I am lucky to have a friend who writes for the Canucks on contract. And am lucky to have him generously offer me the chance to attend the last pre season game as his guest. I was already pretty excited about taking my blue and green jersey out, and shaking the dust off for the new season. But today I was more excited to try the advertised new concession offerings at Rogers Arena. Not just hotdogs and popcorn anymore.
When the Canucks announced their new slogan: “change is coming” they were referring to more than just the team. In this post I will be exploring the changes in the foods offered at a few of their new concession stands. Snacks not just for intermission, but food good enough for pre game meals. Not post game because everything shits down after second intermission.
I got myself further pumped for the occasion by reading October 2014’s edition of “Vancouver” magazine. In it it spoke of the new hospitality options throughout the stadium. They hired a VP solely in charge of hospitality and a head chef with extensive experience in fine dining and arena cuisine. Their goal, to create good food deserving of the sport we love and the team we adore. Their new tools to achieve this: an in house pastry shop, a full onsite butchery, and a legion of chefs able to fully utilize them fully.
I took notes on all the creative concoctions the article listed. Perogy dogs, miniature perogies on top of a hot dog. The west coast salmon roll, smoked salmon on a lightly buttered kaiser. A prime rib sandwich on a brioche bun and Porchetta on ciabatta with salsa verde. This is my kind of fusion street food eats. The type of food that both looks and tastes good, but is portable. Though I only managed to try half the list and spotted no pastries that might have been made in their in house pastry shop. Though it might just be an exclusive perk for season ticket holders and owners of boxed seats.
Most of what we had was located between sections 118 and 120, I appreciated not having to travel around the arena in search for these new high end eats. As my guest best put it, “You are here anyways, you might as well get good food”. Fresh food over stale popcorn, warm food over wrapped chocolate, and unique ingredients over greasy pizza please. We missed the first few minutes of the game to avoid lines and came out a few minutes before intermission to avoid more. Unfortunate as two goals for the Canucks were scored within the first three minutes of the first period. Thankfully live streaming televisions everywhere meant we missed nothing.
Carve & Catch
Our first stop was at “Carve” and “Catch”. A stand flagged by a red lobster and several pictures profiling a cow divided into its cuts. One concession, two names, two items on menu. Both titled accurately described their offerings. Meat and seafood, “Carve” and “Catch”. No salmon or Porchetta today as the article above mentioned. Maybe they were only on rotation or available only during a specific season? Instead there was a lobster roll and a roast beef sandwich. We got one of each. As promised by the article they also served more than just Budweiser on tap. A rotation of three beers including Alexander Keith’s were made available. Take note, this is one of the few stands that accepted debit. Credit and cash everywhere, with ATMs available if needed.
At the counter four staff members served in blue and black uniforms with matching ball caps. They took orders and relayed requests through shouts to the team of chefs at the back. The four chefs in white uniforms too worked out in the open. Intentionally visible so we, the diners could see them. Gratifyingly watching our food being made fresh to order, or at least complied to order.
“Lobster roll”, lobster, shallots, and mayo on a brioche bun. Served with butter pickles and kettle cooked potato chips. You can’t go wrong with lobster, it is good on a bad day, and this was no exception. It sure looked like and tasted like real lobster, but without a clear view of the prep area I can’t be too sure. Though I think the creamy lobster mixture was premade ahead of time anyways. It was evenly mixed and served chilled from a metal container. The actual lobster meat was plentiful, left in whole visible chunks for the diner to reveal in. Juicy and flaky, with just a little bit of sweetness. Wonderfully coated in the creamy mayo sauce, the shallots provided freshness and the celery offered a nice crunch. The side of pickles gave the possibility of some acid, a sour tang to those who like it. And the chips a way to cleanse the pallet and a give a firmer texture in an otherwise soft sub. I was tempted to crunch some over top as I do with other sandwiches. But the lobster mixture was just too good to mess with. One of those things you could have 2-3 of in one sitting.
