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A toast to the new food (and wine) at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG — It used to be there was no wine in baseball. It was a beer sport. Then people started hating on carbs. But what really prevented wine from ever getting in the song alongside peanuts and Cracker Jack was this: spillability. You get your dog, your nachos and your chardonnay and before you've made it halfway to your seat, your sandals are squishy.

Not anymore.

At a Monday preview of this year's new Trop foods, Fetzer and Zipz debuted the first single-serve wine product to be served at Major League Baseball stadiums. Offered in Crimson red blend and Quartz white blend at $8 each, it's 187 ml in a glass-shaped receptacle that even fits snugly in your seat's cupholder. Pull the tab on the clean wrap covering, remove the lid, snap it on the bottom and then peel off the lift 'n' peel seal.

And that wasn't even the best thing that Tropicana Field food concessionaire Centerplate unveiled for the new season. Following national trends, a natural food stand replaces an underperforming boneless Buffalo chicken wing concession this year. The main natural food in question is an all-natural beef hot dog from Continental Sausage of Denver. With a snappy natural casing, the not-too-salty dog is paired with organic sauerkraut gussied up with caraway seed, roasted apple and Riesling, then paired with a chunky tomato fondue (a ketchup with delusions of chutney). For $6, it's a top dog, although its potato roll dwarfed the meat a bit and erred on the side of sweet and doughy.

According to Bill Tracy, regional manager with Centerplate, some of this year's changes reflect consumer desires.

"We have a group dedicated to culinary development, focusing on regional options. Women are interested in healthier trends. This year, we focused on all-natural options in the suites, but also with general concessions."

It will be interesting to see whether one of the new options hits the suite sweet spot. Who needs bottomless popcorn when you can nibble … wait for it … vegan veggie tray? "The Dirt List" is $79, serves 16 and comes with skinny roasted carrots, multicolored roasted cauliflower and grilled broccolini. It's hard to imagine it will rival the man-size Rays helmet packed with nachos for crowd appeal (that helmet must be hazardous gear post-nacho cheese). Still, the veggies were cooked so they still had snap, and a sherry vinegar boost gave them panache.

The East/West Deli is being converted this year to a carvery with fresh-roasted turkey breast, sliced thick and offered with a choice of bread (great marble rye) and condiments (cranberry chutney). Nicely seasoned and moist, the turkey sandwich, $12, comes with sturdy, thick-cut housemade chips. According to Centerplate executive chef Marc Spooner, all-natural suite offerings this year include wraps and hand-carved rib-eye sandwiches.

Still, at the preview, the biggest hubbub was caused by these newcomers: beignets and elephant ears. In a decommissioned garlic fries concession, a nod to the Big Easy comes in the shape of rectangles of fried dough, $5, served in a waxed paper bag and doused with powdered sugar and drizzled with sauces like chocolate or raspberry. Their larger, flatter cousin, elephant ears come as singles, $6, on a plate, also topped with powdered sugar and choice of sauce. Hardly adhering to the healthy and natural trend, these new Trop treats aren't a bad idea according to longtime Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin: The beignets for the sophisticates (they go great with a no-spill glass of Quartz white blend), and the elephant ears for state fair enthusiasts who've never heard of beignets.

And for the second year in a row, the Trop offers a Fan vs. Food Challenge burger for $30: a 2-pound patty with four slices of American cheese, a half pound of bacon and a truly daunting amount of other stuff.

Last season two baseball fans successfully conquered the burger. When asked if there was a time limit to the challenge, chef Spooner winced and said, "No, but when we're sweeping up, you have to be done."

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

A toast to the new food (and wine) at Tropicana Field 04/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 9:13am]
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