Opening day isn’t until Thursday at Nationals Park , but the season’s big winners already appear to be acclaimed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group. The latter is poised to fuel baseball fans here at home with a taste of four Meyer concepts: Blue Smoke (celebrating barbecue), Box Frites (offering Belgian-style fries with dips), El Verano Taqueria (serving Mexican snacks) and Shake Shack (think burgers and shakes).
The additions to the stadium’s nearly 50 concessions will be on the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk, on the Club Level behind the main scoreboard. Meyer’s deal with Nationals Park is his third sports contract. USHG also operates food stands at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and the New York Racing Association’s Saratoga race course. Meyer’s additions replace, among other purveyors in the stadium, the locally-established Five Guys .
Why the imports? “The big reason: We wanted to re-inspire the fan experience,” says Jonathan Stahl, National Park’s director of guest services and hospitality operations, who began talks with USHG over a year ago. Pointing to “a void in cuisine in ball parks,” Stahl calls “the variety of the concepts, things that go well with beer” plus Meyer’s fabled philosophy of “enlightened hospitality” a perfect fit for Washington.
Don’t expect to find Blue Smoke’s pulled pork sandwiches or El Verano Taqueria’s chicken mole pipian just yet; construction on the stands began only this morning (restaurant logos will dress up the barricades later today). Stahl forecasts actual food “before June.”
Less than a year ago, the Union Square Hospitality Group announced plans to open its first D.C. Shake Shack in Dupont Circle (1216 18th St. NW.) in the first half of 2011. A spokesperson for the restaurant company says the burger joint is, like its other D.C. ventures, now likely to debut “before June,” too.