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Arena eats: Spokane Arena expands and elevates dining options

Event-goers can still get a hot dog. That classic arena staple isn’t going away.

But now customers can also get Griddled and Noodled – along with other new options.

The Spokane Arena recently revamped its dining services, expanding food-and-drink options for ticketed guests during arena events. Its new food court, the Market, opened in mid-December with four concession stands that are decidedly less like traditional arena eats and much more like mini gastro pubs, serving casual but contemporary and elevated restaurant-like fare. Mid-January, a 16-tap beer, cider and wine bar joined the new offerings, opening in the center of the Market.

“It’s not just about going to the game or show,” said arena general manager Matt Gibson. “It’s the entire experience of being here. Our mission is to make sure we host our guests in a pleasant, memorable manner so that they will return again and again. That’s what we’re going for here – a really fun food experience for the value.”

Concepts were created at the South Carolina-based corporate headquarters of Centerplate, a national food services and catering company that handles food and drink for the Spokane Convention Center and INB Performing Arts Center as well as the Spokane Arena.

But menus were fine-tuned by members of Centerplate’s local culinary team, who began planning for the new offerings about eight months ago.

“We want this to be a destination,” said executive chef Harold Froewiss. “We want people to come here not just to see a show or go to a game, but for a date night. We want to make it a one-stop. It’s not just hot dogs” – although they, of course, remain available.

“We don’t want to present pompous food,” said sous chef Jessica Reuthinger. “We just want to give people good options.”

And, now, she said, “For the size of Spokane, we have a lot to offer.”

The idea was not only to expand its offerings, but also modernize its menus, giving them more of a contemporary restaurant feel.

The hope is more fans will opt to eat at the arena rather than somewhere else on the way to the venue.

And the arena holds a lot of fans.

The arena typically hosts about 2,500 guests for weeknight hockey games and some 3,000 to 4,000 people for weekend hockey games, Froewiss said. But some of the larger concerts, such as the recent series of shows from Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, draw more than 10,000 fans, he said.

While the arena frequently hosts large-scale concerts featuring the likes of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Foo Fighters, Elton John and Def Leppard, its core clientele is made up of Spokane Chiefs hockey fans.

“We get the most feedback from them,” Reuthinger said.

With that main customer base, Froewiss said, “Pizza is big. Burgers are big.”

And two new stands at the Market, located along the venue’s north concourse, specialize in those staples. Another features soup and hot sandwiches. The fourth features Asian-inspired noodle bowls and wraps.

The project required pushing a north wall out 20 feet to accommodate four new food booths. It was part of a $7 million renovation that included the creation of the 4,500-square-foot-Market food court and taco stand as well as improvements to two other concessions areas and drink rail improvements at the southwest concourse. In addition, another concessions stand was converted to a new suite and space was added to the main entrance. There were also “significant improvements” to the northeast plaza and a video display board, Gibson said.

All four new concessions stands feature streamlined selections with about a half-dozen staples from which to choose.

“We tried to price our things so that it wouldn’t break the bank to get a full meal,” Reuthinger said, noting most items fall in the $6 to $10 range.

They also tried to cater to special dietary needs, such as gluten-free fare and vegetarian offerings. Each of the four new Market stands offers a vegetarian menu item. And the black bean burger at the new Craft Burger and Sausage stand has proven particularly popular, Froewiss said.

The Market joins a new taco stand that opened in time for the start of the 2017-18 Spokane Chiefs hockey season.

Forty to 60 people work concessions during most games, Froewiss said. But larger events, like the recent Garth Brooks and Trish Yearwood concerts, can see more than 100 food workers.

It can also mean longer lines.

“They go fast,” said Froewiss, who recommends coming early.

He also recommends this strategy: “We’re not that big that you can’t walk around the facility. Keep going. There’s lots of good food. Don’t think you have to stay in one spot.”

Good food, he said, is “all over the place.”

Additional dining and drinking offerings at the arena include a walk-up counter featuring beers from Spokane’s No-Li Brewhouse; Red Tail Lounge, overlooking the ice or floor from the west end of the building, above seating section 110; the Irish-looking Jameson Pub, which serves beer and mixed drinks along with burgers, chicken strips, tater tots and Reuben sandwiches; the Dry Fly Distilling restaurant and bar, which offers comfort food such as meatloaf and mac and cheese along with beer and Dry Fly spirits, and a couple of traditional concession stands with candy, popcorn and other arena staples.

Here’s a closer look at the new dining options at the Spokane Arena.

Crust

There are four kinds of pizza at this new stand: two classics – cheese and pepperoni “to keep the kids happy,” Reuthinger said – plus one vegetarian slice and an elevated option.

That’s the Smoky Swine, featuring bacon, Italian sausage, caramelized onion, garlic cream sauce, smoked gouda, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.

Down to Earth is the veggie pizza – with artichokes, mushrooms, roasted garlic, red peppers and fresh basil. “I just basically picked all my favorite vegetables and put them on a pizza with pesto and goat cheese,” Reuthinger said.