“Carve sandwich”, sliced roast beef seasoned in Montreal steak spiced and its natural jus. Served with dill pickle and kettle cooked chip. The sandwich was plain. Good for the purists who like their meat to taste like meat. But we felt it needed some sauce. Butter, mayo, or barbecue; something to lubricate the otherwise dry bun. Preferably a jus to dip into, something to add moisture and give additional flavour. We ended up just eating the meat as was, forgoing the bun, deeming it as an excessive filler. The meat was carved to order, a piece sliced from a larger slab, and kept warn under a heat lamp. I saw pinker middles and juicier drippings from other orders, so I guest we just got a piece closer to the end of the roast. The chips we finished, good, but judging by the bags of “Ms. Vicky’s” regular behind the counter they were nothing special.
Our second stop was at “Steamers”, a concession named after former Canucks captain. Stan Smyl. “Steamer” was his nick name and therefore his likeness graced their logo. His smile and hidden mullet fortified the claim that this stand and their hot dogs were “Canucks Certified”.
Your choices of specialty dogs are listed on the monitor above the cash register. Their premise, take regular hot dogs and add in pub favourites like poutine, pulled pork, and coleslaw. A vegetarian friendly option offered mixed beans and fresh vegetables. And things got fancy with the “Croque dog” made with ham, gruyere cheese, Dijon, strawberry jam, and chives.
All prices listed included taxes. They don’t take debit, only cash and credit. Your order and name is written on a box, boxed bowls designed to house a single dog, there would be no sides. It gets passed along to the chefs, and your name is called when your dog is ready at the end of the procession.
Like the stall before, image is a big part of it. Behind the sneeze glass worked five chefs in clean white smocks, they were an impressive sight. An image useful in placing value, to be able to see your food made to order. Though here, the reality is all elements were prepared earlier. The need for speed is considered in order to put the fast in fast food. I appreciated being able to see the wieners spin on the heated racks, the metal containers filled with hearty ingredients, and each hotdog brought together by skillful hands.
Each hot dog was centered around a “Nathan’s dog”. According to Wikipedia, Nathan’s hot dogs have gained worldwide recognition for their unequaled quality and the taste of their products. I unfortunately
did not like the taste of these particular dogs and ended up eating around them. I have said it before, I prefer street style hot dogs, grilled smokies made on a char laden BBQ. But with these dogs it is all about the toppings anyways. They are what made each one special. “Poutine dog” with gravy, cheese curds, fried potatoes, and hickory sticks. A “southwest dog” with pulled pork, coleslaw, and barbecue sauce.
We got the “Glendon hotdog”, the perogy one that the magazine mentioned. As expected it was three mini perogies, sour cream, chives, diced onions, and sauerkraut over a Nathan’s hot dog. I preferred the perogies as is and found them in combination with the hot dog and bun too heavy, too much. The perogies were stuffed with potato and cheese, when paired with the light sour cream and tangy sauerkraut they were a delicious bite. Why couldn’t these be offered as a cupful or deep fried as finger foods?
My guest was intrigued by the “Maui fire dog” made with spicy mayo, teriyaki sauce, hot banana peppers, fresh pineapple, and cilantro. Like the dog before too much bun to topping and wiener ratio. But unlike the dog before this was a refreshing bite. Tangy from the teriyaki that picked up the sweetness from the cubed pineapples. The hit of spice from the peppers created some heat that paralleled well with the overall light and refreshing nature of this dog. Not to mention it was fun and creative, and almost a healthier option.
With arms loaded you either take your treats to your stadium seat, or like us find a free table nearby facing a television screen. The thought of squeezing between knees and railing with arms full and no hands free worries me. Minding your “excuse me’s” to faces you feel bad to have bothered. While having to navigate with your eyes always looking down, looking at your own two feet. Lest we trip or spill someone’s beer. (Side note: All seats need cup holders!) When you get to your chair, with no free digits and the unwillingness to ask a neighbour for help, you use the edge of your bum to urge your seat down. If you are like me, unblessed with a flatter bottom, this takes a few tries. Then its a scramble to assert yourself into the seat before it flips back up. The struggle is real. And now finally you are left awkwardly balancing your now cold meal on your uneven lap. This is how spills and stains happen.
