The days of beer, hot dogs, peanuts and Crackerjacks as the sole food groups at baseball games are long gone. That’s true even during the Grapefruit League’s spring training, which strikes up in Fort Myers each year.
Cheering on your team at Hammond Stadium – spring training home to the Minnesota Twins – and JetBlue Park – where the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox reign – is sure to work up some major league hunger and thirst, so it’s fortunate that both venues offer refreshments for a wide range of tastes and dietary requirements.
While taking in a Twins game, for example, there are a number of local food purveyors now selling their products at the stadium.
For something more substantive, consider the create-a-taco and quesadilla station, where items are made to order. There’s also a gluten-free pizza sporting a cauliflower dough, which is also available for the quesadilla.
Feeling piggish? How about some Nawty Hogg Backyard BBQ, which returns for its third year bigger and better than ever, serving pulled pork and other barbecued delicacies.
Local craft breweries are represented, too, including Palm City and Fort Myers Brewing Co. as well as neighbors Big Top from Sarasota and Islamorada from the Florida Keys. There’s also a growler station where you can purchase a filled growler (a 32-ounce plastic container) for $15 and receive $1 off your next beer when you go to Fort Myers Brewing Co. when you take in your reusable growler.
And for devotees of the ever-popular beer shakes – that would be milkshakes with beer in them – never fear. They are back this year.
The Twins also have the distinction of having the 5-4-3- Triple Play Pizza Parlor where you may choose from a pizza with cheese, cheese and pepperoni or cheese, pepperoni and sausage. The 16-inch pie is cut into four squares.
And last but not least is the Bud, Brat and Burger Station, which offers just what it sounds like – gourmet burgers and bratwurst, cooked on the grill and served with 25-ounce Budweiser products.
The stadium is now sporting more seating for eating and also more with shade, which is a bonus as the weather warms up in March.
They don’t call JetBlue Park Fenway South for no reason. Here you’ll find such Northeastern delicacies as hearty lobster rolls, clam chowder, fried clams and Fenway franks on sale at concession stands around the stadium.
Also available are universal favorites such as tacos, quesadillas, Italian sausage, steak kabobs, ice cream, toasted subs, fruit cups and fried dough. Dunkin Donuts is on the premises as well.
For the growing gluten-free crowd, there’s a cart offering hot dogs on gluten-free rolls, chips, brownies, cookies and even gluten-free beer. Who knew?
And there’s a vending machine that dispenses kosher hot dogs, baked ziti, potato skins, mozzarella sticks and mac and cheese.
There’s even a vendor that sells meatballs in a cone.
And, of course, there are beer concessions throughout the complex. No need to go thirsty at this park.
Before and after
For those seeking a restaurant meal before or after a game, there are plenty of choices along the Daniels Parkway corridor and vicinity.
Be forewarned that there are many people who are also headed to and from the games – so allow extra time if you plan a meal prior to the game.
The choices commence even before you hit Daniels Parkway. On the outparcels of Bell Tower Shops, there’s Cantina Laredo, which serves well-executed Mexican fare, including tableside guacamole, ceviche, fajitas, carne asada, shrimp, steaks and excellent margaritas, among other adult beverages.
Just across the street is the cozy Mad Fresh, right behind Outback Steakhouse, serving small plates, salads, tartines, burgers and pizzas. Beer and wine served.
Within the shopping center, Blue Pointe Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill has a raw bar with a variety of fresh shellfish plus sushi, cooked fish from a number of locales around the world, burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads and a full bar.
Bistro 41 serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. The 41 Flat is a signature platter of olives, fruit, salami and cheeses that’s great for sharing. For something more substantial, there are salads, paella, meatloaf, scallops, fish, beef and pasta, plus lighter lunch fare, including sandwiches and burgers. Full bar.
Cru has long been the cool kid on the block. Creative American fare and a stylish design in both the bar and dining room, plus ample outdoor dining and drinking space, make this a popular spot. There’s tapas and more substantive dishes, such as foie gras and French toast, burgers, steaks, paella, salads, sandwiches and a wide range of beer, wine and distilled beverages.
