin's. On Jay's recommendation, we got the daquiri. It was quite large and while it was not strong it had a good amount of booze. Here's the A's statue of liberty holding the daquiri in honor of the right to have drink options:

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Andrea: The tacos were kind of like taco bell tacos with shredded beef instead of ground beef [both have shredded cheese and flour tortillas]. I mean this in a good way!

Kenny: The chicken burrito had a nice spice to it.

Carson: If you're going to get the yard long margarita try to get it from someone who has no idea what they are doing because you'll get way more tequila that way [probably good advice at any bar].

Iris: I'd recommend the margaritas upstairs on the club level [West Side Club bar] over anywhere else in the ballpark--your choice of Don Julio tequila (anejo, reposado, or blanco), the offer to make it sweeter (or not), and seriously, the addition of a salt rim.  You're paying an extra dollar for that salt and the gracious conversation and professional-level mixed drink, but it's totally worth it.  It's ONLY an extra dollar!!!

If you're into the frozen blended margaritas, pina coladas, or daquiris, then you've found your slice of heaven. The food isn't gonna be taqueria level, but it's still a solid burrito, better than the average ballpark nachos (and you can get a free helmet if you want a helmet full of nachos).

There's a New Belgium beer stand (makers of Fat Tire and Ranger IPA, among others) just next to the Burrito District that has typical ballpark stuff (peanuts, hotdogs) but also popcorn chicken. We skipped that as we were planning to get poppers. Our last stop on the 2nd deck was "A's Grill."

A's Grill (Section 205)

You may have seen the Saag's stand on the lower deck, with multiple kinds of sausages. Pro tip: A's Grill has the same selection and probably doesn't have the same line. It's on the 1st base side outside the Westside Club.

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A's Grill has four kinds of specialty sausages.

Iris picked up a reasonably priced Polish Dog:

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Everyone thought the polish dog was good, although everyone agreed you probably don't need the bun. The peppers, onions and dog tend not to neatly stay in a bun. As every one is made when you order, you can just ask for no bun if you like.

We made our way down and were planning to go to our seats in Section 115 when we spotted the BBQ Stand.

Ribs & Things BBQ (Section 104)

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Ribs & Things is an actual BBQ restaurant located in Hayward. The Coliseum stand has all kinds of BBQ options. Since we had a crew, we went for the 3-item combo. It's $28, but you get 3 meats, salad and bread. The salad is potato salad, in case you were worried about having to eat an actual salad.

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We got the pork ribs, tri tip, and hot links.

The stand also has freshly made desserts (peach cobbler or sweet potato pie). We orded peach cobbler, which was still in the oven but was ready in 10 minutes.

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Peach cobbler

Iris: There's just something to be said about warm hot links drowning in a sweet, sweet BBQ sauce paired with cold, cold potato salad with just the right amount of pickle and mustard...and fresh peach cobbler swimming in crispy, buttery spiced crust and large chunks of ripe peaches.  The ONLy thing missing was ice cream... we should've bought a hot fudge sundae so that we could've have them together--the ice cream + cobbler + fudge + whip cream in the same, glorious bite... like the individual lion robots combining to form Voltron.  Like that, but with food.

Kenny: Avoid the ribs which tasted good, though suffered from being kept in a warmer, but links and the brisket are good bets.

Katie: I also liked that Ovations includes a local barbeque joint as a vendor because I love some barbeque and theirs was much more than I expect from stadium food. [Coming from a native Tennessean!]

Andrea: The sauce on the hot links was a bit too sweet for my taste, but overall the BBQ was good. I would get the sauce on the side.

Everyone agreed that the peach cobbler was pretty delicious, and at $4.50 was no more than what you would pay outside the ballpark.

At this point, we made our way to the seats. Carson and Kenny got some drinks from The Field Irish Pub (located kind of behind home plate on the first level) that were pretty solid. Iris and Katie went to our section, while Andrea and I went to the Ballpark Poppers stand to pick up some more grub for our testers.