The new pass-through gas-fired pizza oven heats up to well over 600 degrees. But it generally maintains a temperature of 450 to 500 degrees. “No burnt crusts that way,” Reuthinger said.

A surprise hit at the stand: the cinnamon roll pizza, baked in a 16-inch deep-dish pizza pan. “It’s sliced like a slice of pizza, but it tastes like a big, gooey, sticky bun,” Reuthinger said.

It also regularly sells out. So, if you want one, get there early. It’s first come, first served.

“We knew people would like it, but we didn’t know it would be such a hit,” Froewiss said, adding they’re planning to start making more.

Griddled

“This one is actually my favorite,” Reuthinger said. “It’s comfort food. It’s sandwiches. It’s fun.”

Plus, she said, “I think we each gained like 5 pounds during our tasting.”

The new concessions stand specializes in soup and grilled deli sandwiches, including the popular Cubano with pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, honey Dijon mustard and dill pickles.

“The Cubano is my favorite,” Froewiss said.

“It’s my favorite, too,” Reuthinger said.

The culinary team started with 30 sandwiches, cut out 10 and sampled 20 during recipe testing. “They were all good,” Reuthinger said, noting it was difficult to narrow them down.

Fancy Pants Grilled Cheese – with brie, Havarti and Tillamook cheddar – made the cut. So did Beef French Onion, with roast beef, Provolone, caramelized onion and horse radish aioli. Rounding out the sandwiches is the Jalapeño Popper, with sliced jalapeños, cream cheese, Tillamook cheddar and caramelized onion.

For a sweeter offering, there’s a maple cinnamon roll sandwich with maple cream cheese and candied bacon on cinnamon swirl bread.

“It is so good, but it’s getting trumped because of the cinnamon roll pizza slice” at the adjacent Crust booth, Reuthinger said.

Tomato soup and a rotating seasonal soup are also on the menu, along with a few traditional items such as a hot dog, popcorn, kettle chips and pretzels.

Craft Burger and Sausage

Burgers and sausages are the specialty here, just as the name suggests. There are three kinds of burgers – all served on brioche buns – plus two kinds of sausages: andouille and bratwurst.

One of the burgers is vegetarian, made with a black-bean patty and topped with Southwest-inspired toppings: avocado sauce, Mexican-style street corn, Hatch green chilies, lettuce, tomato and pepper jack cheese. It is, Froewiss and Reuthinger said, proving popular with meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.

The Smoke House burger features thick-cut bacon, bourbon-onion jam, smoked Gouda and a house-mixed barbecue sauce.

Even the house cheeseburger is elevated. It features caramelized – instead of raw – onions and Tillamook cheddar along with lettuce, tomato and house-mixed special sauce made with mayo, ketchup, dill pickle relish and Worcestershire.

“It has just like everything you could imagine in a burger sauce,” Reuthinger said.

“But no Thousand Island,” Froewiss said.

The dessert here is a Belgian waffle ice cream sandwich stuffed with funfetti cake batter ice cream dipped in chocolate.

Look, also, for arena staples such as fries, garlic-Parmesan fries, pretzels, hot dogs, popcorn, candy, cookies and nacho cheese sauce, sold as a side.

Noodled

The concept at this Asian-inspired concessions stand was difficult to grasp at first: wok-fried noodles in – wait for it – a flour tortilla.

“We weren’t sure how it was going to go off,” Froewiss said, noting the menu items here are still “slowly catching on.”

But, Reuthinger said, “They are so good.”

And, she said, they make for great arena eating. “They are so easy to eat,” she said. “It’s all hand-held. It’s altogether.”

There are three kinds of wok-fried noodle wraps on the menu: phad thai, banh mi and lo mein.

There’s a creamy and tangy sauce on each one, and that was something else that baffled the culinary team – at least at first. “It really works,” Reuthinger said.

The phad thai peanut wrap comes with tofu, rice noodles, Napa cabbage, carrots, peanuts, cilantro and lime aioli. The lo main comes with chicken, egg noodles, bok choy, water chestnuts, bell peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and soy aioli. The banh mi comes with pork, rice noodles, pickled vegetables, green onion, cilantro and spicy mayo.

Still confused by the fusion? Opt to have the wok-fried noodles with rice in any of those three flavors in a bowl instead.

Taco Stand

This Day-of-the-Dead-themed concessions stand, simply called the Taco Stand, opened about five months ago on the southwest concourse. Topping the menu is a trio of 4 1/2-inch street-style tacos on white corn tortillas for $7.50. Choose from chicken, beef or fish.

A burrito, rice bowl and taco salad round out menu options. For dessert, there’s a caramel apple churro.

For sharing, consider the nachos.

“The nachos here are by far the No. 1 seller,” Reuthinger said. “They are huge. They are overflowing out of the boat.”


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