As a team, the Orioles have defied expectation and struck wonder in the hearts of fans this season. The grub at Camden Yards, not so much.
Here’s a sprinkling of reader complaints from my inbox. “The food at Camden Yards has noticeably deteriorated from years past,” wrote one. “I was just blown away about how bad” it was, said another. According to one fan, “The only thing worse than the fare this season is the disorganization, waiting lines and lack of inventory.”
Gripes include poorly cooked and badly seasoned items, stands running out of items, meager beer selection and, of course, those prices. Fans likely choked on their $15 ales reading that recent interview with team owner John Angelos in which the Ebenezer Scrooge of baseball told The New York Times that the O’s will “have to raise the prices here — dramatically” to keep its young star players. Just how much higher can those prices get? I’m afraid to ask.
When I tried a few items back in April, I wasn’t impressed with the soggy potato wedges, crappy tortilla chips or missing-in-action Yard Dogs. But Levy Restaurants, which is in its first year overseeing the ballpark food, assured me that things would get better. Last week, I decided to go back to the ballpark for Round 2.
Sure enough, as the O’s prepared to take on the Toronto Blue Jays, I noticed a few improvements in the food department — and at last, the smell of real, live smoke emanating from Boog’s Barbecue. But was it enough to salvage the dining experience at Camden Yards? Or are readers better off bringing their own eats?
The Bmore chicken box
The award for most-improved item goes to the Bmore chicken box, served at Bleacher Grill. Last time I visited, the fries it came with were so soggy they were inedible, and burnt, wet, pieces of skin slipped off the chicken. This time, the fries were replaced by crispy, well-seasoned potato wedges and the juicy chicken tenders were actually crispy on the outside. Another key innovation: The box was served open rather than closed, which prevented the steam bath situation that had contributed to the damp conditions during my earlier visit. Yes, the chicken itself was bland. But I was grateful for the generous portion size — three sizable tenders that could be comfortably shared for dinner. For $15.99, that’s one of the better deals at the Yard.
The rotating pop-up
During my visit, I was happy to see The Urban Oyster representing Baltimore food at the local pop-up space where the old Charm City Diner used to be. It is just one in a rotating cast of local restaurants that have included the likes of Sally O’s and Fuzzies Burgers. It wasn’t long ago that places like Attman’s Deli and Pinch Dumplings had regular stands at the ballpark, and I hope that the pop-up is a harbinger of more area favorites — and superior food options — to come. (For what it’s worth, the offerings at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, which has a permanent presence at the park, drew praise from several readers.)
Ludicrously small for the price (a mere 10 or 11 inches for $19), the Neapolitan-style pizza from Oro Pizza, just next to Bleacher Grill, at least came with an acceptable crust and genuine basil leaves. It won the approval of my dining companions and Baltimore Banner colleagues Justin Fenton and Paul Mancano, while I tried to ignore the congealed cheese — a result of the pizza sitting out just longer than desirable.
Crab pretzel bowl
The powers that be at Levy have done away with the “crab dip boule” affectation they introduced at a media preview earlier this year, renaming the dish a crab pretzel bowl. Even still, the name doesn’t fit: there’s nothing “pretzel” about the square-shaped bread dish served at the SuperBook Sports lounge and inside the self-service B&O Market, where I picked one up. While I wasn’t repelled by the overall experience — the crab dip is well-seasoned and the bread soft and chewy — I’m not rushing to go back for seconds, either. It was overpriced at $17 with a meager portion of dip overwhelmed by bread, no visible flakes of actual crab meat and, you guessed it, a layer of congealed cheese on top.
The $4.10 hot dog
Here’s what I liked about the hot dog at the $4.10 stand, where every item is (relatively) reasonably priced at just $4.10: the price. Here’s what I hated: Everything else. The texture of the sausage was chewy and unpleasant, and the bun fell apart as I ate it. As one reader pointed out, condiments are only available at a select few stands scattered throughout the park, and I had to go on what seemed like an unreasonably long hunt for mustard.
The Yard Dog
Last time I was at the park, I complained that I hadn’t been able to find the behemoth Yard Dog that I’d been served during a media preview of Camden Yards concessions. So when I spotted the dog ($20.99) in the wild at Bleacher Grill, I tried to scoop one up. The presentation was an unmitigated disaster. The three hot dogs were far too long for either the bun or the cardboard container the dish was served in, and hung over the edge, resting on the metal shelves where the food was placed, which seemed unsanitary. The bun crumbled to the touch, incapable of supporting the mess of sausage, crab dip and potato sticks on top.
“It’s not practical,” said Fenton, who refused even a bite. He doesn’t think it’s meant to be eaten by casual ballpark goers. Instead, “You go out, you get drunk, you dare someone to eat the triple hot dog and you put it on TikTok.” The end.
The ordering process at almost every stand I visited was automated, which has reduced communication between staff and fans and can create confusion. After purchasing a burger via touchscreen, I stood waiting for my order for a few minutes before realizing that I was just supposed to go pick one up from beneath a heat lamp. Additionally, I struggled to get a receipt for any of my purchases.
You might wonder where the money goes when you’re asked to tip at a self-service kiosk. After hearing from some readers that ballpark staffers don’t actually get those service charges, I reached out to Levy Restaurants. Their response: “All tips that food and beverage team members at Camden Yards receive from guests, including locations with self-service kiosks, are distributed to the team members working at the ballpark. No tips are retained by the Company.”
In the few cases where I tried to purchase something not using a touchscreen, things got awkward. I’ve visited the ballpark twice this year, and each time a worker insisted I pay them in cash.
Based on messages I received from readers, my experience wasn’t a one-off. During a game this past June, one Banner reader said, “We waited for 30 minutes for my son’s chicken tenders and fries. While waiting one of the employees said it might be quicker if I just paid cash.” Was the worker planning to keep the money? Our friend never found out; he didn’t have any cash anyway. In the end, his fries were soggy and the chicken was cold.