Amusement parks aren’t generally known for their good-for-you concessions. You’re there to cut loose and have fun, after all, so people tend to fill up on sugary staples such as funnel cakes and cotton candy, or fatty foods such as corn dogs and pizza.
At Kennywood Park, Potato Patch fries are the No. 1-selling food. Some 4 tons of Idaho potatoes are delivered to the West Mifflin park each day during the season (double on Saturdays); by summer’s end, more than a half-million servings of the salty, fried-on-site fries will be scooped up into paper boats. About half will be covered in melted cheese and bacon.
Because they’re doing so much walking between rides, people tend to look at Kennywood “as a cheat day,” says food service director Michael Henninger. Then again, a growing segment of America is hungry for healthier food options when they’re out and about with their kids.
This season, Kennywood has overhauled its menu to offer new eats for both types of diners. For the “calories be damned” crowd, new choices include Canadian-style Poutine Patch fries, french fry-covered Potato Patch Burgers and deep-fried banana splits. For the diet-conscious, a new Snack-a-Saurus cafe in Kiddieland will serve five good-for-you sandwiches crafted with wholesome ingredients and organic veggies. It also boasts an organic espresso bar.
A larger number of items will be available for those with food allergies or sensitivities, including at the revamped Small Fry’s stand in Lost Kennywood, which will serve gluten-free chicken tenders.
Although there’s no messing with the thrill rides that make Kennywood one of Pittsburgh’s most popular summer destinations, its menu always is a moving target. Mr. Henninger says he starts thinking about next year’s menu even before the current season ends, usually right after Fright Night. Some items are suggested by guest via email or on the park’s website, and officials also consider trends within the industry.
Other new items, like this year’s deep-fried banana split ($7.29), are born out of a “Chef Toque Challenge” that Kennywood’s owner, Palace Entertainment, holds each February at its corporate offices in California. During the friendly cooking competition, the company’s 22 food and beverage directors are divided into teams and tasked with creating a new starter, entree and dessert. The winner is trotted out in Palace parks across the country.
To make it, a banana is dipped in funnel cake batter, deep-fried to a golden crisp, and then topped with all the traditional banana split garnishes of vanilla ice cream, chocolate, strawberry and pineapple sauces, whipped cream and crushed peanuts.
“It sounds rough, but it’s so good once the flavors get in your mouth and come together,” Mr. Henninger said.
The Poutine Patch fries ($8.49), conversely, came out of a chance meeting two years ago at a trade show with an attendee from Canada, where the dish is a classic. It features the park’s signature fries drizzled with Heinz brown gravy and topped with fried cheese curds.
The Potato Patch Burger ($10.99) is even more substantial. Similiar to a Primanti’s sandwich, the double-fisted hamburger comes topped with french fries, bacon, cheese and Thousand Island dressing.
Also new this year for big eaters is The Swhinery BBQ stand. Located next to the park’s beer garden, it will sell a variety of the BBQ team’s award-winning sandwiches ($9.99-$12.99) and dinners ($15.99-$19.99), including pulled pork and chicken, beef brisket and tangy, melt-in-your mouth ribs. Its menu also includes several traditional sides ($3.99), nachos supreme ($14.99) and a super-spicy chili ($5.99).
Local barbecue master Leonard Verosky, who was a chef at South Hills Country Club before going on the professional barbecuing circuit a few years ago, cooks a ton of meat on-site each day — 1,000 pounds at a time — in a giant steel smoker fueled by applewood.
The Snack-a-Saurus cafe is a “hip and healthy” dining concept from California. Palace Entertainment tried out the national company’s menu at Dutch Wonderland amusement park in Lancaster last year, and it was so successful, they decided to bring it to Kennywood. Kids’ entrees, served with veggies tots, include a sunflower butter and organic jam sandwich composed to look like piano keys and a “Grilledzilla” grilled cheese and turkey sandwich garnished with zucchini-and-olive “dinosaur eyes.” Grown-up sandwiches, served with organic greens, include chicken with mozzarella and sun-dried tomato, and turkey with avocado, arugula and smoked paprika-honey aioli.
“It’s not rocket science,” said owner Shannon Seip, about making the food look fun. “Adding just a few veggies to the sandwiches gets kids to eat them.”
Also new this year:
• Auntie Anne’s Gourmet Pretzel will have a stand behind Noah’s Ark, serving its signature salted ($3.89) and flavored pretzels ($3.99) and pretzel nuggets ($4.99).
• Pedro’s, a Mexican food stand, will allow guests to make their own burritos, bowls and taco salads with a combination of proteins, beans, rice and more.
• The park will offer a new all-season dining pass. For $79.99 per season, a pass holder can order two combo meals — a lunch and a dinner — plus a popcorn or cotton candy during each visit. Note: The Potato Patch stand is not included; however, guests can get the signature fresh-cut fries as a side to meals at Small Fry’s or Star Refreshment Stand.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.