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July 28, 2010

Bryan Voltaggio, ballpark concessionaire

 

Molecular gastronomy met the ballpark masses in Frederick Tuesday night as former "Top Chef" contestant Bryan Voltaggio played stadium concessionaire during a Frederick Keys game at Harry Grove Baseball Stadium.

Voltaggio, who threw out a respectable first pitch with his 3-year-old son, Thacher, at his side on the mound, ran the concession to benefit the Keys' charitable foundation.

The Orioles farm team had first suggested that the owner of Frederick's Volt restaurant put on a $100-a-head, sit-down charity dinner for about 80 people. But Voltaggio wanted to go the concession route, which would give people a chance to have a taste of his cuisine for just a few bucks.

With entrees topping out at $10, the menu was financially accessible. Physical accessibility was another matter. The Volt concession stand was at third base. Within minutes of the gate's opening, the line stretched to first. People waited hours for food from a 2-year-old restaurant that had put Frederick on the culinary map -- Harrison Ford flew in just for dinner recently -- but had remained out of reach for many residents.

 

"We're going to see what all the fuss is about," said Anne Nelson, 34, a McDaniel College philosophy professor who at the bottom of the fourth inning, stood at the end of the line -- still snaking all the way back to first base. "I'm a vegetarian, so it's rarely worth it for me to spend $300 on dinner."

Attendance was 7,315 -- more than double a usual Tuesday night turnout, said Keys public relations director Adam Pohl, who said he hoped a Volt concession stand could be reprised annually. Bryan Voltaggio bobblehead dolls, given free to the first 1,000 fans, ran out half an hour after the gates opened.

Voltaggio's menu included playful takes on classic stadium chow.

"We tried to [combine] ballpark and some of the things we do at the restaurant," Voltaggio said.

Standing in for the standard mystery-meat ballpark frank was a succulent Border Springs Farm Lamb Hot Dog ($8), created with pasture-raised local meat that Voltaggio describes on the farm's website as having "great mineral characteristics that do not overshadow the mild grassiness in the finish." (I think the last time a ballpark frank had a grassy finish was when some kid dropped his on the field.)

While there were gourmet twists -- truffle oil on the $3 popcorn, for instance -- much of what set Voltaggio's offerings apart from modern stadium fare was the quality of his ingredients. You can find a pulled pork sandwich in any number of baseball stadiums. You surely won't find another made with Red Wattle Pork, the obscure, flavorful variety prized by chefs. Shrimp po' boys probably can be had, too, at least on the club level of Major League parks. But try finding one made with Marvesta shrimp, which is raised naturally, and in eco-friendly tanks, on the Eastern Shore.

One truly outside-the-park item was Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho "Dipping Dots" Rock Shrimp Ceviche with Petite Cilantro ($4). I'd had Voltaggio's savory "ice cream pearls" once before, as part of his whimsical version of chicken Parmesan. I wasn't crazy about the combination of cold dots with warm chicken in that dish, which I'd had at the restaurant. (I'm sure the warm-cold combo is all part of the molecular gastronomy fun, and I accept it as a personal failing that it did not do it for me, but it did not.) But in a shrimp ceviche, which I want to be cold, the dots bowled me over.

There were red dots and white, plus some sort of green foam that might have been avocado, or basil or lime. The chef was a tad too busy -- Voltaggio waded into the line and started handing out free food late in the game -- to discuss just what was in that creamy, citrusy, cilantro-y, shrimpy bowl. It was the first thing I tasted. I could have gone home satisfied had it been the last.

But it was not the last. Not by a long shot. 

Sun Food Editor Sarah Kelber and I came up with this dream assignment: We'd check out the Volt concession stand, blog about it and post a photo gallery of each menu item. Sarah writes the reality TV blog Reality Check and, unlike me, can take decent photographs.

The photos are online here.

