Food at Camden Yards opener passes the taste test

Take me out to the ballgame, buy me some hummus and coddies.

That is the tune I sang Friday as I ate my way around Camden Yards, sampling the fare, taking its temperature with an instant-read thermometer. I have been doing this task at the opening of the baseball season here since 1992.

On the eating front, this season looks promising.

The fundamentals -- hot dogs and cold beverages -- were strong. The newcomers -- hummus, coddies, deli sandwiches and a new kind of crab cake -- had their moments.

The hot dog is the prime player in ballpark fare. The dog that ruled the house Friday was the $4.75 quarter-pound, all-beef dog, cooked on a grill at Hot Dogs Plus, a yellow stand on Eutaw Street. The skin had snap; the meat was juicy and had a slight smoke flavor. It was a little salty, but the toppings -- peppers, onions and kraut -- calmed down the salinity. It registered 130 degrees Fahrenheit on my thermometer, which, a check of records shows, puts it in contention for the title of hottest dog I have ever eaten at Camden Yards.

It surpassed last's year top dog, the pretzeldog, a hot dog wrapped in pretzel. This year the $6 dog, served at NJ's Famous Hand Rolled Pretzels on the lower level, registered 110 degrees and, thanks to its pretzel wrapping, was mighty salty. (The veggie dog was a no-show. Aramark, the stadium concessionaire, promises it will appear later this season.)

I have eaten hummus before but never at a ballpark. The $7 offering of hummus -- mashed chickpeas, garlic and olive oil, lemon and tahini paste -- was served with a handful of chopped vegetables -- broccoli, carrots, celery and red peppers. It was fresh and tangy, a real comer.

I bought it and the new kind of crab cake at the Charm City Market stand behind home plate on the first level.

This crab cake had no gluten or casein. It did have bread crumbs, but the bread that yielded the crumbs was made with rice flour. At $16, it cost $4 more than the conventional crab cake. It was a bit grainy, but it had good flavor. Folks whose bodies can't tolerate gluten will probably embrace it. I have no trouble with gluten and I welcome it.

The coddies, Baltimore's favorite fish cakes, came from Attman's Deli. Attman's is not really a newcomer to Camden Yards; it is more like a returning veteran. Attman's operated a stand behind home plate a few years ago, but this year has taken over the old Pastimes Cafe location on Eutaw Street and is running a 200-seat restaurant. The Attmans are going to operate this restaurant even when the Orioles are out of town, with the prices dropping when the team is traveling.

The line at Attman's was long. It took me 20 minutes to get the coddies, (two for $5), a pastrami sandwich ($10), a salad ($8) and a chocolate-top cookie ($2). A separate line for hot dogs and soup was moving faster, and members of the Attman family were greeting customers and telling them about the shorter line.

I am a big fan of Attman's hot pastrami served at its Lombard Street location. The pastrami at Camden Yards did not measure up to the Lombard Street sandwich. The pastrami was tender and faintly sweet, but it was not very hot, measuring 96 degrees on the thermometer.

The salad was a pleasant surprise, a generous serving of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. The lettuce was crisp, the other vegetables flavorful. Good salad in a deli, who knew?

The chocolate-top cookies were the real item, short bread covered with a dark, fudgelike topping.

On the beverage front, I got a $4 cup of Coke on the upper deck. It was cold, 33.degrees and satisfying.

I spotted a plethora of beer stands. There were stands selling mainline domestic beers, imports, crafts and even stands devoted to Irish beers -- Harp, Guinness and Smithwick's. The prices range from $6.25 to $7.50 for 16-ounce offerings. Stands selling 24-ounce cans of imports and domestics for $10 were doing a brisk business.

I visited one of the craft beer stands and eyed the selection of Fordham Copper Head Ale, Heavy Seas (formerly Clipper City) lager, Heineken and Flying Dog Brewery's Snake Dog, all $7.50. I went with the Snake Dog, a brazenly hopped IPA. It registered 39 degrees on the thermometer, and its hops brought a smile to my face.

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