Tulsa, OK – This is from the 1908 song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game:” Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
This, 110 years later, could be something you hear at ONEOK Field: Should I get a loaded barbecue baked potato, a gourmet burger, a wet burrito or tabouli?
People expect choices when they come to a game, according to Cody Malone, the Tulsa Drillers’ director of food and beverage.
“That’s kind of the way the trend is going,” Malone said during an interview at ONEOK Field. “Yankee Stadium has a sushi restaurant in it and a steakhouse. We can’t do that here, but we can do Philly cheesesteaks. We can do barbecue. We can do high-end burgers and dogs. We can do good, quality food here in Tulsa. People want to come here, and they want to try new things. They don’t just want nachos and hot dogs and draft beer.”
You can still get the basics, of course. The Drillers sell more hot dogs (about a quarter of a million per year) than any other food item.
But the variety of concession items is such that it may take a season ticket holder all year long to get through them all, according to Malone.
“That, or they have got to be really good at eating,” he said.
Challenge accepted ?
A recent trek to ONEOK Field, 201 N. Elgin Ave., was intended to be a multi-item taste-testing expedition. But a bases loaded baked potato, topped with barbecue brisket, was such a big-boy meal that there wasn’t enough belly room left to try anything else (except maybe a few bites of ice cream served in a mini plastic batting helmet).
The mission of the expedition was revised. It became a scouting mission instead: Find things to try on the next visit, like souvenir barbecue nachos served in a batting helmet.
Malone said he and other staffers have fun coming up with new items. It’s their offseason sport.
“As food and beverage professionals, we go to food shows,” he said. “We go out to eat and try new ideas. And I’m a chef by trade so I go out and try anything I can. I spend my time going out and eating and drinking and finding new ideas or thinking of new ideas to bring back to the ballpark and try.”
He said they “practice” new hot dogs and burgers over the winter and have sessions where they “throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks.” He was speaking in the figurative sense, of course.
New wrinkles at ONEOK Field include a Greenwood Smoke Shack concession and a House Divided concession with a diverse selection of gourmet dogs and burgers. If you’re feeling adventuresome, House Divided is where you can go to try something different, according to Malone.
ONEOK Field previously served barbecue and gourmet vittles in different locales, but Malone said the goal was to refocus on quality.
“We already offered barbecue, and I have always been proud of our barbecue, but we wanted to make it more of a barbecue restaurant experience,” he said, adding that he thinks the barbecue at ONEOK Field rivals the barbecue served at many area restaurants.
“I’m not going to name names, but there are a lot of ballparks in this country that will buy their barbecue out of a tub and that’s not us.”
Malone said the Drillers make all their barbecue from scratch.
“We have a smoker we run 24 hours a day during homestands,” he said. “We will start it a day or two before a homestand and run it through the last day of a homestand just to keep up with demand.”
You can travel the country, or the globe, on your stomach at ONEOK Field. Santa Fe Burger. Sonoran Dog. A Mexican-themed concession cart (“Tulsans love their wet burritos.”) and Siegi’s sausage carts are probably the park’s most popular carts, according to Malone.
Not every innovation is a hit. Malone said they have tried some things that didn’t work, including gelato and an Asian food cart.
“It didn’t really take off the way we thought it was going to,” he said when talking about the Asian fare. “We gave it a couple of years and it didn’t quite work, but we are always willing to try something new.”
Malone’s goal is to make visitors want to eat at the park instead of eating somewhere else before games. And he wants to make sure there is something for everyone, including healthier options (a Farmer’s Market sells whole fruit, salads and wraps), gluten-free items and vegetarian-friendly food. He said he has given his cellphone number to visitors with special dietary needs so he can help them find what they need.
There’s an emphasis on Oklahoma.
“I’m an Okie,” Malone said. “I’m a proud Okie. Oklahoma has lots of great quality ingredients. We try to source as many of those as possible to make a good quality product here at ONEOK Field.”
The park was honored as a restaurant of the month by the Made In Oklahoma Coalition in 2015. Even funnel cakes are made from scratch with Oklahoma ingredients.
“We have a 60-quart mixer back there,” Malone said. “Most stadiums, they will buy a powdered funnel cake mix and just add water and go that route. We take the time and do it right with fresh eggs and Shawnee Mills flour. We do it our way.”
ONEOK Field also offers local craft beer. Said Malone: “Oklahoma has got great ingredients to make great products, and beer is one of them.”