Full disclosure: as with ordinary restaurant reviews, we paid for everything we ordered. But unlike a formal review, we were not incognito. We worked with stadium and Volt personnel to interview Voltaggio and, later, to place our unusually large, one-of-everything order. Otherwise, we'd still be in line.

We ended up with so much food that, after cutting off bits for a taste, we gave a good bit away. It was all tasty, but it was an absurd amount of food.

But I didn't part with a single tomato dipping dot. I just about licked that bowl clean. And we left not a crumb of a heavenly little slice of Key Lime Pie.

Sun photos by Sarah Kelber

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 1:13 AM | | Comments (31)
        

Comments

What a feast was had last night. At about 7:30 my roomate and I decided to walk over and we are so glad we did. The line was really long, but that was because most of the people were in line for the left most ordering station. There were two more ordering stations at the stand and so after waiting in the lonnnng line someone tipped me off to go up to the stand to the two shorter ones! I took some pictures, but they are not as pretty as the ones linked above! So glad I checked dining@large last night to give me the heads up he would be there!

What did you have to eat, Elizabeth?

A reader by the name of Barbara e-mailed me her experience at the stadium. Here's Barbara. LV

We arrived in the stadium at 7:15 p.m. and the line for the
Volt concessions was wrapped all the way across the stadium. Thank goodness
we had stopped on the way to Frederick to feed the kids off of the dollar
menu at McDonalds because the extra crowds at the game jammed the three
other concession booths and apparently the Keys stadium doesn't sell food in
the stands like they do during Orioles games. There was a fourth concession
booth there that was closed - bad decision on their part for sure. People
had to wait in line for what looked like nearly an hour just to get a hot
dog or beer. I heard a man walk by saying, "...terrible experience." Our
family bought soft serve ice cream since that booth didn't have a line
probably because most folks wanted actual dinner food first.
At 8:00 p.m. I was standing near the Volt counter just trying to get a
celebrity sighting and asked the woman who had just made it to the front of
the line how long she had waited, "We got in line at 6:10 p.m." she replied.
It was another 20 minutes or so before I saw her headed towards her seat
with food in hand.
The Volt line continued. By 9:00 p.m. it was only halfway around the
stadium and chef Bryan handed out some chocolate dipped bananas for free to
the folks still waiting. One of the Volt workers started bringing
photocopies of the menu to folks in line and indicating which foods they
were sold out of. The regular concession stand line dropped to 20 people,
then 10. Having given up on the Volt situation, we ate bland chicken
tenders and a bland cheese steak By 9:45 p.m. Volt was out of ice cream for
their ice cream sandwiches and so handed out the rest of the cookies used to
make them to the waiting customers. At 10:00 p.m. the game ended. The Volt
line was down to a handful and they finally started just handing out the
food they had left. We were already stuffed but of course helped ourselves
to a lamb hot dog (finely ground, mild tasting but no toppings or sauce or
anything - not sure if the paying customers had a different experience),
soft shelled crab sandwich topped with micro greens (too much bun for the
small crab and bland -was there supposed to be a sauce?), pulled pork
sandwich (our favorite), and truffle popcorn. The menu on the back wall for
the Volt offerings was written so small that my over-age-40 eyes couldn't
read it so I didn't know I was being served truffle popcorn and told the
woman standing next to me that it was just typical, soggy stadium popcorn.
She mentioned the truffle oil - oh, okay, if you really thought about it I
guess there was an unusual flavor there which was improved when I added some
salt. I'm not sure I've ever eaten truffle oil before and wonder how many
hundreds of dollars of the stuff was poured over that popcorn since it was
quite oily. Our 10 year old remarked, "Why would anyone want to make
mushroom flavored popcorn?"
Ever go to a march in D.C. when the Metro stations are so overwhelmed
that they just open their turnstiles and let everyone ride for free? I
really feel like something drastic should have been done by the Key's
management or Volt staff like grabbing trays of concession hot dogs and
rapidly selling them to folks in the regular concession lines or in the
stands themselves. Or grabbing whatever Volt food was prepared and ready to
hand out (like the little fruit tarts, the potato salad or the popcorn) and
going right out into the line of waiting customers and selling them right
then and there. Or quickly setting up some tables along the concourse and
moving the food out as quickly as it could be served by some extra hands.
Anything would have been better than an average 2 hour wait that lasted
right up until the end. I think Bryan's menu was too ambitious - maybe he
should have stuck with just the pulled pork, a side, and one dessert. I
hope if they have him cook again they structure things much differently.
The last thing I'll add is that I get really irritated when my bag is
searched at the entrance and I'm told I have to pour the water out of my
stainless steel water bottle because, "No outside food or drink allowed."
I'm intolerant of heat and get panicky if I don't have access to water and
had two kids along. Pour out our water? Really?

