New baseball eats: Buy me plantains and crab cake snacks

Baseball fever's heating up as the playoffs are upon us. Although the Padres have retired to the dugout till next spring, you can still enjoy the excitement of the national pastime along with the new and diverse baseball fare, whether attending a game or watching at home on your big screen. Baseball eats have come a long way from Norworth's days of "peanuts and Cracker Jack" and have even morphed into semihealthy ballpark cuisine. To some fans, this food expansion is a hit, to others it's foul. You make the call.

Concession stands, luxury ballpark suites, club-level lounges and full-service sit-down restaurants coast-to-coast now serve a smorgasbord of ethnic cuisines and regional specialties. Some parks are even trying to go green, and we're not talking about grassy diamonds, either. Straws are banned and biodegradable cups made from corn are used for beverages, along with serving quasi-healthy alternatives such as "haute" dogs made from grass-fed, organic beef, including the high-end Niman Ranch varieties from cows raised humanely with no hormones or antibiotics pumped into their bodies. These thick, well-seasoned franks along with their spicy, andouille sausage cousins are served at select ballparks, including Petco Park in San Diego. For an herbivorous twist on the iconic ballpark foods, concession stands are also offering soy-based veggie dogs and burgers.

We recently visited the fairly new and impressive AT&T Park in San Francisco, which featured a baseball buffet to appeal to a wide variety of palates and taste buds. The cuisine ran the gamut from Mexican chicken fajita salads, burritos and quesadillas to assorted Asian dishes including sushi and veggie fried rice, and Italian faves such as fresh-baked pizzas and salad-stuffed flat bread. The waft of garlic that permeated the concession stands surprisingly traced back to non-Italian dishes - the french fries saturated with fresh herb and the 40-clove garlic chicken sandwiches. No vampires lurking here! Local specialties such as the fisherman's wharf-style Dungeness crab sandwich on griddled sourdough was paired with a California white wine or a brewski if that's your druthers.

At the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the farmers market stand in the concession corridor is a good fielder's choice for health-conscious fans who can now buy fresh produce at $1.50 a piece. They can pick from such whole fruits as Fuji and Red Delicious apples, Bartlett pears, bananas, oranges, peaches and nectarines or a pineapple fruit cup.

The Mets' new Citi Field also offers similar fresh fruit choices. Selling about 200 pounds of produce a game, fruit is starting to give franks a run for their money. These concessions also cater to the huge Latin fan base, offering Cuban empanadas and salsa chicken with sweet plantains and a side of rice and beans.

Some unconventional choices at Petco Park include coconut prawns, crab cakes and fish tacos. Now you can whet your whistle on microbrews, beers from around the world, nonalcoholic beer, Napa Valley chardonnay and a cup of frozen lemonade conveniently delivered to your seat (no extra charge).



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