High-Altitude Wines and Fair Weather Fare at Citi Field

Evaluating ballpark dining during a weekend Phillies-Mets series
Aug 7, 2012

It ain't easy being Philly in New York. As a Philadelphia sports fan, I accept that I face harassment from the locals. And as a Phillies fan in particular, I hear it pretty regularly from my diehard Mets fan colleagues. But the Phillies come to town often, and I've braved the hostile confines of Citi Field in Queens for a few games so far this season—to see Phillies ace Cole Hamels, and then tough-luck Cliff Lee finally get his first win of the season on the 4th of July.

But I was also there to check back on the wine and food offerings of Citi Field, where restaurateur and recent Wine Spectator cover boy Danny Meyer runs most of the operation.

Since Citi Field is one of the new breed of Camden Yards-inspired, jewel-box stadiums, there are plenty of great standing-room areas to watch the game. I almost always buy the cheapest tickets available and move around the stadium during the game; for this series, they were $10 "nose bleed" seats in section 538 of the Promenade—the highest vantage point in the stadium.

We stopped by the upper-deck wine bar, where 187ml plastic bottles, priced at $10 each, of Sherbrooke Cellars Finnegan's Lake California Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (largely from Lodi), Chardonnay 2010 (75 percent Lodi/25 percent Monterey), Merlot and Pinot Grigio comprise the entire menu. Sipping the Chardonnay from our stratospheric seats was somewhat dizzying, attributable more to the altitude than the wine, which was about the quality one would expect from a ballpark vendor—crisp and clean but quite simple in the end.

Considering the setting, I'd call it a satisfying quaff, and recommendable to stadium-goers averse to beer. However, if you aren't averse to beer, Citi Field's Craft Beer Dugout stands have dozens of fine brews from the likes of Brooklyn Brewery, Redhook, Goose Island, Six Point, Ommegang, Blue Moon and Victory (for us Philly fans, apparently).

For those looking for more upscale wines, Citi Field does feature the Delta Sky360 Club, a restaurant that's, unfortunately, not open to cheap-seat residents such as myself. Listed on the menu there are high-end options like Dom Pérignon ($270), Kistler Chardonnay ($130) and Phelps Insignia ($280), but also some nice wines by the glass: Lieb Family Chardonnay from Long Island's North Fork ($11), Jean-Luc Colombo rosé ($12) and Delas Côtes du Rhône ($9).

After a few disconcerting innings of watching bleacher pigeons fly by 100 feet below us, we abandoned our seats for the center-field food court. Bypassing the two biggest draws—Blue Smoke barbecue and Shake Shack hamburgers—was an easy decision, as the lines are long and their original locations are just steps away from Wine Spectator's offices in Manhattan.

Seafood guru and chef Dave Pasternack, of the Batali/Bastianich restaurant Esca, runs Catch of the Day, my favorite Citi Field food venue. The prices here have gotten higher since the stadium opened in 2009, and the spicy blackened shrimp po'boy with creole mustard, cabbage and carrots on ciabatta is a somewhat outrageous $15 this season, though still delicious. The fried flounder fillet sandwich with tartar sauce on a potato roll remains a reasonable $9.50. Both sandwiches worked just fine with the Chardonnay.

Offsetting the seafood expenses was the best value in stadium food I know of, El Verano Taquería, run by Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. There, $10.50 gets you three flour tortilla tacos, one each of chicken molé pipian, carnitas and chile-marinated skirt steak. For $4 more, there's a steamed elote—corn on the cob slathered in butter and sprinkled with cojita cheese and paprika.

As a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, I have to give the nod to Citi Field when it comes to food and beer. I wouldn't go out of my way to hit any of those parks for the wine selection, though I've yet to experience Citi's Delta Sky360 Club.

San Francisco's AT&T Park, on the other hand, where my rival Giants fan colleagues in Wine Spectator's Napa office get their baseball fix, has the best stadium wine offerings I've heard of. For between $9 and $15, they have an array of options, from Niebaum-Coppola, Cupcake and Chalone to Acacia and Schramsberg. With the Giants doing such a great job of fielding local wines, and New York's Finger Lakes and Long Island making better wines with every vintage, Citi Field could easily up its wine game by recruiting a bit of homegrown talent.

What's on the food-and-drink menu at your favorite ballpark?

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