For the past seven years, at the start of baseball season, Seattle media are invited to Safeco Field to try the new menu items curated by Seattle Chef Ethan Stowell. And this year was no different. Chef Stowell says it’s the first year they’ve invited a bunch of local restaurants to serve food at the stadium.
“We’ve got Great State Burger coming in,” Stowell said. “We’ve got Poquitos Mexican food coming in. We’ve got Ballard Pizza Company, we’ve got Bramling Cross and Dynamite Chicken coming in, Uptown China.”
Hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and peanuts are still best sellers, but Stowell and the Mariners love pushing the envelope. This year they’re introducing “Seattle wings,” which are actually fried oysters drizzled with hot sauce and Poquitos gives you the option of topping your tacos with crispy fried grasshoppers.
“Centerplate and myself and the Mariners, we don’t want to just have traditional ballpark fare, we want to do some other stuff,” Stowell said. “There’s definitely some things we do that we like to kind of experiment with.”
When I told Don O’Neill I was headed to the tasting, he suggested I find a new angle. You know, something other than “I went to the ballpark and ate free food for my job again.” So I chatted with some other people who eat free food for their job: food writers. Some of these people go to so many free media tastings, I wondered if they even have to buy groceries. Food and wine writer Chris Nishiwaki claims to go to three or four free eating events a week.
“Before I was a food writer, I was a sports writer,” says Nishiwaki. “So I got to travel all over the country and visit most of the baseball stadiums across the country. The quality of food at stadiums has improved but I can’t think of a better food destination at a baseball station than Safeco field. It’s remarkable. It used to be you get a hot dog, you get a beer, a pretzel, and you’re good. But now, the specialty dishes, there’s nothing like it.”
Freelance food writer Julia Wayne says she eats for free about twice a month.
“Uh huh, and they should be jealous,” she says, referring to anyone who covets her job. “It’s pretty great. You get to write about food for a living…a sort of living. You get to eat everything first. It’s a nice privilege.”
Frank Guanco, writer for Seattle Refined, reflects on his favorite bite of the day.
“My favorite, just because it was so different, was the roasted grasshoppers from Poquitos. Bugs are different, but it’s kind of cool because it’s textural, it’s a different flavor and when you add it on top of a taco you have this really cool crunch to it too. It’s definitely super adventurous but stepping outside your comfort zone is always a good thing.”
So those are the food writers. But then there’s the infiltrator: the boyfriend of someone who works in food media, Kevin Hallstrom.
“It’s a great perk. This is probably my favorite event so far because the food is more my style. I’m not really a foodie type. I like pizza, I like burgers, stuff that’s bad for me in general. Milkshakes, they’ve got all that stuff here. Plus beer. It’s a win-win.”