by Risa Nye
Peanuts and Cracker Jack are all well and good to snack on at a baseball game, but what are your options when you long for something other than the traditional hot dog and garlic fries? If you’re watching a Giants game at AT&T Park in San Francisco, there is good news: you can get yourself back to The Garden for a variety of healthy and delicious food that will surprise you.
The Garden is located in center field, between sections of the bleachers, right beneath the “batter’s eye”—that large, dark green area that lets the batter see the ball without any distractions. If you look carefully, the tops of the tomato plants can be seen sprouting above the center field wall. From inside the Garden, you can peek out through cuts in the wall and get a perfect grass-level view from the center fielder’s perspective. And what if a long fly ball sails over the wall? There are nets covering part of the area, but there are also television screens mounted in several places back there, so a quick-thinking person could either get out of the way, or put down the beer, pedal back and hold up a glove.
When I visited shortly after the Garden opened, it was lush with fruits, herbs, and all sorts of greens, growing in elevated planters and in the tall aeroponic growing towers, which use 95% less water than conventional growing methods. I spotted blueberries, strawberries, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuces, lemons, watercress, and, of course, the MVP of vegetables: kale. The Garden will abide even in the off-season as an “outdoor classroom,” used to educate kids about healthy eating. By working with local chefs, farmers, and others to teach kids about nutrition, adopting a healthy lifestyle, urban farming and sustainable growth, the Giants and Bon Appétit plan to have the Garden act as a key player in the hands-on education program.
It’s easy to see how this new garden spot will become a popular place to hang out—before the game, during the game, or while there is yet another pitching change happening on the field. With the bar (which offers cocktails, wine and beer), and places where you can sit and enjoy a healthy meal while keeping an eye on the game—not to mention the butterflies—the Garden has a lot to offer. On chilly afternoons or evenings, you can gather ‘round the fire pits and watch the game on the flat-screens if you choose.
According to Alfonso Felder of the Giants front office (he oversees the Giants facilities group, including the Ballpark Operations, Guest Services, Giants Enterprises, and Human Resources departments), the idea behind the Garden was to “create a dynamic environment within the park.” Fifteen years ago, when the park opened, the concept of healthy food was pretty much limited to garden burgers, which, he allows, were maybe not that great. These days, he says, we shouldn’t have to “sacrifice taste for healthy,” especially with all the great fresh bounty available here in the Bay Area. The whole “farm to fork” movement has its roots right here, so Felder and Killian Higgins, from Bon Appétit Management Company, took steps to introduce some options for those who enjoy garden-fresh salads and other non-hot dog fare.
To be sure, the Garden does offer a hot dog option—from 4505 Meats, located in San Francisco’s Mission District. (From their website: “4505 Uncured Hot Dogs are made with only the best hormone- and antibiotic-free meat. These dogs are fully cooked in a smokehouse and are studded with BACON, a tasty feature that is completely unique to the 4505 Dogs.”) Another local angle: Giants partner—and Garden sponsor—Peet’s Coffee and Tea provides grounds used to fertilize the raised beds. You’ll be able to get a cup of Peet’s in the Garden too.
The original concept of The Garden was to offer two menus. On one side of the new space (The Garden Table), you can choose the components to go into your salad, or you can select a pre-made salad served in a mason jar. Your choices will include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and a few edible flowers. This side of the concessions also offers a selection of fruit smoothies. On the other side (The Hearth Table), you can get colorful salads, as well as flatbread topped with a 4505 hot dog, roasted vegetable relish and garden arugula—or a flatbread topped with house-made fennel sausage, roasted forest mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic puree, served over the garden’s assortment of greens. Having tried both of these, I can guarantee I’ll be back to the Garden at the next opportunity. (There is a complete vegetarian flatbread option as well, and gluten-free options are in the works.)
The full bar, with a welcome awning for those sunny afternoon games, features several local crowd pleasers: A Little Sumpin Sumpin (Lagunitas); 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat Beer; Anchor Steam California Lager, and others. Wine options include Chardonnay, Prosecco, Rose, and Pinot Noir.
Felder and Higgins say the garden menu is still evolving, with conversations ongoing between the gardeners and the chefs. As Felder says, “If they’re turned on by something, they grow more.” If you haven’t been there yet, swing by the Garden next time you’re at the yard and see what you’ve been missing.
Risa Nye lives in Oakland. Her articles and essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Monthly, Hippocampus magazine, and several anthologies. She writes about cocktails as Ms. Barstool for Nosh at berkeleyside.com and about other things at risanye.com.