It's October in this baseball-obsessed city, and for one final game, at least, the Mets are the only show in town. But what about the food? The Gobbler (whose sad fate it was to grow up rooting for the Washington Senators) made his way out to Shea Stadium the other evening for one of the recent playoff games. It's good to go to a ball game, of course. But the real purpose of the visit was to overdose on foot-long hot dogs (by Nathan's), to drown in tepid buckets of Bud Lite, to addle himself with withered chicken tenders and $8.50 containers of "Nacho Supreme."
Being a pampered restaurant critic, Gobbler has box seats and is eligible for Metropolitan Club In-Seat Service. The critic and his merry band of tasters spent the first few innings studying the menu. The ordering began at the bottom of the third and continued steadily through seventh-inning stretch.
The first wave of grub included the Nacho Supreme (melted Cheddar, beef taco sauce, sour cream all mingled in a plastic container, $8.50), four chicken tenders and a greasy mess of Nathan's fries (also in a plastic container, $9.50), plus sushi rolls (sushi rolls!) for a relatively reasonable $7. The gooey spiciness of the nachos appealed to one vociferous taster. But Gobbler thought the portions were miserly, the chips too soggy, and shoved them under his seat after a bite or two. Ditto the chicken tenders, which aren't baseball food, anyway, and are hard as rocks. Shockingly, the best of these "appetizers," by far, was the sushi (sushi!), which was fresher than any Korean-deli equivalent and rolled with decent tuna, Nobu-style spicy mayonnaise, and pleasingly crunchy bits of tempura.
Next up, three varieties of hot dog. The winner was the classic foot-long dog by Hebrew National ($5.71). It's more substantial than the oversteamed vendor's dog ($4.75) and more economical than the all-beef Nathan's dog on the club menu ($5.50), which is slightly smaller and comes sealed in another plastic container, with a thimble of cold sauerkraut. Gobbler supplemented these snacks with a Premio Italian sausage (not worth the $10.50 sticker price), a bag-wrapped, heat lampbaked, barely recognizable "Bubba Burger" bought from one of the concession stands (burgers aren't baseball food either), and the Metropolitan Club's pulled-pork sandwich, which cost a ridiculous $11.50 but tasted properly sweet and peppery and was as big as a hubcap.
By the fifth inning, the seats occupied by the Gobbler's party were filled with wrinkled napkins, shards of hot-dog bun, and other detritus. Delgado hit a home run, and the crowd went insane. But the Gobbler focused his attention on the club menu's meager "Grilled Chicken Club Wrap," which cost $11.50, contained a few fragments of chicken and some tomato, and tasted like it's been refrigerated for a couple of years. For that kind of cash, Gobbler preferred a small bottle of Woodbridge chardonnay ($7) and an eight-ounce bag of Fisher peanuts ($4.75). Or even better, the smallish Italian sub ($9.50), from Mama's of Corona, in Queens, consisting of a sesame-crusted roll, pepper ham and salami, a wedge of surprisingly fresh mozzarella, and a little sidecar of roasted red peppers.
Did the Gobbler forget dessert? Of course not! The Carvel Bonnet cone (soft ice cream served in a plastic Mets hat for $5.50) is the great Shea specialty, but for two dollars less, you can get the elephant-size "Stadium Cookie," which lasts longer and doesn't dribble all over your shirt. Gobbler's favorite sweet item, however, was fresh lemonade ($4), bought at a concession stand under the box seats, down the third-base line. It's half a lemon, squeezed over spoonfuls of sugar, shavings of ice, and a spritzing of soda. It's made in front of you, so you know it's fresh. The lemon and sugar provide a nice little kick, and the soda helps with indigestion, making it the perfect antidote for a severe food coma.
Ideal Meal: Eight-ounce bag of Fisher peanuts, Mama's of Corona sandwich (club seats only), Hebrew National foot-long hot dog, fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Scratchpad: In the titanic iron-chef struggle between the surly hot-dog peddlers at Yankee Stadium and overpriced Italian subs at Shea, front-running Gobbler takes the Mets.