So avoid all that because between both concession stands are a series of high top tables. Each spread out enough to guarantee a clear view of one of the many screens broadcasting a live feed of the game. We stood over one such high table, its top painted to mimic the ice and the centre line. I really appreciated the detail in this. Here, we took an intermission from food to talk Canucks and their chances this season. Given that my guest’s profession is to critique and relay stats through writing, I thought he would be a good person to ask. He insisted on the need to be positive, joking that he has to say they are going to do well because they pay him to.
Cin City Donuts
Looking for dessert and something sweet, your choices are limited to grocery store Haagen Daz ice cream bars, cotton candy, convenient store chocolate bars, and movie style popcorn and bags of candy. Nothing really matching the calibre and quality of the meal before us. I was in the mood for deep fried chocolate bars, a powered sugar funnel cake, a cinnamon bun, or a soft service ice cream in cone. If you are going to elevate dinner why not dessert? There are so many possibilities that fit in the realm of carnival-like food truck eats.
So the best of the lot were mini donuts. And they did well to satisfy my sweet tooth indulgence. There were multiple carts scattered around the arena with the same name, but only one “Cin City Donuts” that offered two flavour options, more than just sugar. This is the one located at Section 110, around the corner of Gate 3.
The cart is centered around a machine churning out fresh donuts non stop. Batter gets poured in, then piped out into rounds. It drops in a sea of oil where it bobs along. Mid way through its swim a worker flips it over, allowing both sides to have the trademark golden brown colouring. Each donut travels up a conveyer belt and begins to dry off from its grease bath. Their journey ends when the belt ends and they drop into a metal basin waiting at the bottom. There they air dry further and are dusted heavily with granulated sugar. For those who like them regular they are then bagged up by the dozen to go.
Regular mini donuts. The wax paper bag did little to soak up extra oil and keep the donuts warm. And we all know that these donuts are best when devoured fresh from their fry bath. Having had numerous variations at various fairs and many outdoor events I know my way around a miniature donut. These were some of the best. The dough buttery and the flavour better than others I have had. And best of all, a quick nuke in the microwave had a room temperature bag near its peak of perfection again.
They also made a variation on this classic by coating them in maple syrup and topping them with a heavy sprinkling of candied bacon; they called it “The Canadian”. These donuts went for 50 cents more at $6.50. Served in a cup with a fork, to accommodate a soggy maple soaked donut and shards of bacon hard to pick up with fingers. Bacon and maple syrup is always a win, the popular combination of salty and sweet. They melted in your mouth, so moist with syrup. Not swimming, just enough to infuse each circle of dough. I liked the flavour of the bacon, but wanted just a hint of it, so left its actual pieces at the bottom of the plastic cup.
On top of these new boutique-like food stands, with their fancy signs and unique offers, there were multiple new snack stops. Each located around every other turn, they offered grab and go bags of popcorn and candy, and allowed you to by pass lengthy lines in doing so.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
If you are here for a sporting match or a performance you might as well enjoy the best of what Rogers Arena has to offer. Why have a regular sandwich when you can have one with lobster or a fine cut of beef? Ketchup or mustard on that hotdog? Why not go the extra mile and have some hickory sticks and strawberry jam instead? The only thing missing was some fancier desserts to pair with this higher end food. What we had built us up so much that a grocery store ice cream bar wouldn’t cut it.
As the regular hockey season has just started I know I will be back. And instead of waiting in the long lines at the Costco nearby, I will instead come a little early, and spend a little more, to go a little more gourmet in my arena fare. I know we missed the grill cheese and real nacho stand, but maybe more? And that’s a good enough reason to return. Grilled cheese and soup with more than just cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses being used, and proper nachos made with diced vegetables and black olives over restaurant quality tortilla chips. Even though the team might not always be winning, your stomach can. Don’t deny your cravings.
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