Let me take you out to the (new) (Knights) (minor-league baseball) ballpark – where the good news is:
A Knight’s Ale comes from NoDa Brewing and it’s an IPA with more character than most of the rest of the concessions put together. Beer geeks deem it “sessionable” – as in, you can drink several without falling out of the stands – but I’ll strongly encourage you not to test that definition, and instead pay more attention to the game.
On the other hand, A Knight’s Ale isn’t the only good beer news: There were also Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Copper and Southside Weiss on opening night, plus Natty Greene’s (from Greensboro – its stand offered Elm Street IPA, Wildflower Witbier, Southern Pale Ale and Buckshot Amber Ale), and Foothills (out of Winston-Salem, also with a stand).
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You’ll notice draft beer in regular plastic cups for $7.50 and in larger cups that look like Mason jars for $10, which may give you more beer, but offers you infinitely less dignity.
Budweiser (which brought the showy Clydesdales for opening night) is offered all over the park, though I only saw its entertaining Bottoms Up draft beer dispenser in one spot. (I do wish Budweiser wouldn’t insist on spelling draft “draught” on the marketing materials.)
Note to the beer trekker: Queen City Q spots (there are multiples) also sell A Knight’s Ale, as does a craft-beer spot offering Shock Top and SweetWater 420 on tap.
As far as food: well-browned brats and Queen City Q, with the first game-venue barbecue that hasn’t been embarrassing, proved to be the highlights. The ’cue platter (actually a sandwich with slaw for $11) wasn’t the best I’ve had from Queen City, as it had dried out a bit, but the flavor wasn’t bad, the sauces were fine, and I have hopes for the process straightening out.
Taking the prize for worst item is the rib-eye steak basket for $11, a truly dismal affair of overcooked beef with decent horseradish on a too-white bun: Open it up, pick out the fattiest pieces (it will be competitive) and you can concoct three decent bites.
And since everyone needs a hot dog rundown, here’s mine:
• Jumbo dogs ($5) are the best bet, at Hot Dog Nation as well as the Smokehouse spot in the back-of-outfield area and the Knights concession areas: plump and well-browned in more than one stand I spied into.
• The Squire or Knights hot dog ($3) is a regular dog, and fine for $3; Sahlen’s out of New York is the official Knights’ dog. “Specialty” dogs come with “dragon chips” (aka kettle chips, aka browned, with a crunch, but cold), and are topped with chili and slaw or mac and cheese (!) or served Chicago-style, for $9.
• Whisky River’s “Tiny Baby Corn Dogs” win for best name, and the honey mustard sauce is a smart touch. If Dale Jr. ever figures out how to hand these over less greasy, they’ll be a strong contender. As is: No.
JustFresh is offering a couple of salads and some wraps ($8 to $11) for those seeking something less cholesterol-calorific. Salsarita’s is doing chips and queso ($5) and burritos ($11 for the combo) and more. The Knights stands have a burger with chips and topped with bacon and cheese or chili and slaw for $10 (but you don’t seem to be able to get one plain).
Dave & Fran’s, which has done an assortment of foods over the years in town, offers pork rinds, roasted pecans and almonds, boiled peanuts, kettle corn and iced tea three ways (regular, peach and Arnold Palmer) – and everything’s $6. Which, if you start with $20 and get peanuts and kettle corn, leaves you enough for one regular Knight’s Ale, and puts two quarters in your pocket. Settle into your seat, watch the sun set over the city skyline, and thank the heavens Charlotte’s finally brought baseball uptown and changed our stars.