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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Going Vegetarian at AT&T Park Means Smoothies, Mizuna, and Heirloom Tomatoes

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 2:45 PM

The Giants' strawberry-basil smoothie and salad bar at the new edible garden. - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • The Giants' strawberry-basil smoothie and salad bar at the new edible garden.

Outside of the usual "so-San Francisco" clichés like Karl the Fog coating 90 percent of the Golden Gate, tourists dangling from cable cars, and techies wearing hoodies to important business meetings, what's more San Francisco than fresh produce and our beloved Giants?

It was only a matter of time before the local, seasonal, organic movement intersected with the orange and black. After a grand unveiling before July’s All Star break, the garden’s produce, two concession stands, and bar are serving eager visitors (with tickets) ready to lounge on patio chairs and sip Tablas Creek Rosé before and after first pitch.

The question is will the garden’s cuisine represent the team’s winning season start or not-so-great run since June? I ventured to AT&T Park to evaluate the vegetarian options at the garden’s Garden Table and Hearth Table. Let’s just say I got both a Giants win and a dining win.

For a debut visit, focus your attention on the Garden Table. Immediately the antipasto platter catches the eye, replacing any desire for Cracker Jack. The half dozen options range from mizuna salad with candied kumquats and shaved fennel to warm marinated olives to a Brentwood three bean salad. I always gravitate toward something portable like a sandwich if I'm eating in the cozy confines of a seat. The roasted vegetable sandwich ($8.50) on ciabatta fits the bill with strong rustic flavor. Grilled eggplant and roasted peppers pair with pesto (though it doesn’t come with the rotisserie drama that its meat counterpart the porchetta does) and there is a seasonal tomato soup that could make for a nice two-course dinner.

However, what has to be the garden’s signature is the extensive salad bar ($11.50). You can follow their ideas for salad concepts, pick and choose your own salad, or opt for a pre-made salad in a mason jar. I opted for the arugula- beets- peach- tomato salad with a beautiful honey-tarragon vinaigrette, then added artichoke hearts, goat cheese, kale, almonds, and a dab of salsa verde. The salad was nicely dressed and hit the spot from the ripe peaches to the bright greens that even had a few edible flowers tossed in the mix.

My only gripes were the skimpy serving size — I'd love an added starch like some quinoa or a piece of focaccia — and the tomatoes seemed like supermarket hothouse ones, even though the stand across the way had tempting fresh heirloom tomatoes in a salad with garden greens.

That stand is Hearth Table, focused on whole-wheat flat breads. Two of the three choices are vegetarian with a Margherita and one topped with rosemary-scented white bean purée and a sorrel salad.

I found the garden’s best item to be its smoothies. Garden Table offers a strawberry- basil and a blueberry-chocolate mint. Again, I have to note the diminutive serving size, about half a Jamba Juice. But these are superb smoothies. The season ticket holder next to me could smell the basil amidst the beer and hot dogs. For the spa or teetotling crowd, Hearth Table serves strawberry-lavender water.

Does it all sound like a Whole Foods Market take-out bar? Yes, it’s very similar. At a ballpark, that’s a very welcome addition. 
AT&T Park's portobello mushroom sandwich. Served on the upper deck/ view level only. - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • AT&T Park's portobello mushroom sandwich. Served on the upper deck/ view level only.

Do keep in mind, amidst the glitz and excitement of the new garden, arguably the finest vegetarian item at a Giants game remains way up at the California Cookout stand on the View Level. It’s a juicy, massive marinated and grilled-to-order portobello mushroom on a soft yet sturdy bun. Request sauerkraut, onions, and peppers added on top, then a few quirts of brown mustard at the condiment station (cheese is optional).

Now that’s a ballpark meal. It’s well worth the hike from the lower levels and definitely something that fans in the cheaper seats can say adds to the value. So does the view of the Bay.

I recently completed a 13 year quest to visit all 30 Major League ballparks and being completely un-biased, AT&T Park is easily the overall winner. At the same time, it has previously only been a top ten ballpark for eating. Seemingly overnight the garden’s selections make it arguably the premier ballpark for dining, too. Earlier this year PETA even named it the best ballpark for vegetarians — and that was before the garden even opened.

Fans can agree we’re lucky to have the garden and the park’s playoff-caliber vegetarian dishes. Now, if only the fresh tarragon and lemongrass could get the Giants into the playoffs.

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