The Mets have ruined my digestive system.
And not because of the food at Shea Stadium. I stopped eating there decades ago, except for the occasional hot dog when I forgot to bring my own meal. My insides were ruined not by Aramark but by Armando (as in Benitez) and dozens of other Met misery-makers throughout the years.
Thanks to them, I have blue and orange holes burned right through my stomach lining, a condition doctors now call the "7, 17" syndrome, in honor of 2007 and the toxic acids that erupted throughout Met-dom that September.
So I can't say good food was at the top of my list of things I wanted out of Citi Field. But that's what we're getting. So start saving up for those $11 dog bites and read this update on the culinary delights of Citi Field
, in today's NYT:For Mets Fans, a Menu Beyond Peanuts and Cracker Jack
By GLENN COLLINS
Look for a fastball from the folks who brought you foie gras custard with quince chutney at Gramercy Tavern and capellini with flaked cod at Union Square Cafe: Mets food.
The long-suffering fans who smuggled picnics into Shea Stadium because of the limited menu are about to enter the world of high-concept dining at Citi Field, the new home of the Mets.
As 6,000 construction workers have been feverishly toiling in advance of the April 13 regular-season opener, the restaurateur Danny Meyer has been refining the batting order for the ballpark's signature food offerings.
Mr. Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group runs six restaurants, a jazz club and two hamburger stands, but has never gone outside Manhattan. Now, in Flushing, Queens, his nonunion company will team up with the corporate behemoth Aramark, whose concession workers are represented by Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union in Manhattan.
"I've been thinking about this my whole life, and I know what I want at a ballpark," Mr. Meyer said.
Some of the things he wants are pulled-pork sandwiches on brioche buns ($9), steamed corn on the cob with mayonnaise, cotija cheese and a dusting of cayenne ($3.50), "dog bites" (Kosher hot dogs coated in matzo meal with brown mustard for $11), spare ribs seasoned with Kansas City rub ($10) and shrimp rolls -- using a Martin's potato roll -- with shoestring potatoes ($14).
Mr. Meyer's presence at Citi Field will include a restaurant-cafe-bar-lounge complex called the Delta Sky360 Club (sponsored by the airline). The 22,500-square-foot concourse has 1,600 premium seats behind home plate stretching from dugout to dugout, where individual ticket prices range from $175 to $495.
There will be chocolate-brown leather banquettes, a 109-seat restaurant, show-kitchen pizza ovens, in-seat service and two bars, one dispensing specialty brews. In customary Meyer fashion, his chefs hope to offer fresh blueberries in the frozen custard and local tomatoes in the tacos.
And for the ticket holders with lower budgets, Mr. Meyer will operate a terrace-cum-food court in left-center field called Taste of the City. There will be menu items from his existing franchises like Shake Shack and Blue Smoke, in addition to offerings from two new concepts: El Verano Taqueria (fresh tacos) and Box Frites (fresh-cut Belgian fries with dipping sauces).
The Shake Shack building will also be the home of the beloved skyline silhouette that once topped the demolished Shea Stadium scoreboard.
It remains to be seen whether some Mets fans, who must now spend $50 for tickets that cost $15 not too long ago, will forgo their homemade tuna sandwiches for Mr. Meyer's food. "If the food makes it a good experience, fans will want to come back," said Jeff Wilpon, the team's chief operating officer.
And so Mr. Wilpon will also offer catering in 54 luxury suites as well as clubs, kiosks, hot dog stands and a 550-seat space in left field called the Acela Club, to be operated by Drew Nieporent of Nobu and Corton.
Furthermore, amenities that Shea loyalists liked -- Daruma of Tokyo, Mama's of Corona and Gabila's knishes -- will also have a place in the new stadium.
"If you used to get hot dogs and beer and peanuts at Shea, you can get them at Citi Field," Mr. Wilpon said. "Of course, now there will be more types of beer, and more places to buy it."
Despite his fine-dining background, Mr. Meyer has had success feeding crowds at Shake Shack, the five-year-old fast food restaurant that has generated long lines in Madison Square Park and at a popular satellite at Columbus Avenue and 77th Street.
Mr. Meyer's operation at Citi Field will have a staff of more than 160, joining close to 2,000 people working for Aramark, which has had a contract with the Mets since 1995 and has food-service deals with 13 Major League Baseball fields, 8 National Football League stadiums and 35 amphitheaters. In 2007 it signed a 30-year contract with the Mets.
For long it was a cliché to disparage the cuisine at Shea, where the food was often endured, at best, along with the din of the jets approaching La Guardia Airport.
"The old Shea just didn't have enough kitchen space for us -- it was built in 1964," said Clint Westbrook, an Aramark regional vice president who oversees its stadium operations. But in many stadiums, Aramark has customized ballpark food, "since fans tell us they want local providers."
Thus, Mr. Meyer's participation. In a complex contract, his company will jointly screen Aramark's potential hires; they will be trained by Mr. Meyer's company, and "the training never ends," said David Swinghamer, Mr. Meyer's business partner and the project's overseer.
Mr. Meyer, 51, a Cardinals fan who grew up in St. Louis, has been a Mets season-ticket holder since the mid-1980s and "a Mets fan -- except when they play the Cardinals," he said. In his office, his baseball fanaticism is evidenced by the presence of a scorecard he filled out during a 1967 Cardinals game, when he was 9 years old.
But, baseball food?
"It's in my DNA," he said. "I wanted to be a baseball player, and it didn't work out. I wanted to be an announcer -- did that in college. So now, Citi Field is as close as I'll ever get to a baseball field."
Food companies once "bought their way into stadiums" for the exposure, Mr. Meyer said, and in the New York region, "all previous stadiums were built before food mattered." But then, he said, "free agency happened, fan allegiance eroded, ticket prices went up, and owners realized that they needed more things to attract fans."
Enter Mr. Meyer, whom Mr. Wilpon has known for years. "He was my first call," Mr. Wilpon said. "We understood each other."
The fact that his company is a provider for the Mets instead of the upmarket Yankees "is a delicious irony," Mr. Meyer said. "The Wilpons often have come to my restaurants," unlike, he said, the Steinbrenner family.
Although Mr. Meyer's executives had discussions with the Yankees, "the talks never got traction," Mr. Swinghamer said.
Mr. Meyer said that he was not paying a fee to Citi Field, adding, "We make our money based on selling."
Mr. Wilpon added that the team has paid for construction in Mr. Meyer's concessions. The allocation of the profits "is between me, Danny and Aramark," he said.
The Mets' lucrative contract with Aramark may compel vendors like Mr. Meyer to charge higher prices than outside the stadium to make a profit. In Manhattan, Mr. Meyer's ShackBurgers cost $4.75, but they are $1 more at Citi Field; his hand-spun shakes cost $5.25, but they are $1.25 more at the ballpark.
Mr. Wilpon said simply, "The prices will be ballpark-competitive."
Mr. Meyer will certainly not be a sandwich smuggler, but he has another issue to face: "I'll never be able to go to a Mets game and kick back and just enjoy the food and the game," he said. "I'll be thinking about the execution. The product mix. The quality."