-- Barbara

I could not disagree with Laura more. While the Volt crew was a bit overwhelmed and nobody expected that kind of turnout, I found the wait to be worthwhile and all the patrons we encountered were pleasant and happy, enjoying a lovely evening. As we did. We had the following Volt selections and found all to be quite delicious: pulled pork sandwich, burger, chips, potato salad, tomato salad and key lime pie. (we were VERY happy they offered a wide selection of items!) The Volt staff and Bryan remained calm under pressure and acknowledged that some things did not go as expected. We are very happy we attended, love our Bryan bobble-heads and look forward to making reservations at Volt and attending any other charity events catered by them.

Yeah I agree with Debra. Once I got into the fast line we got our food in 30 minutes. I loved everything I ordered. I'll go into more detail on my blog when I update it soon!

Thanks for your comment, Debra.

But I think you are actually disagreeing with the reader named Barbara. I posted her comments for her because she'd e-mailed them to me.

You probably missed the short intro that explained that. Sorry if that was confusing. I'll add Barbara's name at the end of her comments so it's more clear.

Barbara,
I am wondering if you had to pour the water out because of the possibility that it may contain alcohol.

Re Barbara's comments: Why do we care about food commentary from someone who has never tried truffle oil? And why should we care about the culinary opinion of her poor obese 10-year-old who she feeds off the dollar menu at McDonald's?

Speaking of obese, add up the food she and her brood scarfed -- all the free food on offer, which she then turned around and criticized.

Personally, if she can't figure out how to post a comment, I would not have posted it for her.


Wow section 34, next time we get caught in an extra long drive due to a back up on 70 I'll make sure to have packed a gourment picnic meal for the kids including something involving truffle oil - just in case.

Yes, you're right, Barbara, as you're willing to eat all that food when stuffed, I'm sure they can't go a single drive without eating.

I'm one of the people Laura spoke to who were at the end of the line. We had just come to see the game and didn't know about Volt night, and were totally amazed to see so many cars overflowing the parking lot for a Tuesday night game!

We got in line at the end of the 3rd inning, about 8ish or a bit after
(probably 5 min before you talked to us?); the line had died down from
its longest stage and we figured we would see what the fuss was about.
We got to the Volt counter at 9:35, at the end of the 7th inning.
While in line we ate Italian ices, fries, and hot dog from the regular
ballpark concessions. Barbara above is right that the lines for regular concessions were also incredibly long.

But we were lucky -- partway through the wait, the line split into
two, a shorter and a longer, and we joined the shorter line. This
meant we got to the front ahead of others who had been waiting longer.
When we got to the front we mentioned we had been waiting an hour and
half, and a guy in the other line said he had been waiting three hours
(i.e., got in line at 6:30) -- and there were many people behind him
in line who still had a wait to get to the counter. Based on that, I
think it's a fair guess that there were people who got in line around
the start of the game who spent the entire game in line and only got
their food around the end of the game.

When the game was over we waited around, watched the kids run the
bases, and made our way out slowly - and there was still a short line
for the Volt counter (probably these were people going back for a
second round? or getting freebies?).