DaRuMa Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Lounge has something for everyone – sushi, cooked Japanese dishes and the teppan menu, where chefs prepare the food in front of you on super-hot surfaces at your table.
Grimaldi’s Pizzeria features a coal-fired brick-oven pizza with a vast array of toppings piled upon dough made fresh daily in-house. Add a salad and adult beverages for a satisfying meal.
Glory Days Grill has taken over the old Leeroy Selmon’s and continues the tradition of Southern and comfort foods plus all the trappings of a sports bar.
Leopardi’s is the massive castle-like structure just south of Daniels Parkway that offers a wealth of Italian fare including classic entrees and pizzas plus a full bar.
Fancy’s Southern Café where if chicken and waffles, fried cheese grits, meatloaf sandwiches and country fried steak sound appealing, is the place. It’s Southern food with a touch of elegance.
Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill offers just what it sounds like – raw seafood as well as wings, fried seafood platters, sandwiches, salads and other casual bar fare.
Society Restaurant & Lounge is the center’s newcomer with a variety of dining possibilities from the patio on the ground floor and the downstairs dining room to the rooftop dining area. Menus vary according to where you sit but there are small plates, burgers, and full plates available as well as a host of beverages. This place tends to get more lively the later it gets.
The Saucy Meatball is the long-time local restaurateur, Sal Basile’s latest restaurant that offers casual quick-serve food in the front and more leisurely dining in the back. This spot is just inside the Gateway development off Daniels Parkway. Veal scaloppini, mussels fra diavolo, Mama’s meatballs, antipasto and other classic Italian fare is available at moderate prices.
Origami Korean Japanese Restaurant offers sushi, cooked Japanese fare or a taste of Korea in the form of bulgogi or bibimbap and kimchee leaving wanting more.
Artisan Eatery sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s a casual place with serious breakfast, lunch and dinner made from scratch. Chef Timothy Yoa is a graduate of the Culinary School at the Art Institute of Philadelphia with years of experience and it shows. Try his made-from-scratch pastrami (and pastrami hash), Belgian waffles, cheese steaks, Cuban sandwich, lobster roll, blackberry bread pudding and daily large-plate specials. He also offers an expanding vegan menu.
Fat Katz Sports Café is a sports bar but it’s so much more. Try the stuffed grape leaves, homemade pierogis, hummus and tapenade, burgers, flatbreads, salads and shrimp along with adult beverages.
Thai Star is a cozy little place where the welcome is warm and the food is fresh and authentic. Small plates abound – satay, spring rolls and such – and there are well-executed Thai entrees as well, such as pad Thai, curries, basil duck and panang fish.
Rock n’ Sushi Asian Bistro is tucked into the Gateway community just off Daniels Parkway. Rock n’ Sushi serves sushi, Thai and Japanese cuisine. The menu is extensive, as is the wine, beer and sake list.
Skinny Dogz Brunchery is in Gateway and specializes in brunch and lunch with Benedicts, sandwiches, salads, and such, by the owners of Fat Katz.
Trattoria Mia prides itself on offering traditional Italian classics like arancini, bruschetta, pasta e fagioli, pastas, Marsalas, Parmigianas and other favorites.
Two Meatballs in the Kitchen refers to the owner’s son and son-in-law, who were the original occupants of the kitchen in this popular Italian joint that’s open for lunch and dinner, serving all the usual suspects – pizza, calzones, subs, stromboli, chicken, seafood, pastas, even gluten-free fare and a full bar.
Stevie Tomato’s Sports Page is exactly what the name implies: a sports bar, serving nachos, fries, meatballs, salads, gyros, reubens, barbecued pulled pork, burgers, a selection of fish, pizza and beer, beer, beer plus cocktails.
Fine Folk Pizza is where not only can you feast upon the unusual pizzas served here but chances are you’ll learn a bit about the art of making a pizza when the pizza acrobats show up at your table for a demonstration. There are lots of interesting combinations to experience here, from the classic to the ultra-creative, including veggie options.