Gridiron Grub: This Season’s New Epic NFL Stadium Food
While tailgate parties and parking lot grills feed a lot of NFL fans, once you’re in the stadium, you’re in the stadium. There was a time when all stadium food was created equal and if you wanted something to eat that represented your city, the tailgate was the only place to get it. No more.
NFL stadiums have stepped up their food game and are dishing up more than the traditional hot dog, giant pretzel and bag of peanuts. They’re serving food that’s on trend with how and what Americans eat, they’re partnering with celebrity chefs to deliver one-of-a-kind meals, and they’re even introducing vegetarian and vegan options. Considering that more than 12 million hungry fans will pack stadiums from coast to coast, keeping everyone fed and happy is a tall order. We’ve selected some of our favorite dishes from around the league.
Here in the Carolinas, the Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, offers up several ways to get your barbecue fix. You can enjoy it on everything from sandwiches to nachos — even on your mac and cheese (if you’re willing to sacrifice a couple of bites off your sandwich for a good cause, that is).
Brats, Tacos and More
In Pittsburgh, Heinz Field serves up the North Shore huluski, a pile of potato and cheese pierogis topped with kielbasa sausage and braised cabbage, a dish that’s an homage to the city’s Polish and eastern European history. They also have the pro bowler, a pizza from Franco Harris Pizzeria. This delicious little pepperoni and cheese pie probably won’t make it back to the seat with you, it’s that tempting.
While we’re talking about Pittsburg, let’s look at a pair of rivals. Over in Cleveland, Chef Michael Symon serves up the B-spot red zone bratwurst at FirstEnergy Stadium. Take one beer brat, slather it with spicy mustard and top with kraut and Tony Paco’s pickles and you’re on the right track. And in Baltimore, Ravens fans can go for the Chesapeake tacos – Old Bay (of course) pulled chicken, Maryland crab dip, corn salsa and cheese on a purple corn tortilla (gotta get those team colors in there) – or the exceptional kielbasa cheesesteak, which is exactly what it sounds like: a cheese steak minus steak, plus kielbasa.
Stadium food in Chicago, a city with a big appetite and a great food scene, is not to be outdone. Dining at Soldier Field, you’ll be tempted with Chicago hot chicken fries – French fries loaded with spicy popcorn chicken, cheese and hot sauce – and pork belly tacos, a dish with a Korean twist – the pork belly is grilled and marinated in Korean fashion and stopped with a daikon radish and carrot slaw, Sriracha and grilled scallions.
South of Chicago, the Houston Texans are gearing up to deliver big hits from the concession stands in NRG Stadium. Battle Red Tacos take chicken tenders breaded in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, mango pico de gallo, and Sriracha mayo to make this spicy handheld bite (and if you like it, you’re in luck, the tacos are served in trios). And it being Texas, you can also get a beef rib. What is it? A. Beef. Rib. A whole one, just for you. Slather on some of your favorite sauce and grab two handfuls of napkins and you’ll be ready to go. If you want something a little more refined, Chef Chris Shepherd serves up the Georgia James carved roast beef sandwich using 44 Farms beef, fresh horseradish cream, and toppings that read like a tasty little wedge salad.
In Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium may have the market cornered on delicious stadium food. Start with the Tennessee hot chicken mac and cheese – mac and cheese topped with spicy fried chicken bites. Then, move to the Jamaican jerk sausage, which delivers the heat with jerk pork in the sausage, and a habanero-mango slaw on top. If that’s not enough spice, the kingdom inferno chicken sandwich has all the Scoville units you’ll ever need. This chicken sandwich appears to be just like any other, but it’s topped with sliced jalapenos and Carolina Reaper mayo. It’s over the top.
In San Francisco you’ll find a real treat in Levi’s Stadium: a Dungeness crab pretzel. If you pictured a pretzel covered in crab instead of salt, you’re out of bounds. This is a pretzel bun stuffed to overflowing with Dungeness crab salad and it promises to be a great bite. And there’s more at other stadiums. Smoked brisket sandwiches and a killer Cubano in Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium, where you’ll also be able to grab chipotle chicken tacos. Try the fried PB&J sandwiches at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills. A pimento cheese melt at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Teriyaki beef tater tots, which you can enjoy while you watch the Bengals play in Paul Brown Stadium in beautiful Cincinnati, Ohio.
In addition, there are a number of vegetarian and vegan options available around the league, and they look good enough to tempt even the most die-hard of pit-smoked-meat enthusiasts to try a bite or two. Among our favorites are Arrowhead Stadium’s vegan sausage – a cauliflower/walnut/wild rice sausage with green apple slaw on a toasted bun – and the sweet potato and black bean tacos served at the Viking’s home field, U.S. Bank Stadium.
In Green Bay their stadium food includs the Brat in a Blanket, a sloppy, but Wisconsin-to-the-core dish. Take one bratwurst, put it on a pretzel bun, then slather it in melted cheese curds and a little beer mustard and you’ve got the most Packers dish imaginable. But if you want to make your Lambeau Field pilgrimage something special, take a look at the AAA Four Diamond Lodge Kohler, a stunning hotel only a few yards from the field. Yeah, you can stay there and eat as many brats in a blanket as you can, or you can save that for the field and dine at Taverne in the Sky, a rooftop restaurant with views of the field.
No doubt those veggie-rich bites will satisfy, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one memorable, monstrous, you’ll-get-heartburn-reading-about-it dish. At University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, you’ll be hungry – and flush with cash – if you are ready to face the Gridiron Challenge. This $75 (yes, you read that right, it’s $75) “burger” weighs in at seven pounds, comes on a 10-inch bun, and stands over a foot high. It includes five 1/3-pound burger patties, five all beef hotdogs, 20 slices of American cheese, eight chicken tenders, eight slices of bacon (because why not?), and 12 ounces of fries. Oh yeah, and toppings: lettuce, tomato and pickles. Rumor has it, if you can eat the whole thing in an hour, they’ll put your face on the stadium video board so the crowd can cheer your accomplishment, then they’ll send you home with a jersey.
Finally, don’t think we forgot dessert, we were just saving the best for last. If you’ve got room, or if you’ve come in with a great game plan, Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, is also home to dessert nachos. Cinnamon and sugar tortilla chips (fried, of course), topped with a smoked chocolate-cherry Nutella sauce, liberally dusted with Michigan cherries and sprinkles, and hit with a little whipped cream for good measure, the dessert nachos are a stadium food trend we hope catches on.
Call your local AAA Travel Agent and start planning your game day and stadium food devouring experience — 800-398-0379.