‘Cause it’s root, root, root for the home team … and its stadium food. The gorgeous Nationals Ballpark, right on the river in Navy Yard, is where every spring and summer thousands and thousands of locals and visitors make the pilgrimage for baseball, beer, and fun.
I recently warmed to the idea of baseball last summer, when dragged by my friend Brooke, I discovered a) You don’t really have to pay attention to the game at all (though Brooke still does!), b) It’s an awesome excuse to drink and hang out with friends in the sun, and c) I really need to invest in some Nats gear (and so I did that–all three, in fact).
On a recent Saturday, the stadium was hosting “Pups at the Park,” an adorable, ingenious event, where an entire section of the ballpark was devoted to pooches. My friend Joanna brought her dog-baby, Xander, and we sat there, the group of us and our pup, watching the Nats get (unfortunately) pummeled by the Cardinals.
The dogs didn’t seem to mind, though. They all sat quietly and patiently in their dedicated “seats” in the stadium. There was even a big square of astroturf for them to run around in. A couple of times, one dog would bark, and then a chorus of barks and howls would begin, and we all decided that they were way more into the game than we were.
The best Nats games, in my opinion, are in the evening in the height of summer, just when the sun is setting and the air is cooling. Sometimes you even get a magnificent sunset over the park, and, if you’re lucky, a blast of fireworks. Oh, and of course, those running Presidents are always around at every game.
This most recent excursion, however, was during the day. Brunch time, in fact, and I was peeved that most of the nearby restaurants in Navy Yard weren’t very dog-friendly, so we couldn’t bring Xander to a patio brunch nearby for a proper brunch prior to the game.
Instead, we decided to brunch at the stadium itself, and turns out, there are a ton of great food options beyond the usual hot dogs, pretzels, and Cracker Jack boxes. It turns out a number of local D.C. restaurants have set up shop at the stadium, offering a small sample of their usual menus, items that are perfect for sharing and enjoying over an inning or two.
The first stop prior to any game is always the Bullpen, that huge space/concert venue/beer festival/porta-potty collection that is right outside the stadium. The open space is created by enormous shipping containers, overlooked by a huge glass Booze Allen Hamilton building. That’s D.C.’s version of baseball.
In the Bullpen, you can play corn hole or grab beer for a hefty price tag, but there are also a few food options in there, including a couple food trucks. We made a pit stop at the Surfside truck, which was serving up a variety of tacos with rice on the side.
I ordered the chicken and beef tacos, one of each, and they were piled so full of meat, cheese, veggies, and toppings, that it was nearly impossible to wrap them up and eat them while standing and attempting to balance a beer at the same time.
The tacos were delicious, however, especially because they were smothered with thick guacamole and crema. The truck also had an assortment of toppings and sauces that you could layer onto your tacos, but I kept them just as they were served. The yellow rice on the side was forgettable, and mostly went in the trash.
Once we were in the stadium and found our seats, we realized we were in the same section as G Sandwich Shop, of which its larger cousin is based on 14th and U Street, adjoined to Mike Isabella’s newest Greek spot, Kapnos. This abbreviated stadium version of the eatery offered three sandwich options (for a hefty $14 a piece, ouch) along with ice-cold beer.
We went for the Italian Hero, which was enormous. Big enough to split with a friend. It was a messy sandwich, but boy was it good. It had plenty of salami, coppa, prosciutto, and tomato slices. The Hero is one of the four best-sellers at the 14th street shop. Perfect for a ballgame.
Next, we went trolling around for more local spots. We found a stall on the opposite side of the stadium for Chesapeake Crab Company. We smelled the fried crab first, but then we saw the line–absolutely huge!
Worth the wait, however. When we finally got up to the register, the exhausted-looking staff asked us what we’d like to try. ‘One of everything’ was our response. And a handful of fresh crab cakes hit the portable stove top.
The crab cake sandwich was served open-faced, with an enormous crab cake on top of a bun. It came with a huge tomato slice and lettuce. Too big to eat like a burger, so we went at it with a knife and fork. The crab grilled cheese sandwich was the best, though. It was both buttery and hot, and the melted filling wasn’t overwhelming crabby, but just enough.
The crab and cheese chips were a fun dish to share. They were Old Bay kettle chips, covered with melted queso and lump crab meat, with diced tomato salsa and roasted corn kernels sprinkled on top. Super tasty, but make sure you have plenty of napkins on hand.
A few others from our group decided to head to the classic D.C. spot, Hard Times Cafe, which has not only opened an outpost in the stadium, but also in a few other locations in the Washington area.
We ordered both the tater tots and the nachos, which was actually a Frito Chili Pie covered with spicy chili, grated cheddar cheese, and a huge dollop of sour cream. Fancy? No. Perfect accompaniment to a ball game and beer? Absolutely. But if you take too long to eat it, the Fritos lose their crunch–and the entire thing gets soggy.
The tater tots were delicious and we finished them off post haste. They were a little crunchy on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside, mixed with some tasty chili, cheese and sour cream. It was a great combo.
Finally, we were at the seventh inning stretch, and with the beer cut off, we decided it was time for dessert. Why do Dippin Dots when you’re at the Nats Stadium with two Dolci Gelati carts on either side, at the ready with cold treats? The flavors are impressive, and Dolci Gelati never disappoints. It’s the perfect way to end a game.
So next time you’re at a Nats game at brunch o’clock, don’t fear, there are plenty of local, delicious options for you beyond peanuts and hot dogs. And we always support our home team and our hometown businesses.
Sufside Food Truck
In the Bullpen
G Sandwich Shop
Chesapeake Crab Company
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Section 301, 315
Section 112, 135