By Jennifer Brett
Now batting for the Braves: Chef Linton Hopkins.
It's not easy to nab one of Hopkins' legendary Holeman & Finch burgers. You have to show up around 9 p.m. to jockey for position and hope you grab one of the 24 beauties when they become available at 10 p.m., Burger Time. When they're gone, they're gone.
Plan B: Head to Turner Field, where the double-patty burger with house-made ketchup, mustard and pickles served on freshly made and butter-toasted H&F buns will be available at the Fan Plaza.
"This is America's team. This is America's cheeseburger. They should be together," said Hopkins, a lifelong Braves fan, at a special sneak preview of the Braves' bling new bites the other day. The organization is so thrilled to have the renowned chef on board that they presented him with a custom jersey. His number, of course, is 24.
Other new offerings this year include smoked chicken sandwiches, Boston pub dogs, pulled pork quesadillas, marinated portobello burgers, smoked cheddar sausage grinders and Dantanna's sesame steak skewers. They join upscale ballpark cuisine such as crab cake sandwiches, the "Yicketty Yamwich" named after retired third baseman Chipper Jones and the Kevin Rathbun steak sandwich that had previously joined peanuts and popcorn and other more standard ballpark fare.
"Our fans look for quality," said Ron Ranieri, general manager of Aramark, in charge of food services at the Ted. "Each year we continue to add items and local partnerships. Baseball (food) has become more than just hot dogs and Cokes and beer."
Aramark Executive Chef Carl Van Wagner noted that Braves fans will enjoy local produce as the organization is able to source it, in order to support local farmers.
"Comfort food with a flair," is how he billed the growing ballpark menu.
Not every item is available throughout the park. You can find the home run biscuit, with maple pork belly and coleslaw, in the 755 Club, for example, while the Dantanna's steak skewers are available at Grill Cart 216. The pulled pork quesadillas are available in the suites, while you can order the Boston pub dog at the Fan Plaza.
"I'm looking forward to cooking at the third baseline," said Dantanna's Chef Tim Williams.
To be sure, Hopkins' burger is expected to be a huge hit with fans. The Braves will sell 24 H&F seats a night that come with a guaranteed burger reservation. But even lining up in the Fan Plaza, you have a better shot of snapping one up than at the restaurant. Which made us wonder: how do you go from preparing 24 burgers to 2,400 or more and keep quality consistent?
"Aramark," Hopkins replied. "Chef Carl knows that burger inside and out."
Indeed, the cuisine team has spent months nailing down the logistics of replicating the famous Holeman & Finch burger on a much larger scale. The bun-to-burger ratio must be perfect. Seasoning salt must be applied with precision. (It seems spring training isn't just for players.)
The partnership looks to be a winning one. During a menu preview the other day, the Braves proudly featured a photo of the H&F burger on the huge screen. And Hopkins said joining the club's roster was a dream come true.
"Thank you for letting me be 10 again," he said.