BATTER UP! EAT UP!

Houston Astros roll out a powerhouse lineup of new ballpark grub for 2019

Smoked Pork Burnt End Tots. Photo courtesy of Aramark

Originally appeared on CultureMap.

Good luck sticking to your regular baseball diet — hot dogs and beer — at Minute Maid Park this season. The Houston Astros unveiled their lineup of new menu items this week, and you may want to skip lunch on game night. And maybe even breakfast the next morning. And drop by Jenny Craig for a pep talk on your way home from work.

Among the more fanciful selections for 2019: Smoked Pork Burnt End Topped Tots, Prime Rib Steak Sandwich, Lamb Gyro, and Calabrese Shrimp Sandwich. How does a dish of Kahlua Tiramisu sound for dessert? (Remember, pinkies out.)

"We try to keep our food focused on the regional tastes of Houston and finding a way to put a ballpark spin on things. We do a lot of research and consultation with our fans, and assortment of food and beverages is the thing that matters most to them," says Mat Drain, His Exalted Highness of Habanero for Aramark, which runs the food concessions at Minute Maid Park.

Aramark held its annual press event in the ballpark's Diamond Club. Inviting the media to sample free food, buffet-style, makes the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona look like a waltz contest. Joey Chestnut has nothing on sports writers.

A beefed-up lineup
My favorite was the Prime Rib Sandwich, which is serious business even by steakhouse standards. It's a thick slab of trimmed prime rib, topped by caramelized onions and horseradish sauce. It's over-the-top, amazing and not cheap. Your favorite president, Andrew Jackson, will pick up the bill.

I taste-tested the 713 Prime Burger, an 8-ounce Nolan Ryan patty — actual prime beef — with American cheese on a toasted bun. Elegant in simplicity, divine in quality, smooth as butter. I dug into a Fried Shrimp Po'boy, with real Gulf shrimp. Nice touch staying local.

I also snuck in a Ken Hoffman Dog, topped with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard. Yes, for the first time, my dog will available throughout the stadium this season, total respect.

Better food for all fans
Drain, if nothing else a man of the people, says he's addressed a complaint heard often in years past: that all the good stuff is limited to certain stadium levels, particularly the suites and club level.

"Our biggest focus has been making sure we have variety on all levels of the ballpark. We've added specialty concepts that have been successful on the main concourse to the upper concourse, such as our HTX Mex portables selling tacos," he notes.

One table at the food rollout was dedicated to an array of new salads and healthier options, available at the Marketplace on the main concourse. (I pretended that I didn't see it.)

Executive Chef Jimmy Coatsworth explained how he prepares Smoked Smoked Pork Burnt End Topped Tots. It was like listening to Beethoven describe how he composed his Fifth Symphony. What kind of devious mind thinks up a Frito Pie Corn Dog? If only Coatsworth used his powers for good instead of evil.

Dollar Dog Nights will be held on Tuesdays this year. There are lucky 13 Tuesday night games on tap this year, start looking for loose change in the couch. Big ups for Minute Maid Park. While other stadiums sell smaller franks on their discount dog nights, the Astros offer the same size frank as other games.

To see the complete batting order of new food items, locations, and prices coming to Minute Maid Park, read the rest of the story on CultureMap.


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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