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Pirates Buy me some peanuts and uh, sushi?

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Diana Nelson Jones, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Expanded PNC Park menu offers some surprises

The "wow" food news of the new baseball season is, simply put, sushi. Who would have thought it, here in the 'burgh?

When Carl Mittleman suggested it for the new ball park, some people probably thought, "Hey bud, this isn't Denver." In August, Mittleman came from Coors Field to become the new general manager of Aramark at Three Rivers Stadium. Some people did actually tell him he might want to rethink the sushi and raw bar idea, but he sounds confident that the new offerings, with the old, will combine to make Pirates fans the happiest baseball fans in America.

"I believe our menu will set the benchmark for baseball," said Mittleman.

At Three Rivers, where the healthiest sales item was a soft pretzel, not a few fans had remarked they wanted some changes. But change was already in the air.

The stadium concession business made a big swing upscale in the early 1990s, long overdue for the variety-hungry U.S. consumer. At new ballparks, notably Oriole Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore, this trend included a bow to local tastes: Oriole fans were able to watch the game and eat Maryland crab cakes.

At Three Rivers, the doors opened to a number of local and regional businesses. Primanti Brothers, Benkovitz Seafoods, the Pennsylvania Brewing Company and Sharon-based Quaker Steak and Lube all found homes at the stadium.

Even the most traditional fare -- hot dogs -- rated a second glance when Aramark added Hebrew National carts around the stadium in 1996.

Naturally, with a new ball yard that's being touted, at least locally, as the best in the nation, the menu would have to be further upgraded. It seems, in fact, that the designs of new ball parks are being downsized in direct proportion to how greatly concessions have expanded.

Not only can you buy more things at more places, you can do it faster. What Mittleman calls "points of sale" -- known to the lay public as cash registers -- have skyrocketed in number. For instance, Primanti's stand near gate B at Three Rivers had three. At the new park, it will have 21. That should mean one thing to consumers -- no long lines. Primanti's will offer more kinds of sandwiches, but the price will stay $5.50. Similarly, Hebrew National hot dogs, which sold from three carts, will be sold at 15 locations. That price, $5, is up from last year's $4.50.

Prices of several holdover items will be the same, including Pizza Outlet pizza at $5 and the Benkovitz' fish sandwich at $5.25. Special pricing has been set for children's food, with most things $2 or less. A small hot dog and soft drink will each sell for $2.25.

Saying there will be "a culinary presence at every stand," Mittleman hired a small North Side entrepreneur to serve what will be called Chicken on the Hill at Pops' Plaza, so named for Hall of Famer Willie "Pops" Stargell. When Stargell would hit a home run in the Bob Prince-era, the announcer would crow, "Chicken on the Hill!" as Stargell lumbered around the bases. Stargell owned a chicken place in the Hill District, and the first time Prince ever used the expression, he said the restaurant would give away chicken if Stargell hit a home run. It was news to the workers at the restaurant when people beseiged them. Thereafter, when Stargell homered, the rallying cry was a signature of Prince's broadcasts.

Quik-it, a convenience mart with an adjacent carry-out, opened a few years ago on Pennsylvania Avenue on the North Side, and its chicken has been a huge hit -- "a great product," says Mittleman.

Pops' Plaza, located off left field, will also serve fresh-cut fries, barbecue and chili.

On your walk toward home plate from Pops' Plaza, a concession honors the tastes of Pittsburgh. Isaly's chipped ham will be featured, and on specially designated ethnic days, such things as pierogies. Behind home plate, a deli will serve hot corned beef on thick rye bread ($5.50), Caesar salads ($6.50) and a Southwestern Chicken Fajita Wrap or Veggie Wrap ($5.75).

Continuing around the diamond, Smorgasburgh gives first-base seating closest access to Primanti's, Quaker Steak and Lube and Benkovitz, where you will find your sushi, your baked fish, peel-and-eat shrimp and fish 'n' chips.

Behind Smorgasburgh a pub of local brews includes a deck that overlooks the Allegheny River.

Primanti's and Quaker Steak and Lube will have additional presence.

With a glass window overlooking left field, the new Outback Steakhouse will be open year 'round and sell fans tables with game views. Each of 16 tables along the glass, with an unobstructed view, will cost $46 per person . Another 13 booths, which have game views but are not along the windows, will sell for $37 per person. These prices include a $25 food credit.

A separate entrance from Federal Street does not require a ticket on game days. Any ticket gains a fan entrance to the bar, which has a view of the game. This is the first full-service Outback restaurant in a major-league park.

There's more for sale than food and beverages. Of five merchandise stores, one will be open on non-game days. Pirate Outfitters will occupy two levels and be accessible from Federal Street. A smaller version will be inside the park behind home plate. Two others, the Pirate Cap Co. and Bucaroo's Gear, a merchandise store for children, will be open on game days only, with access from inside the ball park.

The Riverwalk that parallels the Allegheny and right and center fields will be open to the general public at all times except during games. You can see into the park from it. It leads to a tiered picnic area, which overlooks the river. This area has a private area that corporations and groups can rent for pre-game parties.

On the lower level, fans will have 'year-round access to several businesses that you can enter from Federal Street. They include a pizza pub featuring Pennsylvania Brewing Co. beer, a coffee house called Seattle's Best and the Ballpark News, a news stand.


Next: Where do you want to go after the game?

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