The Sacramento River Cats are bringing new meaning to “farm club.”
In its second season affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, the Triple-A minor league baseball team continues to play up its connections to its agriculturally rich surroundings. This season, Raley Field’s former “Kids Corner” play area moved to a new location behind right field and has a new name – “Down on the Farm.” Before their 17th season in Sacramento, the River Cats also held a contest to award a local school its own vegetable garden.
That farm-fresh take extends to Raley Field’s catering menu and its concession stands, which got off-season upgrades along with the stadium.
“We make our potato chips from scratch,” said executive chef Andrew Guerere, now in his second season at the helm of Raley Field’s kitchen. “We do 300 pounds of potatoes a day; we fry them in a 75-25 (percent) mix of canola and olive oil. The sauce for our mac and cheese is all from scratch. We represent Sacramento, the ‘Farm-to-Fork Capital.’ Taking that extra effort speaks volumes to the people who come here.”
When Raley Field hosts its first 2016 home game April 15, fans will marvel at the stadium’s new 120-foot LED video display board. The field will be freshened up with 105,000-square-feet of new sod. But the biggest change food-wise will fill the air on game days and nights with the scent of Southern-style barbecue.
Where Kids Corner used to be is now the home of Sactown Smokehouse, a barbecue tent that will be smoking, grilling and barbecuing meat by the truckload.
“We cook 20,000 pounds of tri-tip a season,” Guerere said. “Typically, we smoke 300 pounds of tri-tip a day during the summer. It’s one of the biggest things we do. At the Smokehouse, we’re going to bring back ribs. We’ll also do tri-tip, smoked chicken and sausages.”
The Smokehouse will offer a combination plate featuring St. Louis style pork ribs, salad, beans and cornbread, he added.
“I’m still playing with the ribs,” Guerere said. “I’m experimenting with a cherry soda marinade.”
In Raley Field’s Legacy Club and private suites, the catering menu continues to expand. To accompany the ever-popular fajitas, Guerere introduced a fresh avocado and black bean salad, which scored an immediate hit with team owner Susan Savage.
“We’re really trying to stick to the tried and true and what we do best – keeping it local and fresh,” Guerere said.
One new dessert sounds like it was inspired by the State Fair: fried cheesecake. It’s a slice of rich New York-style cheesecake, wrapped in pie dough, deep fried, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with chipotle-spiked blackberry dipping sauce.
“My personal favorite is the fried cheesecake,” said River Cats general manager Chip Maxson. “It’s phenomenal.”
Fans should expect to find their familiar baseball food favorites, too. When it comes to America’s pastime, change comes in small steps, Guerere noted.
“Baseball people are very traditional,” Guerere said. “You look at the whole history of baseball; tradition is important. (For example), hot dogs are still very popular with fans. We served 180,000 hot dogs last season. We do tens of thousands of burgers a year; we use all fresh local burger, not frozen. At the end of the day, you need to know where your bread is buttered.”
So, how do you improve on the tried and true hot dog? Wrap it in bacon and grill it.
“People kid me that I’m a glorified hot dog cook,” Guerere said with a smile. “Well, we’re trying to show what ballpark food could be.”
The concession menu also will be spiced up by a new jalapeño hamburger and a Sriracha chicken sandwich.
“People really like Sriracha,” Guerere said. “It’s time to do it. We keep experimenting. My job is to find the balance while pleasing everybody at the same time.”
Sacramento River Cats
Where: Raley Field, 400 Ballpark Drive, West Sacramento
When: Season starts Friday, April 7. Home opener April 15 vs. Salt Lake Bees.
Details: 916-376-4722, www.rivercats.com