Sprint Center vs. Madison Square Garden: The Food
Last weekend I was lucky enough to cheer on the Mizzou Tigers at the Sprint Center as they won the Big IIX Championship game. But you might consider me UNlucky to have found myself pretty hungry when I was there!
While the Sprint Center is supposed to be the crown jewel of our revitalized downtown, evidence of Kansas City’s culinary attainment is nowhere to be found. In fact, compared to other venues, the Sprint Center is nearly devoid of worthwhile food.
This sad situation became apparent to me a few weeks ago when we visited NYC’s Madison Square Garden to see a Knicks Game. As usual, my fanatical foodie impulse goes into overdrive when faced with all the eating opportunities in New York City. Knowing we would be spending a good chunk of the day near or inside the arena, I started researching my options. I was amazed to find not only long-time New York establishments serving up their storied fare, but several of the city’s top chefs (meaning America’s top chefs) had set up shop at the Garden!
Names like Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges, ABC Kitchen), Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde, The Dutch), Drew Nieporent (owner, Nobu, Cochon, Tribeca Grill), and Jeremy Marshall (Aquagrill) have all opened new concepts inside the venue. I was like a kid in a candy shop walking past the beautiful counters with shiny stainless steel heat lamps and sparkling glass partitions displaying the pristine food about to be assembled. One of the busiest spots was Lobster Shrimp Roll serving, you guessed it, lobster shrimp rolls. There’s even a place to get sushi if you’re in the mood.
At Sprint Center, the most interesting vendor I could find Saturday was called “Taco Taco”. My choices were Taco Salad, Nachos Grande or Tacos. Thinking the steak tacos sounded tastier than chicken, I placed my order and I waited….and waited…and waited. Yes, it was half-time, but seriously?! You just put the meat inside the shells, top it with lettuce, cheese and sour cream and send it through the window. Perhaps the kitchen had been slowed by a sour cream explosion or something, because when I was finally handed my order of tacos I got a handful of sour cream which was smeared across the bottom and side of the paper basket. Yuck!
Unfortunately the messy tacos didn’t taste any better than they looked. The meat resembled roast beef more than steak, both in texture and in seasoning. There was plenty of protein on each taco, I will give them that. But it has to be because they can barely give this stuff away! Two bites, a couple pics, and my tacos found their new home in the trash can. I would just get by on the popcorn. At least it was average for a sports venue…..which is more than I can say for the bite of an Italian Sausage I had there pre-game.
Perhaps tacos aren’t the best choice for ordering at an arena. I can accept that argument. But my other choices weren’t very enticing. I could have stopped at “Fan Favorites” or “The Grill” to get a burger, brat, chicken sandwich or a veggie salad – ugh. That’s all I found in a trip halfway around the arena and back. The one dish that was marginally appealing was a brisket sandwich. But give me a break!! In this world-renowned barbecue town, who wants to eat brisket prepared in the basement of an arena and served alongside stale pretzels?!
At the very least the Sprint Center should showcase one of KC’s famous local barbecue joints. Why not give those out-of-towners easy access to our best burnt ends and pulled pork from one of the pillars of KC’s culinary cosmos. Even Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums have figured this out. For me, a Royals game almost always includes some Sheridan’s frozen custard or Topsy’s popcorn. And never fear, if you get hungry at Kauffman there’s Stroud’s famous chicken or delicious Jose Peppers (amazing chicken tacos) to fill you up. At Arrowhead Kansas Citians can enjoy their own Scimeca’s sausages and Gates BBQ!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see sushi sold inside the Sprint Center. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t offer traditional gameday fare, but why not add some variety and show off some of our city’s culinary talent at the one place thousands of tourists visiting Kansas City hit every year.
At Madison Square Garden, I settled on a Simply Chicken by Jean-Georges Vongerichten for two reasons. First, because chicken can act as a culinary equalizer. You can get a chicken sandwich nearly anywhere and plenty of them are pretty good. So if Simply Chicken was gonna be good, it would have to be REALLY good! Secondly, the last time I was in NYC I had one of the best meals of my life at Jean-Georges in the Trump Tower. If the mass-produced food here was even in the same vein, then I had to try it. And I was not disappointed!
Simply Chicken simply offered three choices – a chicken sandwich, chicken salad or chicken hotdog with kimchi relish. Each comes with a twist. My sandwich wasn’t the best sandwich I’ve ever had, but it was definitely great AND is one the best foods I’ve ever eaten at a sporting event. Wrapped in a tidy white spiral paper wrapper, the warm chicken was tender, flavorful and topped with a great Thai mayonnaise and thick-cut specially brined pickles. The freshness, crunch and mayo reminded me of a fancy sushi roll in a chicken sandwich.
The Garden even showcased vendors with trendy desserts. Fancy iced cupcakes and elegant tarts caught they eye of nearly all passers-by. A couple on our row got some as a fourth-quarter treat and it was reportedly worth the trip up the stairs and to the cart.
If only there were decadent local treats at Sprint Center for times when my sweet tooth flared up. I suppose I could have settled for some Dippin’ Dots Saturday. But why, I must ask, can’t it be Christopher Elbow’s Glace or 3 Women and an Oven!?!? We’ve got some of the best food in the Midwest, it’s time to show it off!