Someone we know had arrived at 3 in the afternoon to get in line outside the gates, and
had gotten food in time for the first inning around 7 pm.

By the time we got to the front of the line, they were out of more
than half of the things on the menu. The Volt staff didn't cross the
items off the posted menus (which had very small print as Barbara points out), which would have speeded up the proceedings. As
each person reached the cashiers, there would be a fresh round of
"I'll have the tuna" "no sorry we're out" "Well, I'll have the shrimp"
"No sorry we're out". The staff were in good spirits, even if the
people in line were tired and hungry.

Between three of us we got the truffle popcorn (very good), lamb
sausage ("definitely high quality"), pulled pork sandwich, key lime
pie bar with meringue sticks, peach cobbler (with blueberries or
something purple). All were tasty, but were they worth the wait and
missing the game?

For a baseball fan who just came to see the game, to be frank the
hassle factor was higher than I would have liked. One of the
attractions of minor league baseball is that it's a fun but no-hassle
way to spend a summer evening outdoors. None of the endless lines of
some major league parks, fewer crowds, lower concession prices etc.
You can just up and go, most any night, and get easy parking and cheap
tickets, enjoy the game and get a bite to eat, enjoy the sunset, the
dusk and the moon rising, etc. So, a huge long line for anything sort
of defeats the purpose. I hope they have it again and anticipate the crowds better, but I won't be
standing in line the next time. I'd rather have regular ballpark food
but see the game. (Of course, I didn't have any of the shrimp ceviche;
maybe I would feel differently if I had.)

For a Volt/Voltaggio fan, or for the fun of trying out high-end
cuisine in a more modest version, or for someone who was interested in
something a little different -- definitely worth it, especially if you
got there before they ran out of things, and if you weren't counting on this as your only dinner. Voltaggio was hanging around,
shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures; the food
was good, and it's nice to bring out the hometown pride. The stadium
PA said the attendance at the game was over 7,000 and that it was
their highest attendance since 2007. Obviously this was a fun idea
that drew a lot of people out to the park.

We took our 2 year old out to the Key's game last night for his first baseball experience -and it was fabulous!! We missed out on the bobble-heads but my son went home with an autographed baseball instead :)
We tried a bit of everything from the Volt menu and loved every bite. This was a fantastic event and we hope that there are more in the future...Thanks to the Keys, Brian & the Volt team for a great night out at the ballgame!

See you in October, our Table 21 reservations are almost here!

Wow- Barbara just doesn't get it. She can't help it- leave her alone.
I for one, was crushed that I could not attend the sold out game. I was lucky enough to dine at VOLT on Saturday night. We loved it all. He is a true talent- and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Well done Bryan. Well done.

Elizabeth - it sounds to me like your "fast line" was just you cutting in front of everyone in the real line.

In defense of Barbara, even the regular concession lines were crazy long, so it's a good thing she fed the kids before the game. I think anybody would be pretty unhappy waiting in line for 2 hours with hungry kids, only getting food at 9 pm or later, no matter how much the parents appreciate the gourmet food.

The pour-out-your-water thing is standard at ballparks in my experience (I imagine this is partly so you can't bring in clear liquor, as Chris says), but they'll usually let you bring an empty container and there is usually a water fountain in the park.

I don't know about the game being "sold out" - we walked up to the ticket counter as the game was starting and got tickets with no trouble. Maybe it sold out after the first inning?

Weird, the "cutting ahead" comment is by a different Anne, though the long comment and the comment immediately above this one are by me.

