GRAND SLAM GRUB!

Astros cooking up major playoff home-field advantage for fans

Take a peek at what's cooking this post-season. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The MLB post-season starts next week, and the Astros have given PJ Saidler the signal to start warming up … the grills and ovens at concession stands in Minute Maid Park.

Saidler is the general manager, His Royal Highness of Horseradish for Aramark Food and Beverage at Minute Maid Park. Saidler is in charge of all the eats at the ballpark and he's expecting big hungry crowds for the Astros' drive to the World Series.

While he's ready to fire up the grills, we fired 10 questions about what's cooking at Minute Maid Park for the post-season.

1. SportsMap: How has it been this first year back from baseball's pandemic year of no fans?

PJ Saidler: The year with no fans was very weird. Walking around a ballpark with a game going on and not hearing the cheering of fans just was not the same. I'll never forget that first home game without fans. It was so quiet in the stadium you could hear Dusty Baker talking to the players.

It's been exhilarating to have fans back. Just having a stadium packed with fans on opening day was one of the best feelings you can imagine.

2. SportsMap: Did fans behave differently this year?

PS: Fans have arrived closer to game time this season, but once they're settled in, it's almost been a playoff atmosphere every night. Fans are so excited to be back in the stadium you can just feel their energy.

3. SportsMap: What safety rules did you have in place because of Covid?

PS: We partnered with the Houston Health Department to come up with restrictions so we could safely serve our fans. The biggest change we had to make was not allowing fans to get their own condiments and buffet food. We took the standard onions and jalapenos that you would find on a condiment cart and we served them from behind the counter.

4. SportsMap: Were fans' eating habits different this year? Did they drink and eat more or less than years past?

PS: Industry-wide, we have seen fans eat and drink more than previous years. It's been like that at Minute Maid Park, too. I think it goes back to the energy in the building and fans are so excited to be at the stadium. They're just enjoying themselves more.

5. SportsMap: Were the old favorites still the top choices, or did fans order different things than usual?

PS: Fans came to eat ballpark food. While we do a lot of fun menu items, our top items are still peanuts, pretzels, hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and beer. We saw fans gravitate to these items even more than usual this year.

6. SportsMap: What new items this year sold well? Will they become permanent?

PS: Crawford Bock from Karbach Brewery in Houston has been in the stadium for a few years now, but this season Crawford Bock made huge headway and is now one of our top beer brands sold.

We added a Killen's BBQ location to our upper deck at the Ultra Bar. It has been a great success and we plan to continue that partnership for several years

Taquerias Arandas came on board as a local partner with two locations and fans have loved it. We will have them back in 2022.

7. SportsMap: The Astros always break out new menu items for the post-season. What do you have planned for this year?

PS: We are bringing back the stacked nacho we did for the 2019 World Series. That's fried orange tortillas stacked high and layered with charro beans, salsa ranchero, crema, pico de gallo, jalapenos, cilantro and your choice of meat. It will be available at the Atrium Pop Up Kitchen Cart.

We'll also have Walk Off Nachos, your choice of Doritos or Fritos topped with queso blanco, fajita beef or chicken, sour cream and fresh salsa, available behind Sec. 114.

The El Pina Dog, an all-beef frank topped with smoked pineapple and candied jalapenos will be available at the Hot Dog Grill Cart behind Sec. 132.

8. SportsMap: How did Dollar Dog Night go this year? Are you still serving full-size Nolan Ryan All-Beef Dogs and not ripoff cocktail franks like at some other stadiums?

PS: Dollar Dog Night on Tuesdays continues to be a huge success for us. Yes we still serve our regular size Nolan Ryan dogs that you would get throughout the season.

9. SportsMap: Does Aramark consult with fans about what food choices they'd like to see at Minute Maid Park?

PS: The Astros and Aramark worked together to put out a fan survey focused on the food and beverage experience at the ballpark. It went out just a few weeks ago so we don't have the results back yet. We will take that info along with other surveys about what fans would like to see in the building as we start to plan our 2022 concessions.

10: SportsMap: You're the man with the plan, the boss with the hot sauce. What's your favorite thing to eat at Minute Maid Park?

PS: We introduced a Crawford Dog, which is two split and griddled hot dogs served with Crawford Bock bacon onion jam served on a toasted bun. It's been a hit, it's my favorite, and it's going to stay a few more years.

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