March 14 (Bloomberg) -- A bacon burger and a Bud will cost you about $20 at a Knicks game. Fries are $5 extra.
Somebody’s got to pay for Madison Square Garden’s three-year, $1 billion overhaul.
To see point guard Jeremy Lin, I paid $320 for pair of nosebleed seats on StubHub. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Manhattan’s only professional sports hub now serves exactly what it should: great grub from local chefs that can be eaten with one hand, so the other can be used to drink cold beer, especially useful in cramped seats lacking cup holders (coming, I’m told, in the next phase).
Our Midtown arena could do worse than show out-of-town fans that New York knows how to make a proper pastrami sandwich and a decent hamburger. And thanks to the efforts of Carnegie Deli, Nobu’s Drew Nieporent and others, the Garden gets the job done.
Here’s what to eat, with ratings on a scale of 1-10:
Hill Country: One of New York’s best barbecue joints puts out near perfect sandwiches at the Garden. Expect the bare essentials: beef and bread, with only pickles and onions to get in the way of your heart attack. Chopped brisket ($13) on a compact potato bun balances sweet, smoke and salt.
The prime rib sandwich ($19) is a Texas improvement on the classic French dip, with gently smoked, medium-rare meat. Au jus dunking allows for softer, saltier eating. Pair it with a Brooklyn Lager ($10) to scrub the spice off your tongue. Rating: 9.5
Sausage Boss: This is where Andrew Carmellini cooks up stadium links so good they would pass muster at The Dutch, his packed Soho restaurant.
Sausage heroes ($10) get the gourmet makeover here. That means Pat LaFrieda pork with pure fennel flavor, pizzaiolo sauce with ripe tomatoes, and sweet peppers and onions with no stringy skin. Just as appealing are the cheddar bratwursts ($9), with sauerkraut that packs enough acid to keep the oozing fromage in check. Rating: 9.0
Carnegie Deli: Pastrami sandwiches are sliced thin and stacked high, with silken fat for $15 -- two dollars less than the Seventh Avenue flagship’s version. Is this the first time in the history of the universe that a stadium sandwich is cheaper than the original?
And there’s no ridiculous $3 sharing charge here.
Yes, the sandwiches are smaller (12 oz.), which means you can actually get your mouth around these two-fisted monsters. And knishes ($5) are everything they should be: portable packages of creamy mashed potato. Rating: 8.5
Daily Burger: If you order a burger at the Garden, it will be made with LaFrieda beef, have an expert char and be medium to medium rare. Credit Corton’s Drew Nieporent for this.
The blend of chuck, short rib and brisket is dense. The heavy six-ounce patty eats like a steak but could use a hint more beefiness. No tomatoes or lettuce to water things down, just cheese sauce with heady bacon-onion jam ($10). And the fries ($5) are consistently crispy, if under-salted. Rating: 8.0
Aquagrill: If you closed your eyes and tried to identify the shellfish in this lobster roll, you wouldn’t guess lobster. That’s a $20 problem. There’s shrimp in there too, which adds some decent maritime flavor. The toasted bun is nice, but the value doesn’t add up. Rating: 4.0
Simply Chicken: It would be sad to think that a diner’s first experience with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the world’s great chefs, might occur at a Rangers game, where his kiosk hawks cafeteria-quality chicken breast sandwiches ($14). The meat was arid and stringy on two visits; spicy aioli was virtually undetectable. I’ll say short the spongy chicken dogs as well ($7), which are incorrectly paired with sinus clearing mustard and kimchi. Rating: 2.0.
Carlos & Gabby’s (Kosher): Expect flavorless knishes ($6) and greasy “taquito dogs.” ($6.50) It’s horrid that observant Jews, who boast such a rich culinary heritage, are subjected to low quality food at sporting events. What’s worse: while Carnegie serves delicious hot sandwiches, here the Kosher pastrami ($14) is pre-sliced and chilled. Rating: 1.0
Senzai Sushi: Sushi is about contrast and clarity: the clean taste of cool fish atop warm, vinegared rice. The Garden’s nigiri, in the form of a $17 “Ninja Platter” was uniformly cold and boring, with overcooked grains and mealy flesh. It’s the chilly Japanese analogue to American heat lamp pizza, fish that’s been forgotten in a refrigerator and prepared by someone who doesn’t care. Rating: 1.0
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes under $20.
Sound Level: Sky’s the limit in the arena.
Date Place: If your date is very cool.
Inside Tip: Good beer available everywhere.
Special Feature: Most lines are under five minutes. The longest queue, somewhat improbably, is for the frozen yogurt.
Back on My Own Dime: Yes, and when the Nets move to Brooklyn this year to open the Barclays Center, they should look to the Garden for culinary guidance.
Madison Square Garden is at 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York. Information: +1-212-465-6741 or http://www.thegarden.com.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.