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All We Can Eat
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 09/24/2012

The O’s have improved their rank in the kitchen, too


Long Island native Josh Distenfeld is the executive chef at Camden Yards. His resume includes a stint at Harrah’s in Las Vegas. “When I went to Vegas, I was like, ‘I love the volume, I’ll never go back. I’ll never go small again,’ ” he says. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Together, manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette have transformed the Baltimore Orioles into a contender in the American League East, ending a long, long, long 14-year run of losing seasons in the process.

Though he doesn’t get anywhere near as much press, Josh Distenfeld, 43, has made similarly dramatic changes at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the two years since Delaware North Companies Sportservice took over the concessions operations at the park and installed the Long Island native as executive chef.

How dramatic?

Distenfeld says that for Camden’s 20th anniversary season, he and DNC have turned the park into something of a locavore’s playground. The sausages, including the Natty Boh brat, are now produced by Roma Gourmet, a Baltimore institution for more than a half century. The seafood — mostly the 35,000-pounds-plus of jumbo-lump crab per season — comes from J.J. McDonnell in Jessup (although the chef won’t go so far as to say it’s all Chesapeake blue crab). Even the freshly ground beef for two of the major restaurants at the park is sourced from a local company, Fells Point Wholesale Meats.

“Everything here is definitely Baltimore-centric,” Distenfeld says.


With both crab and burger meat, the Camden Giant at Gino’s is a sporting man’s surf and turf. (The platter pictured above, with fries, runs $16.) The freshly ground chuck patty, topped with American cheese and a jumbo lump crabcake, makes for one of the richest and most decadent bites you’ll have at the ballpark. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

What’s more, DNC has attracted a couple of local restaurants to open outlets this season at Camden Yards, including Gino’s Burgers and Chicken, the chain originally named after Baltimore Colts great, Gino Marchetti. Launched in the late 1950s, Gino’s once had locations up and down the East Coast until the Marriott Corp. bought it and converted most of the outlets into Roy Rogers restaurants. Revived in 2010, Gino’s has reintroduced the Baltimore area to the namesake Gino’s Giant, a double-patty sandwich (with special sauce) that was considered the forerunner of the Big Mac.

The other newbie at Camden is Stuggy’s, a gourmet sausage operation that opened a couple of years ago in Fells Point. Gino’s and Stuggy’s, both with dedicated fans in the Baltimore area, underscore a trend among major league parks to incorporate local flavors and operators into their concessions programs. In this sense, Camden Yards is superior to Nationals Park, where the big coup (with all due respect to Ben’s Chili Bowl) was enticing Danny Meyer to open three concepts on the mezzanine level, including a Shake Shack. Nothing like getting a New Yorker to help the District overcome its Big Apple insecurity complex.

DNC and Distenfeld also opened a home-grown eatery this season — Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant, named after the mustachioed Orioles catcher and 1983 World Series MVP, Rick Dempsey. In a nod to Charm City’s growing craft beer movement, Dempsey’s brews four of its own beers on the premises, the best of which I sampled is the Yardbird Summer Wheat, a citrusy Belgian-style product.(Note: The beers rotate every couple of months.)

If that weren’t enough, Distenfeld has created a few new items at the Jack Daniel’s stand in the right-field corner, most notably his bacon on a stick ($5), which really should be declared a narcotic. It’s a five-ounce strip of Hungarian slab bacon, seared and smoked. It’s then dipped into maple syrup spiked with Old Bay and finished on the grill.

“It’s off the hook,” Distenfeld says.

As Baltimore fights for a playoff spot, where it can show off its upgraded concessions in a postseason atmosphere, I took a dining tour of Camden Yards to eat as much as I could in one afternoon. I detail some of what I ate in the photos above and below, but here’s my takeaway message for Levy Restaurants, which runs the Nats’ concessions: It’s really time to step up to the plate.


Distenfeld’s bacon on a stick ($5) is everything you could want in a meaty snack: salty, sweet, savory and sealed with a kiss of char. You can also see the chef’s pork ribs ($10) and beer can chicken ($9), which are smoked with whole logs in a rotisserie smoker in the former B&O Warehouse behind the ballpark, then finished on the grill. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Crissie Evans, an assistant manager at Dempsey’s, shows off the four beers available during the summer at Camden Yards: Rain Delay IPA, The ‘83 Golden Ale, Rick’s Red Ale and Yardbird Summer Wheat. The latter was the winner for me, perfect for quaffing under a hot sun in the bleachers. The beers run $7.75 a pint on game days. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)


The corn is soaked overnight in water, which allows employees to grill husk-on. While the ears ($3 each) are sweet and juicy — in part from the milk-butter mixture they’re dunked in afterward — they have very little char, which I missed. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Stuggy’s Crab Mac N’ Cheese Dog seems like a steal at $8 a pop, although I suspect from the stringiness of the crabmeat that jumbo-lump is not used. Despite the dish’s midnight-refrigerator-raid appearance, the all-beef dog blends well with the shellfish; deliberate or not, the dish strikes me as a sausage variation on the steakhouse classic, the Filet Oscar, in which a filet mignon is served with crabmeat — except that, in this case, the mac and cheese stands in for the bearnaise sauce. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Further reading:

* Baltimore’s star-spangled beer scene

* Where the empty calories just keep on coming

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 09/24/2012

Categories:  Chefs | Tags:  Tim Carman

 
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