The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack


If you time it right—or if you were born at the right time—you can eat for cheap at River Cats games. Hot dogs and desserts are $1 for Friday-night patrons. Seniors eat free on Mondays. Kids eat free on Tuesdays. Yay for them. But what if you’re a baby boomer and it’s a Thursday night and you want something a little more adventuresome—something that transcends basic ballpark fare? What then? Those were the questions circling ’round my brain when I recently took The Boyfriend to a game (no arm-twisting necessary) to sample the wares. Having heard promising things about Raley Field’s new vendor, Ovations, my hopes were high. But The Boyfriend remained skep-tical. “It’s not gonna be any different than it’s been before,” he grunted. “Baseball food is baseball food.” It gives me great pleasure to report that he was wrong. Along with popcorn, peanuts and all the usual suspects, Raley Field’s newly expanded menu features such fun finds as portobello mushroom burgers, pesto chicken sandwiches and salads—most for a reasonable $8 or less. But so much for price; how does it taste? Drumroll, please . . .

Hawaiian Burger ($7.75) at Slugger’s Garlic Grill. After asking the concessions-stand worker, “What’s on the Hawaiian burger?” and getting a puzzled look, followed by the flashing of a hand-held placard with a list of toppings, we weren’t expecting much. But this burger blew us away with its perfectly cooked beef patty and juicy, messy yumminess. Delightfully salty-sweet, with a trifecta of grilled ham, grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce, plus melted mozzarella, red onion, green leaf lettuce and tomato, it’s one of those burgers you grow to love more with each bite. The lightly toasted sesame bun scored big points, too. A home run.

Chicken Caesar Salad ($7.75) at The Show. This, we agreed, was the true test: Could we realistically expect a worthy salad from a place mostly specializing in man fare? With its generous pile of super-fresh romaine, topped by long, fat strips of tender white chicken, crunchy croutons and a creamy, slightly tangy Caesar dressing, the answer was resoundingly “yes.” The biggest surprise: shaved Parmesan loaded on every slice of chicken. A triple.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($8)
at Left Field BBQ. Mixed reviews. We liked the mild, smoky barbecue flavor, and it’s a big, fat sandwich, easily enough for two. But the pork had an oddly mushy texture—The Boyfriend described it as “kinda like tuna”—that we couldn’t quite get past. (Dollar-Wise tip: For an additional $2, you can add a side.) A single.

Prefer more traditional grub? Most everything is less than $5, including the Raley Field Jumbo Dog ($4.50), large popcorn ($4.75), bag of peanuts ($4) and soft pretzel ($3.25). As usual, it’s the booze that’ll get you: The Boyfriend freaked when a 20-ounce Blue Moon beer set him back $9. But, hey, that’s the way the baseball bounces.