'Calories-be-damned' cheesesteak burger at Heinz Field may give hot dogs a run this NFL season

Like most football fans who grab a meal at an NFL stadium, Pittsburgh Steelers fans love their hot dogs and nachos. 

Hot dogs, in fact, are the number one seller at Heinz Field each season, said Edward Lake, Northeast regional executive chef for Aramark, the stadium’s food and beverage provider. “And our barbecue is second to none,” he added, all of which is brined and slow-smoked on the premises.

So no surprise that two of the stadium’s newest menu options during the upcoming 2017-18 season take those fan faves to creative new heights. 

As trotted out— and sampled — at a press event on Friday in the stadium’s PNC Champion Club, Heinz Field’s new Signature Nachos ($10.25, available in nine sections) is a meat lover’s dream. Golden corn nacho chips are piled high with ancho-rubbed smoked brisket, and then topped with cheese sauce, pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos. It’s comfort food at its best, with just enough spice to make your lips tingle but not burn. Plus, it’s gluten-free.

The Country Dog ($8.50, Sections 209, 233) is the stadium’s spin on country-fried steak. The skinless wieners from Erie-based Smith Provision Co. are legendary on their own, but these dogs are dipped in the same coating used to make chicken tenders, and then fried to a crispy crunch. But hold the ketchup — they’re topped with a tangy cider cabbage slaw instead.

Because Pittsburghers love their large portions, Aramark has cooked up one heck of a hot sandwich. The Pittsburgh cheesesteak burger ($11, Sections 212, 236) sates those hearty appetites with not just one but two hand-ground beef patties topped with shaved sirloin steak, cheese and vinegar peppers. Calories be damned, it just might be the best dish on the menu. 

Fried foods took the bench several years ago at the Steelers’ training camp in Latrbobe, but foods fresh from the deep-fryer still plays a major role in football concessions, said Mr. Lake, who also oversees stadium menus for the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with five MLB, three NHL and two NBA teams.

The batter-free Smith’s spicy boski kielbasa in a soft bun with caraway sauerkraut ($9, Sections 123, 527 and Club levels 209 and 233) is new and so are three varieties of pierogies, a food Mr. Lake, of German-Lithuanian heritage, grew up eating.

Even though the potato-and-cheese dumplings are not prepared by the faithful in church kitchens but instead by the family-owned Cheemo, they pass as homemade. Available at Pittsburgh Pierogi House (Section 119), the traditional variety ($8.50) comes with sauerkraut, caramelized onions, sour cream and bacon. The other two toppings (each $10) pay homage to two iconic city neighborhoods. The Mexican War Streets version comes with green chicken chili, pinto beans, a spicy salsa verde and cilantro crema. The Bloomfield variety goes full Italian, and is served with vodka sauce, mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage and a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

“Pittsburgh is really a blooming culinary scene, so we really wanted to add some depth, and some artisan features and preparation to some of the classics,” Mr. Lake said.

What, you say? That 1 p.m. kick-off means you’re still hungry for brunch? No worries, because this season also ushers in a new breakfast sandwich. It features shaved sirloin, sharp provolone and a fried egg stuffed into a plain bagel. It’s served with spicy arugula and roasted garlic aioli. 

A fried shrimp po’boy with Cajun seasoning, lettuce, tomato, pickles and spicy mayo ($10, Sections 209, 233), conversely, expands the stadium’s seafood options.

Built for two, the deli stack ($15, Section 136) is a fried potato dish that celebrates the many small local shops that make and sell sandwiches in the region, Mr. Lake said. The french fries are kind of like poutine, only less messy. They are topped with chopped corned beef, horseradish, Dijon cheese sauce and deep-fried pickles.

And while there’s nothing new for vegans, Mr. Lake said his staff can always adjust a dish for guests by removing the protein or dairy aspect. 

In developing the menu, Mr. Lake said Aramark wasn’t counting the calories (they’re plainly posted, and besides most fans don’t care) but was more focused on what would make for the best guest experience. Aramark does a hard review after each season to determine what sold well, and it takes customer feedback and local food traditions to heart. 

“At day’s end, it’s all about the fan experience,” Aramark general manager Dominic DePaola said.

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

First Published August 4, 2017 4:38 PM


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