ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays and Centerplate trotted out the Trop's new menu items on Monday and the big shock-and-awe food was a liquid refreshment.
Picture a fat and sassy Bloody Mary served in a collectible plastic mason jar that sports a skewer as long as a samurai sword impaling two doughnuts, a chicken and waffle assemblage, a hard-boiled egg and a bacon-wrapped sausage. Oh, and there's a shrimp lurking somewhere in the murky, tomatoey depths. Available only for day games, this is a one-and-done brunch spectacular and the priciest quaffable at $16.
Yes, there's also a new grilled cheese burger (two oozy sandwich wedges serving as buns; $13), but really the rest of the story of this year's new Rays food is a narrative playing out at many major-league baseball parks around the country. The story is about local, about celebrating indigenous foods and partnering with local businesses.
Out this year: Outback Steakhouse. Although Outback is based out of Tampa, that hometown connection is apparently not enough to give it true "local" cred.
"It was time to make a change," said Centerplate's Bill Tracy. "To me, Outback is a national chain. We wanted to showcase more local restaurants. Two years ago it was Taco Bus, Pipo's last year and this year it's Urban Restaurant Group."
Centerplate manages 300 venues worldwide, with two other baseball parks (Mariners, Giants), two for Major League Soccer, one for the National Basketball Association, and two National Hockey League stadiums. A common theme is sourcing more local foods and celebrating regional foods: The San Francisco Giants and Colorado Convention Center have rooftop gardens; there are rooftop apiaries at the Vancouver and Nashville convention centers.
Andy Salyards' Urban — that's Urban Brew and BBQ, Urban Comfort, Urban Creamery and Urban Deli and Drafts, dotted all along St. Pete's EDGE District — is about as local as it gets, but the partnership does represent challenges. His team will be presenting highlights from his different concepts, with items like chicken fried ribs and fried chicken in a waffle cone with maple drizzle.
"This is my fifth company and a totally new business model for us," Salyards said at the tasting. "It's not a catering gig. It's more like an on-site restaurant with weird hours. You're on for seven days and then off for seven. Staffing will be interesting."
For local restaurants and businesses that partner with the Rays, scaling up can be the biggest headache.
For the second year in a row, St. Petersburg's Green Bench Brewing has created an exclusive beer for the Trop.
"Last year we made a 2-Seam American blonde," said head brewer and co-owner Khris Johnson. "It was a beer that paired well with ballpark food that you could drink a lot of. We knew we wanted to make a craft American lager, but we hadn't made those yet and we didn't yet have the equipment for the longer tank time. Now we do."
This year they debut 4-Seam American Lager, four-seam another name for a rising fastball. Johnson got to work on his phone's calculator. If Green Bench produces 4,000 barrels annually, it will produce 600 barrels specifically for the Trop. That means baseball fans will drink 200,000 Green Bench beers this season. The logistics of that are tough for a local craft brewery.
"It's a lot of beer initially," Johnson said with a smile.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.