Ballpark Poppers

There are two ballpark poppers stands, located at the end of the leftfield and rightfield lines, before you get to the bleachers. The ballpark poppers essentially offer four things deep fried in cornbread batter: Cheeseburger bites, Jalapeno poppers, corn dogs, and corn dog bites. They have ranch sauce and Sriracha hot sauce along with the typical condiments. Apparently they also have a Facebook page which I think is hilarious and awesome.

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Cheeseburger bites

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Jalapeno poppers

Andrea and Iris were really into the poppers. I tried the jalapeno poppers and they were pretty good, especially if you like cornbread. They were also really huge.

Carson: Of the poppers my favorite is still the jalapeño. But the corn dogs aren't bad by any means. Mustard only though and then mix Sriracha in with the mustard. Also, [screw] ketchup.

Iris: The Jalapeno poppers are my go-to, with a crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, thick, fluffy cornbread layer tucked around a fresh jalapeno boat of still-cold cream cheese.  SO GREAT WITH BEER!!!

Kenny: Both the fried hamburger and jalapeno were great.

By this time, between the beers, mixed drinks, and tons of food, our tasters were starting to flag a bit. Since I wasn't eating much, I took it upon myself to force them to eat more.

Hot Dog Nation (Section 111 and 123)

I wandered around until I spotted Hot Dog Nation. They have a few different kinds of creative hot dogs, again at pretty decent prices.

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I picked up the All-Star dog (mac and cheese, nacho cheese, and jalapenos) along with the Diablo dog (nacho cheese, bacon, and fried onion strings).

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All-Star Dog

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Diablo Dog

Kenny: The macaroni hot dog, great idea, but was way too salty, had a useless bun that just turns to mush, and the macaroni was bland.

Iris: I DID like the crispy hot dog  + bacon + hot dog dealio, the crunchy onion bits + nacho cheese was pretty spot on.  I agree with your wife that it needed some spice-- siracha sauce maybe or OOH BARBECUE SAUCE.  YES BARBECUE SAUCE

Katie: I enjoyed the many, messy hot dog topping varieties

Carson: I wasn't a huge fan of mac and cheese on my hot dog. No textural contrast, but I get the epic meal time shout out and I'm not going to hate on it. If you're going that route I'd rather the diablo dog, nacho cheese and fried onions go hard.

Out of the two, the Diablo Dog was the clear winner. Again, most thought the bun is probably not necessary. No one was ready to dismiss the mac and cheese dog completely, though, and all offered various tweaks to improve on it. At this point the palates had become discerning, as each bite was taking a lot of effort. We took a break and watched the game, but I was still hungry. I made my way over to the Round Table Pizza stand.

Round Table Pizza (Section 114)

The Round Table stand, besides their cheese pizza, has a mac and cheese that's vegetarian as well as one with bacon, and also has cinnamon twists for $5 that come with warm icing dip. I picked up the mac and cheese and the cinnamon twists.

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The mac and cheese was $7, and it was a good portion and freshly made. I would get it again. The cinnamon twists aren't bad, and you get a ton of them. However everyone agreed the peach cobbler was a better dessert for the same price. Of course, it's a matter of taste.

The game went to extra innings, and we thought about how fitting it would be if the food tour ended in some walk-off pie. Alas, it was not to be as L.J. Hoes lined a homer to win it for the Astros. Thanks to the food coma, we were a bit immune to the rough finale.

Final impressions, brought to you by Kenny

Long ago I got sick of spending eight bucks for a overcooked soggy hot dogs or stale-ass nachos so I gave up on ever trying to eat any food made in my cemented playground. When I saw that there was a chance to try some new food from a newly contracted company (good riddance Aramark, hopefully the door bludgeoned you on your way out) I jumped at the chance.

Coincidentally I was on vacation during the food tasting event, but driving 312 miles in one day to see an A’s game, pig out on fancy food and some new beer choices was a sacrifice that was too easy to make, and boy was I glad that I did.

After eating pizza, burritos, tacos, BBQ brisket ribs and links, fried jalapenos, fried hamburger, macaroni hot dogs, fried onion hot dogs, this cinnamon bread thing and who knows what else I forgot after my food comma; I can say that my food strike at the Coliseum is officially over.


Created with flickr slideshow.


Thanks to Jay Satenspiel of Ovations and Amy MacEwen of the A's for treating us to an awesome experience!