Reviewing the ballpark's hidden breakfast food
After a lifetime of old peanuts and stale Cracker Jacks, Major League Baseball teams have finally figured out how to properly stuff people’s faces. Wishing you could combine a churro, a doughnut, frozen yogurt, and chocolate and caramel sauces into one treat? Check out the Churro Dog in Arizona. Fired up for meatballs in an Italian bread cone? That would be The Hill Meatball Cone in St. Louis. Meat slathered in energy drink more your thing? The Punisher in Atlanta has you covered.
Still, there’s one meal that’s incredibly tough to find at a big league ballpark: breakfast. With most games played at night, and fans accustomed to later-in-the-day food, few stadiums offer any kind of breakfast or brunch dishes. If you do happen upon a stray egg-stuffed burrito or bagel-enclosed sandwich, it probably won’t be memorable. Having seen a game in every MLB city but one during my years as a fan and baseball writer (see you soon, Target Field!), I’d come to a painful conclusion: Baseball stadiums have no time for breakfast-obsessed lunatics like me.
Then came word from the heavens… an omelet oasis! There is indeed breakfast at Citi Field. The home of the New York Mets offers killer, custom-made omelets, along with a smorgasbord of other breakfast and brunch delights. Or so I was told. After a decade and a half of mostly hard times, the underdog Mets won the National League pennant and stormed to the World Series last year. Could the ballclub pull off the even rarer feat of stuffing my face with a legitimate array of meats, cheese, egg dishes, and baked goods specifically designed for the morning crowd?
Breakfast at Citi Field can only be found inside the stadium’s Acela Club, and getting into the exclusive room isn’t easy. First, you need to trek up to the Excelsior level on the fifth floor, then walk all the way down the left-field line, until you approach the foul pole. Once there, a friendly maitre d’ will be happy to help you get seated—assuming you’ve got a ticket that also grants you access to the club level. This isn’t a cheap excursion.
Still, if you can finagle club access, the meal itself is highly reasonable considering this is New York City, and you’re in a damn baseball stadium. For $29 per person (tax, tip, and mimosas not included), you’re going to eat a borderline-illegal amount of damn good breakfast.
Owned by the Myriad Group (which also runs Tribeca Grill and Nobu), the Acela Club offers an inviting layout. Walk down a small flight of stairs and you face a wall of gigantic windows, which offer a sweeping view of the field. Just above it is the main level, where the buffets live. The setup always includes one huge station featuring charcuterie, many cheeses, various antipasti, an elaborate waffle setup, and an array of baked goods, an omelet station equipped with all the fixins you could possibly dream up, and a specialty food cart that rotates choices (but wasn’t in use during brunch). Notably absent: the usual array of bacon and other pork products that typically adorn an elaborate breakfast spread. Given the panoply of other options, this wasn’t a problem.
I went for two plates. For the first, I made a beeline for the omelet station. Being a man of simple tastes, and believing the quality of a great omelet to be measured with just a few well-placed ingredients, I asked for mushrooms, asparagus, and cheddar. While the omelet was being prepared, I meandered over to the catch-all table and went to town. First I went for the meats and cheeses, nabbing two kinds of salami, and a few slices of an enticing pepperoni. Next up, two kinds of cheddar. Then the waffle, covered in strawberry slices and blueberries, with a ladle full of raspberry compote and some warm, genuine maple syrup. Desserts are a must with every meal and breakfast is no exception, which means I’m grabbing a chocolate-covered, custard-filled mini-doughnut and a mini black-and-white cookie. Finally, one whole, ripe strawberry, because no buffet can achieve perfection unless it has spectacularly delicious fresh strawberries.
I started with the waffle, figuring it would be the first to get soggy if I let it sit. Right off the bat, a big winner. The waffle was crispy, the raspberry compote the perfect mix of tart and sweet, and the maple syrup was the good stuff, which I can readily identify as a native of the province of Quebec, home to the world’s best maple syrup (I’m willing to concede a tie with Vermont). Gotta follow sweet with salty, so I pounced on the cured meats. My people (Hungarians, though I guess Canadians, too?) appreciate salami with a good kick, and these deliver.
Now the moment of truth, the omelet.
[Slices a healthy-sized bite]
[Brings fork to mouth]
[Takes a bite]
Damn. It was perfectly prepared—no easy task given the vastly different textures of the three ingredients. The asparagus was properly pre-cooked so that its crunch doesn’t overwhelm everything, but not so much that it’s mushy. The mushrooms were rich, and the cheddar had melted nicely. I often prefer runnier eggs—over easy, poached soft, that kind of thing. That makes me naturally skeptical of omelets, which run the risk of being too dry and needing a tidal wave of Cholula to save them. Not this time. This is a very good omelet, even for a guy who doesn’t always go for omelets.
The rest of round one ranged from pretty good to great. I wouldn’t kick the black-and-white cookie out of bed for eating uhhh… itself, but the standards are so high in New York that this one didn’t blow the roof off. The whole strawberry was a solid B+ and thus not quite perfect, though I acknowledge that even getting the season right for that fruit is a tricky endeavor. The two cheeses hit the spot, one a slightly gritty (in a good way) orange cheddar that packed a little punch, the other a white cheddar that came in smoother and milder. Then came the chocolate/custard donut, which was nothing short of fantastic—super fresh, flaky chocolate chunks on top, light and refreshing custard inside.
By this point, I was nearly ready to tap out. But Nick Fenton, an Aramark assistant general manager working at Citi Field (with a title like that I assume he occasionally advises Sandy Alderson on trades, too), recommended two more items. The first was mozzarella di bufala. Like omelets, this is a food that I respect, even if it isn’t necessarily a personal go-to. But Fenton wouldn’t take no for an answer, noting that the mozz gets flown in regularly from Italy, gets drizzled with top-shelf olive oil, and must be sampled. Can confirm: creamy, a little tangy, and just really, really good.
A sucker for sweets, I was ready for one more recommendation. The dessert choices read as follows:
Seasonal Fruit Crisp (brown sugar crumble, vanilla ice cream)
Strawberry Cheesecake Doughnuts with Creme Anglaise [WHAT?!?!?!]
Acela Chocolate Cake
Affogato (Vanilla Ice Cream, Espresso, Amaro Liqueur)
Selection of House-Made Ice Creams & Sorbets
And the winner is… Strawberry Cheesecake Doughnuts with Creme Anglaise, because at some point during this visit, I decided that today would be a good day to die.
I was expecting a religious experience, and the doughnuts didn’t disappoint. They were served warm, offered a nice exterior crunch, and some outstanding, even slightly subtle strawberry flavor. Dipping each mini-doughnut in creme anglaise was a case of weaponized cruelty against my already embattled arteries, and I regretted none of it. Google Maps says it’s 1,790 miles from my place in Denver to Citi Field, and I would gladly walk the whole way just to get another bite of those doughnuts.
So now you know. If you’re looking for a preposterously decadent brunch in a major league ballpark, Citi Field has you covered. Between the pricey game ticket and the actual cost of the meal, it’ll set you back a fair bit. Given how hard it is to find real morning foods in a stadium, and that you can top everything off with the kind of doughnuts that might bring you to tears, you should go for it anyway.
I don’t care what “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” says. After this brunch, I never want to see peanuts and Cracker Jack in a ballpark again.