All photos courtesy of the author
Although Nationals Park already features a number of iconic Washington-area restaurants, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl and Hard Times Cafe, the Nationals partnered with New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group to bring in four new dining options: Blue Smoke BBQ, Box Frites, El Verano Taqueria, and Shake Shack (which also just opened a brick-and-mortar location near Dupont Circle to much fanfare).
Last night, the Washington Nationals hosted a preview event for their new food court opening in center field on the Miller Lire Scoreboard Walk. Along with a new $5 beer initiative, the revamped food options are a part of the Nationals push to draw more fans to games and compete with a growing number of other area options (although which fans they are trying to attract remains to be seen).
There were a number of items I had the privilege of sampling that really impressed me. As a self-labeled burger connoisseur who has sampled pretty much every burger in the area, I was at first skeptical about the lauded Shake Shack burger. However, even though I told myself I was only going to eat half the burger, after the first bite, I knew I was going to finish the entire thing. Cooked to medium, topped with beautiful fresh lettuce and tomato, and nestled in a lightly toasted bun, the Shake Shack burger made me realize what all the hype was about.
The fries from Box Frites were the other highlight of the night for me. The Belgian-style fries were perfectly cooked, nice and crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside, and not greasy at all. The fries are served with a choice of chipotle ketchup, mayo, bacon aioli (the best of the ones I sampled), blue cheese, or rosemary ranch dipping sauces, or tossed with garlic and Parmesan cheese.
Conversely, there were also a number of items that really failed to impress me. The BBQ from Blue Smoke was particularly weak – although I really shouldn’t have expected much from a BBQ joint headquartered above the Mason-Dixon Line. The meat in the BBQ sandwich was overly fatty, lacked much flavor, was under-sauced, and not complimented at all by the charred bun on which it was served. I did, however, enjoy the vinegar-based coleslaw.
Neither were the tacos from El Verano Taqueria much to write home about. Both the chicken and pork taco meats were overcooked and mushy, although the salsa and the corn tortillas were pretty good. The “elote” corn on the cob, slathered in mayonnaise, Cojita cheese, and cayenne powder, though, will most likely not be a big seller – I managed a single bite before I had to toss it and find some beer to rinse my mouth out.
The new Scoreboard Walk also features a number of interesting design elements and environmentally-friendly features. The Walk is shaded by 14 sails, designed to reduce temperatures up to 20 degrees, and made from recyclable HPDE. The greenery around the Walk is all indigenous plants and trees, chosen for their ability to subsist on less water and to attract butterflies.
Additionally, each of the four food stands features a different architectural theme designed to evoke thoughts of the food being served within them. The Blue Smoke BBQ stall features wood panels and wrought iron, the Box Frites stall is done in a tiled “modern European design,” El Verano Taqueria has a tin roof and gooseneck lighting, and Shake Shack looks like the original Shake Shack found in Madison Square Park.
For all these changes, however, the question remains, will they actually draw fans to Nationals Park, or will it take changes to the on-field product rather than just food and (kind of) cheap beer to lure in fans?