If you’re under 36 and have been to any Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field over the last dozen years or so, you’d know that the Centerfield Meat Market is its own epicenter of action. A big open area with easy access to beer, digits and food; a great place to mix socializing with baseball. But as my desire to kick some game lessens over the years, so has my desire to go back to the Bullpen Market. That all changed with the introduction of The ‘Pen. I want to go back to that area to get full on baseball, drinks and food.
Last week, I was invited to a media tasting of The ‘Pen (the new moniker for the Bullpen Market) and its new food offering. These aren’t just food stands. They are new food concepts from an esteemed trio of chefs/restaurateurs; Ethan Stowell, Bill Pustari, and Roberto Santibanéz. As a baseball fan, I was excited for the changes to this area. As a food nerd, I was excited to try some good food. Combining the two, I’m giddy that the concept of ballpark food had been elevated. Peace out peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
Here are the three cool things about The ‘Pen:
- The space
What really amazed me was the openness of the space. Gone are the food vendors and structures that were ignored and make way for perfectly good mingling room. From a baseball perspective, the access to the teams bullpens is unbelievable. In theory, you could actually touch Felix Hernandez when he warms up. You’d also probably get kicked out if you did. So resist, and enjoy the unfettered ability to be this close to the pitchers.
You’ll also get open views of the field, tons of TVs, a fireplace, cocktail bar, and enough food to get stuffed; The ‘Pen is the Mariners funkier version of a sports bar. It’s streets ahead of what it used to be. Open air, covered, and uncovered at the same time. On a sunny day, with a crack of the bat ringing in the background, it’ll definitely be a destination spot. Also, The ‘Pen opens up earlier (2 1/2 hours prior to first pitch) than the rest of Safeco to accommodate its own Happy Hour.
- The food
On that frigid morning last week, we took in the space and sampled the food. I also listened Kevin Martinez, of the Mariners, and John Sergi, of Centerplate (the M’s food partner) along with the chefsteranteurs. What I thought was interesting was that the reason why the M’s wanted to remodel the Bullpen Market was to make The ‘Pen a hospitality destination. I’d say that they’re on their way to achieving that goal.
Here’s a quick rundown of the four food options:
-Hamburg & Frites – One of two Ethan Stowell concepts. This is the burger, fries, and hot dog spot. We learned that the burger is made of grass-fed beef (a first for Major League Baseball concessions) and weighed in at a 1/3 of a pound. The hot dog had a nice snap and the subtle notes of caraway seed in the mustard was an earthy touch. The fries came with a killer sauce that my friend Lisa really liked and wrote about in her post on the festivities.
-La Creperie – The other of Chef Stowell’s two spots. This was his goal of Parisan street food. Crepes in a number of different sweet and savory options. The crepe was a bit crisper and had more structure than I was expecting, still tasty. And who doesn’t like Nutella? It did get to the condiment championship game after all.
-Apizza – From way out in New Haven, CT, Bill Pusitra has opened up his first West Coast pizzeria in Safeco Field. His Modern Apizza is often lauded for their New Haven-style pizza and he aims to bring that quality bar to The ‘Pen. This isn’t soggy, sloppy and sad pizza, this is one with a proud crust, bright sauce, and toppings that harmonize.
-Tortugas Voladoras – “The Flying Turtle Cantina” is brought to us by Roberto Santibanéz. His take on Mexican food is different from most ballpark food that I’ve come across. Much of the menu comprises of Mexican tortas. Sandwiches with bread shaped like a turtle, ergo, the ‘torta’. The Mariners said that they are the first ballpark to serve tortas. I really enjoyed the braised pork. You will too.
- The shift
In baseball, the shift is when fielders ‘shift’ to one side of the diamond to predict where a ball will be hit. You could fathom that the concept of ballpark food became predictable. Something fried, peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, etc. While these can be good, they are also boring in the context of a game. Now, the concept that has been executed in The ‘Pen has shifted our expectations of what a concession can be. Taking into account the environment and the caliber of chefs, now we have something more akin to a takeaway restaurant rather than concession food at Safeco Field. And I think this is very exciting. My opinion of eating at Safeco has shifted, and I’m looking forward to seeing many a game from this area.