GREEN BAY - The days of just serving mass quantities of bratwurst, burgers and beer during a Green Bay Packers game are long gone.
It’s all that, plus:
- Rotisserie chicken in the north end zone club seat section.
- Turkey breast stuffed with chorizo and cornbread in the south end zone Championship Club.
- Six-layer carrot cake traveling on the dessert cart for the luxury suites.
- Nachos, wings and beer in the Miller Lite deck.
- Themed concession stands like the Patrick Cudahy Pack House and Wisconsin Supper Club
- Sushi, which sometimes doesn’t show up to an owner’s box (more on that later.)
Not that 78,000 fans have given up on the classics. On any given home game, the crowd consumes at least 8,500 brats and drains 400 kegs of beer.
Foods you might not expect to find during a Packers game at Lambeau Field.
For executive chef Heath Barbato, getting the job done for the crowds at Lambeau Field is less about a knife and skillets and more about a radio and shoes. The two-way radio to coordinate a game day staff of 2,000 and shoes to cover 13 miles during a 17-hour shift.
The sheer number of steps Barbato’s takes and dishes he oversees reflects both the demands of consumers for fresh, locally sourced food and for NFL teams to produce memorable game day experiences inside the stadium as well as on the field.
Providing a unique Green Bay fan experience is a driving forces behind the creation of an entertainment district west of Lambeau Field and to bring the Packers Hall of Fame into Lambeau Field. It can also be found on the menu.
To get a sense of what it’s like to literally feed a small army, he allowed me to shadow him during the team's prime-time game against the New York Giants on Oct. 9.
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Barbato's calm demeanor doesn’t match his pace. He’s constantly answering questions and providing guidance to staff through a two-way radio. Even free of pressing questions while crossing the open-air, upper concourse near the south end zone with a perfect view of the fireworks exploding in the night sky, he doesn’t bother with so much as a sideways glance.
When the crowd erupts in cheers early in the first quarter as we loop around the north end zone club seats, Barbato doesn’t break stride. We’re in nearly the same spot during another round of checks when the Packers score a touchdown. He gives a monitor a brief glance.
My time with Barbato starts with him attempting to solve the case of the missing sushi for one of the suites reserved for the Giants’ owners. While teams generally provide suites for visiting owners, there is some added pressure to make sure the Giants owners are happy. Delaware North Sportservice, which manages food and drink operations at Lambeau Field, does the same at MetLife Stadium. Home of the Giants.
We duck into a Giants suite. No sushi. Barbato radios in about the missing sushi though it will take several more calls to resolve the issue.
Throughout our rounds, the smallest details don’t escape his attention. He scoops up and recycles a brochure laying in the middle of the walkway. He instructs staff to clear an extension cord crossing a pantry entryway.
Beyond burgers and bratwurst
Did I mention we passed whole chickens slowly roasting on rotating spits at one of the concession club level concession stands? Well we did. Later we pass by as chickens slide off the spits dripping juices onto a carving board as the seasoned scents of roasted meat wafted up.
“In my opinion, it’s one of the best deals in the stadium,” Barbato said. “I mean considering stadium pricing.”
A half-chicken dinner sells for $14. Considering I can get a four-pack of 16-ounce cans of craft beer at the store for the price of one can in the stadium, yeah, the chicken is practically a steal.
Down on the south end of the stadium the Championship Club spread is takes flavor to the next level. Stuffed turkey breast, New York strip steak, crab legs and shrimp cocktails next level.
Sure there’s pizza, but tonight it’s made with dough hand-tossed, topped and baked by Barbato’s dad. Officially the elder Barbato is retired from the restaurant business but comes up to help out during games. Barbato the younger says he started washing dishes in his dad’s restaurant. After briefly exploring the world of construction work, Barbato returned to his roots, earning a culinary arts and related services associate’s degree in 2002 from Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts.
This night the crab legs are the hot item, two cases nearly wiped out before halftime. Barbato says two cases held up for the entire Lions game. Back in the kitchen, he gets cooks moving on thawing the legs in a large bath of warm water. He then grabs a leg and shows a cook where to cut them once they reach serving temperature.
Favorites get makeover
Barbato makes one full sweep of the main concourse and later spot checks two stands during my visit. He looks for long lines during the full walkthrough as an indicator of problems. No long lines. Quick round. That’s the advantage of having a manager who’s handled this area of foodservice at Lambeau Field for 13 years.
Not that this is an area of status quo.
There’s a barbecue-themed stand, the Wisconsin Supper Club and bacon-centric Patrick Cudahy Pack House.
There’s also Pack ‘n Cheese and 920 Burger Company stands that have grown from one location each to multiple spots to match growing appetites for those foods.
Fans gobble 2,000 pounds of Pack ‘n Cheese (made with 500 gallons of cheese sauce) each game. Meanwhile, word has gotten out that 920 Burger Company burgers are made with fresh patties. Barbato estimates 920 Burgers outsells regular burgers 10-to-1 these days.
Delivered to your door
In-seat service on the club level has a growing fan base. It’s like having a vendor in your section dispensing bratwurst and beer on demand. Except there are 84 items on the menu including you-can-only-get-it-here dishes like baked penne meatball marinara.
Club seat ticket holders place orders with a Packers gold-shirt wearing server who enters orders into a wireless touchscreen pad. Guests can also order through an app on their phones. Either way, once the order is placed, a ticket spits out of a machine in the nearest pantry, there are three pantries to serve the 6,000 club seats, where a blue-shirt wearing runner goes down a line of foods and drinks filling a dark green basket. Bartenders are also ready to mix drinks. Before dashing off to deliver the goodies, which could include anything from a bloody mary to a pulled pork sandwich to Swedish Fish, the order is double-checked.
Fans in the suites have mini-buffets (as Barbato dubs them) to meet their noshing needs without leaving their room. Though if they saved room for dessert, these fans can summon a cart piled with goodies like chocolate cake smothered with chocolate frosting and an ice cream sundae station.
Ticketholders without a club seat who want to feel exclusive can get a taste of the good life in 1919 Kitchen & Tap. The eatery is fully operational year-round for the public. On game day, only ticketholders are allowed to dine on a menu that includes flatbread pizzas, Parmesan-breaded cheese curds (yeah, cheese on cheese is a thing in Wisconsin) and grilled New York strip steak.
Game over, kinda
With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, Barbato is ready grab a short break in his office. He will make sure everything is turned off before leaving, about a half-hour after the game ends.
Dishwashers and cleanup crews now shoulder the workload. Barbato says the dishwashers will be finishing up about the time he rolls in Monday morning, probably around 8 a.m. after he’s made an appearance on a morning television show.
Before catching his breath, he thanks one of the workers who came up from Milwaukee to help, Delaware North runs concession operations at Miller Park, with a fist bump and a hopeful “see you next week.”
It's a bacon blitz of new foods at Lambeau Field for the 2016 Green Bay Packers season.