Mid-South News
6:00 am
Mon August 20, 2012

Fake Meat, Real Hearty: A Home Run For Vegetarians At Redbirds Baseball Field

If you're a vegetarian and you've ever eaten at a sporting event, it’s likely you relied on nachos drizzled with fake cheese for sustenance. But the surprisingly hearty vegetarian options at the Redbirds baseball stadium in downtown Memphis include a veggie dog, a spicy black-bean burger, a Caesar salad wrap, creamy pasta, a seven layer dip, fresh fruit cups, and freshly baked cookies.

In a suite overlooking the diamond, Erik Proveaux talked with his mouth full of black-bean burger, “That’s actually really good. I mean, at face value that’s tasty.”

Proveaux is a chef and owns Fuel Café on Madison Avenue, which is known for its vegetarian cuisine. He has eradicated meat from his diet at different points in his life, for different reasons, but he became vegetarian most recently for love.

“It’s pretty much because my girlfriend is a vegetarian,” Proveaux said.

I brought Proveaux to the baseball stadium to get his expert opinion on the selections there.

Vegetarian options are becoming more common at restaurants that range from Burger King to fine dining. But sporting events can still be tough places to be a vegetarian—games go on for hours, often during prime dinner-time, meat is plentiful and popular, and concession stands are limited in what they can whip up to order and on the fly.

At the Redbirds stadium, Proveaux was especially impressed with the seven layer dip. That dip is one of the most popular appetizers served in the suites above the field, among vegetarians and meat eaters.

“That’s number one,” said Michael Brulatour as he noshed on a sandwich made by spreading the dip inside a hamburger bun. Brulatour is the General Manager for Ovations Food Services at the park. He says some of the park’s very important season ticket holders are vegetarians. And when the park hosts big groups they always have a few vegetarians. So, they have to have something for them to eat.

“[At] minor league ball parks,” Brulatour said, “you are concerned about the score, but you are not overly concerned. People come here, they are here for the fireworks, they are here for the stuff on the field, and they are here for the food. And this is one of the ballparks where the food matters.”

Brulatour’s vegetarian menu has won awards from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Even so, most people who come to the park and eat buy meat. Brulatour estimates his vegetarian selections only make up about one percent of all the concession sales.

On the first floor, where the seats are cheap, a black-bean burger doesn’t cost any more than a regular burger, but barbeque nachos are the big seller.

Still, Proveaux had a good time.

“It’s pretty tasty. And it’s fun just to be at the stadium and be able to eat something that you remember from when did eat meat and have it be a non-issue. It’s kinda cool,” Proveaux said.

He’d like to come back with his girlfriend. He thinks she’d enjoy it, too.