Mac and cheese and toasty buns…a culinary tour of Minute Maid Park.
Every time I take a culinary tour at Minute Maid Park, I’m told to take small bites, pace myself and not to fill up on any one item, given the volume of food I’ll be tasting.
And every time, I fail to follow directions. Twice I’ve sampled my way through the concession stands on the main concourse, and twice I didn’t do a very good job of knowing when it was time to tear myself away from the tasty treats.
Oh well. It was worth the extra pound or two for one glorious hour of stuffing my face with mac and cheese, baked potatoes, steak fajitas, fries, milkshakes…and that was just the warm-up. I took notes, videos and pictures along the way, and hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you the next time you’re at Minute Maid Park.
Bon appetit! (And be sure to watch the video, posted here)
Our tour began at section 106, where Big League Macaroni Co. offers four fantastic variations of the traditionally crowd-pleasing mac and cheese. With a desire to offer a few dishes of the “comfort food” variety, ARAMARK and the Astros, inspired by the Just Mac restaurant that opened in the Heights last year, figured this concept would be a hit at the ballpark.
The four choices are Taco Mac and Cheese, Chili Mac and Cheese, Chicken Enchilada Mac and Cheese and Rustic Tomato Mac and Cheese. For the kids, they offer Souvenir Kids Mac and Cheese served in a collector’s Astros mini batting helmet.
I never thought of taco meat and mac and cheese as a tasty combination. I was pleasantly surprised to find out these two go together about as well as peanut butter and jelly. Two thumbs up.
Our next stop was Spuds Crossing. It’s not new to Minute Maid Park, but this particular concession stand — serving only loaded baked potatoes — was inserted into the main concourse fare after a swell of demand from fans last season. In fact, it was voted the second-best national concessions item by the Ultimate Road Trip book. Everything is made to order, so whether you’re into chopped beef on your potato, or if you’re a vegan, you’ll find something to your liking here.
As you can see, we went all out for this stop. Yum.
The next few stops of this culinary vacation were to concession stands created by celebrity chef Bryan Caswell. Thanks to that partnership, fans can enjoy items from some of Caswell’s famous area restaurants, including Little Bigs and his newest baby, El Real.
First up: Little Bigs beef sliders with caramelized onions, and pulled pork sliders topped with creamy cole slaw. The bread is baked on site every morning, guaranteeing fresh buns with each slider.
(When I was a kid and we grilled out hamburgers and hot dogs, my dad, like clockwork, would stick his head in the door and say, “You want your buns warmed?” We’d laugh hysterically and then give the obvious answer, a resounding yes. I was reminded of this when I stopped at Little Bigs. I mean, really, what’s better than a fresh, toasted bun?)
When the Astros have an offday at home, I usually spend my time off indulging in steak fajitas and a margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant. Now, thanks to the addition of El Real to Minute Maid Park, I don’t have to wait for that elusive night off to stuff myself silly. I just have to head to section 132, where they grill up the steaks and chicken, dab it with some garlic butter, carve it up on the board and serve it fresh and made to order.
The chips are fried in coconut oil, giving them a unique flavor, and the salsa — oh boy. Hot, hot, hot. If you’re from Texas, it’s perfect. If you’re from, say, Ohio, it’ll make your eyes water and your nose run. But still, delish.
If sandwiches are more your speed, head to the All-Star Carvery behind section 156. The menu has the normal staple items — sliced beef brisket and carved turkey — but there are two new sandwiches as well: the Hill County Pork Hoagie and the Texas Tom Turkey Sandwich.
The hoagie has slow roasted pulled pork with garlic, red pepper, herbs, spicy chipotle aioli and sweet vinegar slaw on a sourdough bun. The turkey sandwich features roasted turkey breast, pepper jack cheese, spicy chipotle aioli, lettuce and corn salsa on a jalapeno-cheddar Kaiser.
Fans can vote for their favorite sandwich online or at section 155. The one that gets the most votes will stay on the menu for the rest of the season. The other one gets the boot — maybe send it to the Minor Leagues and let the Corpus Christi Hooks have a stab at it?
After the sandwich-tasting, but before the grand finale, we filled up on some decadent chocolate milkshakes from Prince’s Hamburgers.
That didn’t deter us from diving into a couple of new Caswell-inspired dishes new to the FiveSeven Grille this year:
The grilled snapper…the Shroom slider…and…wait for it…the “Dude Milkshake” — one very thick, and potent, White Russian. (I came close to finishing this one off. Don’t tell Drayton.)