Life’s a Ball

Which Minute Maid Park Dishes Are Batting 1000, and Which Are Striking Out?

What to order and what to skip at Minute Maid Park’s 90-plus individual concession stands and carts

By Alice Levitt June 20, 2016 Published in the July 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Baseball may own the title of America’s Pastime, but, increasingly, food is encroaching on the territory. How else to explain Minute Maid Park’s 90-plus individual concession stands and carts—never mind its sit-down restaurant, which offers neither a view of the baseball diamond below, nor even a far-off strip of outfield? Clearly, the aim is to please food fans and Astros fans in equal measure.
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Get your El Real Tex-Mex fix without leaving Minute Maid Park.

The ballpark’s executive chef, Dominic Soucie, realizes the weight of his role. The Maine native came to Houston in 2009 through longtime employer Aramark, working as executive sous chef at the George R. Brown Convention Center before taking over for the company at Minute Maid in 2013. In his role, he oversees all food preparation for the entire stadium, from grilling Nolan Ryan's Beef hot dogs to spherifying soy sauce and foaming wasabi to order at a sushi station at the opulent, sometimes modernist buffet in the basement Diamond Club. All those hot dogs and sushi rolls add up to 30 million items sold each year, with an average of 5,000 dishes served at each game.

When Soucie walks the stadium in the chef’s toque he earned at Johnson & Wales University (he has additional certifications from the Culinary Institute of America), every vendor seems excited to see him and greets him by name. Dealing with a staff of 170—ranging from aspiring fellow chefs to folks just trying to make ends meet—allows Soucie to utilize the skills he learned in the psychology classes he resented having to take back in his culinary school days. Now, he says, “Having a psychology background makes it really, really interesting.”

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This isn't your grandparents' stadium food court.

Soucie is smart enough to realize that, to many people, the name Aramark may conjure careless preparation of anonymous freezer-bag fare. He’s working hard to change that by making practically everything served at the ballpark from scratch. That horseradish pimento cheese on the burger at chef Bryan Caswell’s The Caz? Made in-house, just like the tortillas at the El Real Tex-Mex stands.

Aramark itself is working to upgrade both its reputation and the quality of its food with veggies from local vendor Brothers Produce. “If we buy anything processed, it’s from Nature’s Best,” Soucie says, referring to occasional premade items such as hot dog buns. Other breads are either made in-house or by Houston bakery  Slow Dough Bread Co.

It’s a long way from old-time peanut vendors throwing their wares into the stands, and an exciting time to be a sports fan.

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