TRIPLE PLAY TREATS!

Astros introduce tasty additions to stacked lineup of stadium grub

Torchy's has been replaced by Top Taco. Photo via: Mat Drain.

Baseball, with full stadiums someday soon (hopefully), is back.

Best of all, fans can cheer on the Astros while enjoying hot dogs, beer and ice cream sundaes in miniature batting helmets at Minute Maid Park. Food, glorious baseball food.

Here's our annual 10 Questions for Mat Drain, the Baron of Butterfingers for Aramark, which runs all the concession stands at the ballpark.

1.SportsMap: On a personal level, how does it feel to have fans back in Minute Maid Park?

Mat Drain: I am absolutely ecstatic to have fans back in the ballpark enjoying a hot dog and a beer. When you get the opportunity to work in a stadium like Minute Maid Park you thrive off the excitement of fans which was missing last year with the shortened season and empty stands. The hardest part of not having fans in the ballpark was missing our extraordinary game day staff who are so instrumental to the fans' experience. They had been away from the ballpark since the last game of 2019.

2.SM: What did you do last year without fans to feed?

MD: We worked on COVID plans in case it was determined that fans could return safely to the ballpark in 2020. Many of our team members and creative culinary team still were responsible for feeding the home and visiting players, umpires and media who attended games.

3.SM: So far, the ballpark is restricted to 50-percent capacity. How are you accommodating that? Do you have a full menu with all concession stands open, or have you scaled service back proportionate to the crowd size?

MD: We are opening stands based on where fans are sitting in the ballpark and keeping in mind giving fans enough space to safely distance. The majority of our items are still available, but we've reduced the number of portable locations which has slightly impacted the variety. We still offer favorites like Shake Shack, Pluckers and Jackson Street BBQ and ballpark staples like hot dogs and nachos. Our fans on the club level still have branded options like Osso & Kristalla and Papa John's.

4.SM: Describe the cashless system you're using now.

MD: All food and beverage and retail transactions are cashless. You can use contactless payment like Apple Pay or Google pay, your major debit and credit cards, or use our reverse ATMs where you put in cash and it gives you a debit card that can be used anywhere inside Minute Maid Park. We are also providing mobile order pick-up as the only way to order at Killen's BBQ at Section 109.

5.SM: Are fans' eating habits the same, or have tastes changed coming out of 2020's pandemic year?

MD: After the first few games we are seeing the same eating habits. I think folks are really excited to be back in the ballpark. I forgot how much better a hot dog tastes when you are watching your hometown Astros.

6. SM: How are you implementing social distancing at concession stands? Are fans following the rules?

MD: We are opening stands and registers based on demand. We are ensuring that our staff has a safe work environment which, in some cases, results in closing some registers and providing reduced stand staff.

7.SM: What happened to Torchy's Tacos on the outfield mezzanine?

DM: After a three-year run Torchy's, a fan favorite, is no longer available. Torchy's has been replaced by Top Taco, which is an Aramark concept.

8.SM: Will Dollar Dogs be back this season?

MD: Yes, every Tuesday night. We had our first one this week and it appeared that fans have been saving their dollars as they did not skip a beat. The next Dollar Dog Night is April 27 when the Seattle Mariners are here. The unofficial record for most hot dogs sold is 46,000 hot dogs during a game against Boston. Like years past, we will sell our regular full-sized hot dogs on Dollar Dog Night.

9.SM: What are fans saying to you? Are they requesting anything special on the menu?

MD: The best part about having fans again is being able to talk to them around the stadium. Most fans are excited to back in the ballpark and are adjusting to the 2021 season protocols. Our fans are very engaged in the ballpark experience so I anticipate as we settle into the season we will start to get some feedback on food items they would like to see or inquire when their favorite item might return. We are ready for the challenge and can't wait for a full season of baseball.

10.SM: So what's new for 2021?

MD: We have two new chicken and taco concepts.

Tenders Love and Chicken (Section 418).

Premium chicken tenders or jumbo wings for $10.49. Both are available with hand-cut fries for $16.99.

Top Taco (outfield mezzanine).

Your choice (pick 2) of Korean Brisket, Adobo Chicken, Harissa Cauliflower or Pork Carnita tacos, served on either corn or flour tortillas, plus tortilla chips and salsa for $13.85.

TLC premium chicken tenders.


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Texans fall to Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans kept it closer than the experts thought they would, but couldn't pull out a victory. Here are 11 observations from the loss in Cleveland to the Browns.

1. The game looks totally different if Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor finishes the game. Taylor left at halftime with a hamstring injury. He was playing exceptionally well against his former team. Taylor is not expected to play Thursday according to NFL Network.

2. Davis Mills had a rocky NFL debut which was to be expected. Mills looked to have the wrong elements of a few plays. He also couldn't hit backup wideout Andre Roberts over the middle and threw an interception. It was a fine performance considering what Mills showed he could do in the preseason.

3. Mills didn't work with a full load of offensive weapons in the second half. Rookie wideout Nico Collins didn't return to the game after his lone catch and big run early in the game. Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola left the game with an injury. Tight end Anthony Auclair left with an eye injury. The Texans entered the game without wide receiver Anthony Miller who was inactive.

4. Brandin Cooks is a monster through two games. He is the most dangerous skill position player on the team, and defenses still have trouble covering him and staying with him. Cooks turned in yet another impressive day for this team and hauled in a Davis Mills touchdown pass.

5. The Browns did a solid job against the ground game of the Texans. Mark Ingram averaged under three yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor was the only rusher to have a big play on the ground. This led to a fair number of third-and-long situations which the Texans usually had trouble converting.

6. Justin Reid was set to increase his payday on his next contract with his early play. Reid forced a fumble and had an interception in the first half. Unfortunately, Reid would leave the game multiple times with injuries. The knock on Reid has always been his health.

7. The Texans were worn down by the Browns rushing attack all day. Once Cleveland committed to the run they saw the success of their work culminating in a 26-yard scamper by Nick Chubb for a touchdown. The Browns didn't run as much as I excepted them to run early.

8. Tim Kelly had another nice day calling plays. Kelly remains creative in finding ways to get the ball out of Taylor's hands quickly as well as manufacturing matchups where the Texans can win and pick up yards. He even got creative to get Davis Mills a passing touchdown late in the game. Kelly has been very impressive through two games.

9. Andre Roberts was inexcusably bad today. The Texans defense held on the opening drive and his muffed punt eliminated the momentum from the defensive stand. He also had poor returns on kickoffs. His lone job is to be a solid returner, and he failed at that on Sunday.

10. David Culley had a head-scratching decision foregoing an offsides call on a third down. The head coach opted for the result of the third down, and a punt on fourth down, instead of another third down. He did not explain himself well postgame on the decision either.

11. The Texans hung tough and should feel solid about where they could have been without the injury to their quarterback. With no Taylor in the short week, it will not be easy to beat the Panthers who upset the Saints on Sunday.

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