About "cutting ahead" -- the line was totally chaotic and unmanaged. Apparently there was just one register working at first, so a single line formed, but then they opened more registers without sending someone out to control traffic so that the single line would feed to all the registers. So people lined up at the newly open registers, not realizing that they were bypassing the longer line. And nobody in the longer line realized that the new registers were open, because the line was snaking away in the other direction. We changed lines partway through our wait but didn't really realize how inefficient and unfair the line procedure had been until we were at the registers and talked to the other guy who had been waiting much longer than we had been. (And even the shorter line was plenty long)

I think it was just unintentional on everybody's part, but it could have been avoided with better crowd control strategy from the Volt staff or the stadium personnel - hopefully next time they'll anticipate the crowds and figure out a way to manage it a little better.

Anne (without the N) why so snarky? Were you one of the ones in the long line?? I realized I was going ahead of alot of people without a clue about the shorter lines, but such is life! No one is going to take care of you but yourself, you gotta be aware of your surroundings and wise up. Even without the tip off, I was going to suggest to my roomate that one of us should go up to the front and check and see what was going on!

What confuses me is that people so easily diss each other on this blog and so many other blogs on the Sun. It's really sick actually.

I just had to delete a comment for utter nastiness. Let's be civil.

We're talking about food at a baseball game. And the baseball was in Frederick, not Philly.

Behave.

Oh, to have a Bryan Voltaggio bobble-head doll! It could have lived with my Tim Gunn one!

Laura: I appreciate the difficulty in trying to maintain civility on Internet comments. But I want to tell you that I think the poster who I responded to started off with utter nastiness -- slagging items she hadn't paid for, running negative heresy about somebody running an event for charity. Reread it and see if you don't agree.

I disagree, section 34. I don't believe Barbara was at all nasty. She was understandably disappointed that the food was so hard to get. And she offered some constructive suggestions for setting things up differently.

You're free to disagree with her take on the evening. But I don't think you have to start lobbing insults at her children to do so.

I see where section 34 is coming from, some women use the "i have kids" thing like its a handicap or disease and it gives them carte blache to moan and groan about everything

I don't think I was being snarky at all, I was just stating my opinion. The fact that you're so defensive about it leads me to believe that you realize that it was unfair.

And no, I wasn't in the long line. I was at the game, but I skipped the lines altogether.

Snarky is in the eye of the beholder.

My wife and I went and had a great time despite the long line. We ordered four of the entrees and shared each one. The bobbles are awesome, we each got one. One is in our kitchen and the other is up for sale on ebay if anyone is interested:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220645965536

Laura: You're probably not reading this anymore, but just in case:

You know who holds her kids out as examples, and then gets all huffy when anyone criticizes them? Sarah Palin. Now if you support her, we don't really have anything to talk about.

I don't know if you remember what it was like being 10, but I think a 10-year-old boy is going to get insulted occasionally, online or off. I don't think I'm going to ruin his childhood with a one-off comment. And quite seriously, it sounds like the kid needs a parent with a better grasp of nutrition.

I don't care if you see me as a monster; that's fine. What I don't get is why you come to her defense. Good suggestions? Like giving away more food? To people in the back of the line? Why are there lines? So people who have been waiting longest can get food first. I'm into fair play; the other poster is not.

Moreover, I stand behind my initial comment. Would you read a classical music review from somebody who had -- proudly -- never listened to Bach, or a movie review from somebody who bragged of never seeing Casablanca?

I don't think I'm going to ruin his childhood with a one-off comment.

The problem is, section 34, every single one of your comments has been insulting and cringe-inducing, and I'm speaking as someone who isn't even the object of your derision.

Hey, if Bryan (my personal pick for Top Chef) was there, I'd have been in line. Maybe Bravo should get a better line on the popularity of its contestants, as I'm sure Bryan cooked what he was told would sell.

OK, Laura, you and I are from different planets. Feel free to be insulted -- in fact, please revel in it -- and cringe as you will.

section 34, Laura Lee is a valued and much loved denizen of planet Dining@Large. Please feel free to find another planet for your comments.

Attention. There is a gas leak in Sections 33-35. Please move in an orderly fashion toward the exits.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.
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